Actually, “learnt” is probably the wrong word to use. We didn’t really learn anything – it was more like a huge “Thank you!” eureka kind of moment where an approach to caring for people with Dementia that should be typical of any care home, was gloriously demonstrated before the nation.

Channel 4 presented a wonderful one-hour inside look into Poppy Lodge, a care home which has adopted the much talked about Butterfly Approach to Dementia, the life’s work of David Sheard. Within the hour we were introduced to the stars of every care home – their residents. Each one a unique character that made us laugh and cry in the same breath. Hollywood can only marvel at their wonderful gift to evoke emotions in us simply by being themselves.

It was as entertaining as it was thought provoking. First off, Channel 4 referred to Dr. Sheard’s approach as “controversial,” something that surprised me. What they call controversial, others would call common sense.

Dementiaville CaregiverWhat exactly was controversial? The beams of smiles and laughter that filled the home all day (and night, as we saw)? The bond shared between caregiver and resident that broke down all traditional and stigmatic barriers? Watching a caregiver physically well up with tears as he spoke of a resident who had become his friend?

If Channel 4 – or anybody for that matter – considers that controversial, maybe they should have a look at the traditional approach to care where words like ‘service outcomes’ and ‘minimum standards’ dominate the vocabulary. An approach where meeting needs is the goal.

What we saw at Poppy Lodge was something else.

We had the pleasure of watching one of their residents, Les; watch with the enthralled look of a mesmerized child etched on his face as he saw planes fly all around him, able to accurately describe the model while he quietly sung to himself.

That’s when it hit me, the one word I was looking for to sum it all up.

David Sheard often refers to the word “being” as one of the main objectives that define the Butterfly Approach. The aim is always to truly understand what being in the moment is with a resident while you build a connection with them.

But after seeing Les watch imaginary planes fly past him at 90 years old with the same look on his face as a young boy who walks up the concrete stairs and into the floodlit stadium at his first football game with his Dad, the word I found was “embrace.”

Now that might actually be controversial

What do I mean exactly by embrace? No, I don’t mean we should embrace this cruel disease, for anybody out there currently sharpening their knives.

Those of us who don’t suffer with the Dementia understand very well how life changing it is. In fact some go as far as to call it life ending. It’s a growing pandemic in the world with billions being spent to the research of the disease in search of the cure.

Dementia is a problem. It is heartbreaking. Nothing was more poignant in Dementiaville than seeing Jean do everything to try and bring her husband, Bob, back to normality. It’s something we in the care home world experience every day, relatives who struggle to cope watching their loved one deteriorate from the person they once were.

Seeing Jean visit her husband twice a day, searching for just a second of her husband before he developed Dementia was devastating to watch. It served as a reminder that Dementia not only affects the individual, but their entire network of family and friends.

But what about those of us with dementia? The guys and girls like those wonderful, happy and unique individuals we met on Dementiaville? The constant joy we got to experience watching the residents of Poppy Lodge, due to the fantastic approach of the care team, management and the Butterfly model, served only to reinforce the belief that we must embrace the individual, and the reality in which they live.

We talked about Les, whose mind had taken him to a happy time of his life. There was also the former matron who experienced sheer bliss by being able to continue her craft of helping others.

dementiaville

There was no dementia, no pain, and no heartache. They weren’t feeling sorry for themselves, resentful or angry over what was happening to them. They lived in a world where they were arguably at true peace.

Ironically, they were living in a world which most of us spend our lives searching for.

Throughout social care you’ll hear a lot about ‘empowering’ residents. Empowering them with choices of how they choose to live their life. However in order to empower, we must first embrace the world they live in.

Again, what some called controversial, others call common sense. Our imagination is our most fantastic and powerful tool. Our residents’ imagination will take them to a time and a place where the world presented before them can make them happy. We must embrace that.

Dementiaville briefly discussed how in years gone by a typical approach to dementia care would be to try and bring the individual back to the present.

From the first day I started this job, I knew never to do that. Common sense told me not to do anything that might upset the lovely old lady who was speaking so fondly of her mother in the present tense. Why would you?

The incredible irony is that despite living in a memory of many years past, those with Dementia have moved forward with their lives better than any of us. It’s inspiring when you think about it.

Poppy Lodge demonstrated beautifully what our role in our residents’ lives is. We’re the passengers. We’re the wingmen. We’re the brothers, sisters, friends, sons and daughters. We are whomever they need us to be in order to keep their world alive.

We’re on their journey. They’re telling us their story. They’re living in their world. When that world brings them happiness, your only choice is to fasten your seatbelt and join them for the ride.

Embrace their world. They will welcome you with open arms.

As David Sheard would say – be with them.