- How can I support persons with dementia and their family caregivers?
- How to communicate with a person with dementia who is not able to speak anymore?
- Where does aggressive behavior come from, and how to deal with it?
These are three of many more questions that we discussed at our workshop ‘Understanding and supporting persons with dementia’. In February and March 2017, I held the first three workshops at the Lycée Bel-Val in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg. With funds from Rotary Club Luxembourg-Hearts, the three-hour workshop used quiz, empathy exercises, video, talks, and discussions in plenum and in small groups to expand students’ knowledge on dementia. The manual will be soon available in German language.
Students particularly enjoyed the interactive quiz. Here, different statements about dementia were displayed, and students could ‘vote’ with their mobile phones if the statements were accurate or not. After showing the voting results, I gave some background on the statement and, specifically, which scientific field had produced this knowledge and the scientific methods behind it.
- One example statement: “Dementia is part of the normal aging process” – True or false? The right answer is: No, dementia is NOT a part of normal aging, and you can live up to high ages without being affected by dementia. We know this from clinical and epidemiological research where large samples at higher ages are examined with cognitive tests and imaging methods.
Other questions were:
- Is there medical treatment to slow down the progression of dementia?
- Are people with dementia still able to make (financial and other) decisions themselves?
- Can new methods detect the onset of dementia already 15 to 20 years in advance?
In a group discussion, students shared their experiences with people with dementia in the family and internships or vocational training. We discussed difficulties and ways to deal with complicated situations, e.g. dealing with repeated questions, requests that were not possible to fulfill, and the person with dementia forgetting that a loved one has died.
It is important to keep in mind that the workshop can only disseminate the current knowledge on dementia, and, in the future, we will certainly know more about dementia, be it (hopefully!) a possible cure or better ways to care. Maybe new technologies will help people staying independent for longer, and will help interacting with others even in late stages of their disease. Knowing that the state-of-the-art in dementia will be very different in 5, 10 or 15 years, I shared a collection of different ways to get and stay informed about dementia. This collection included links to direct scientific evidence (e.g. relevant search engines, journals, books) and indirect information (e.g. publications from Alzheimer organizations, health organizations, the national information center Liewe mat Demenz, and reports by the WHO and NGOs).
At the end of the workshop, students received a certificate and a pin with the forget me not flower, which is a widely used symbol for a dementia-friendly society. Even if there is no national dementia awareness campaign in Luxembourg (although there certainly should be!), every society should become more dementia friendly. The trained students in Luxembourg can be proud to be knowledgeable and aware of dementia.