The radical treatment lets dementia patients believe their memories are reality Photo: PA. The families of those with dementia often face a painful struggle to remind their loved one that they are no longer young, working and healthy. But a treatment that lets the patient believe their memories are reality is being pioneered in care homes across the country. Dementia patients are proactively encouraged to live out their memories in this radical approach designed by a former social worker.
Instead of trying to remind them of the present, care home staff and families join sufferers in re-enacting the events they remember from their lives.
Dr David Sheard, who has been promoting the Butterfly Household Model of Care for 20 years, argues it’s the best way to reduce distress for patients and their families.
“If you’re a family member, you have two choices. Either all your time spent with them you’re trying to force them to remember events, or you accept the person as they are, you accept that you can’t fix them because of the brain damage, and you learn to love them in their new reality,” he says.
So patients are encouraged to relive the jobs and activities they did in their past, including marriage and having a family.
“There will be areas with dolls and prams, there will be a wedding dress corner, and in some cases there will be the person’s own original wedding dress that has been brought in by their family,” says Dr Sheard.
“Activities match people’s past jobs – so if they worked in an office, we’d have them in the office with a manager, who would give them paper and pens.”
And his method is not without its problems – Dr Sheard says patients have mistakenly thought younger visitors were their partners and dismissed their real husbands or wives, which can cause trauma for their families.
But its value, he says, is borne out by a dramatic improvement to patients’ wellbeing and increase in their life expectancy.
“They live almost twice as long with this type of care. With traditional dementia care, people go into lethargy, they go into shutdown. You become a non-person, you don’t have a purpose, you’re not doing anything with your day,” he says.
“You can measure people’s wellbeing, and their wellbeing increases. You can see it in people’s body language. You see people come alive.”