Having never written a blog post before. I am not even 100% where to start, but here goes.
I have been very lucky as a child as I never really encountered any mental difficulties in friends or family. By the time I had 3 kids, I had started to notice my eldest daughter was very different to the other 2 kids. She was far more creative, she never wanted nor needed very much sleep and she would smile at me blankly when she was told off. She seemed to do things just to see what would happen and she was just all round difficult.
As she got older she became very inappropriate, even when her younger sister would understand that what she was doing was socially wrong.
The best example I have of this is while we were in ASDA one day she turned and said to a woman stranger “Wow, you have massive boobies” whilst rubbing her hands on them! Being the good father I am, I shook my head and said loudly “someone should get her parents” whilst walking the other direction.
When she was in nursery her teacher had advised us to get her assessed by CAHMS in Stockton and, after 18 months of assessments, she was diagnosed with Atypical Autism Spectrum Disorder, Pathological Demand Avoidance and Sensory Processing Disorder as well as ADHD.
After the diagnosis, I was able to attend 5 different courses on parenting with autistic kids. I learned some of the science behind it and gained an insight and some empathy as to how these kids feel and what it is like for them.
I now know she sees the world differently from most of us and she will struggle socially and physically in her young life.
More recently whilst working in my cafe, Foodies, a man named Brian Rowcroft came in for a coffee and we got to talking. He helps recruit for Dementia Friendly Middlesbrough.
A lot of my family lives a long way from me in Fort William and my Granny is one of them. She was diagnosed with dementia about 6 months prior to me meeting Brian. I had seen her twice in that time and both times felt uncomfortable, like this was not my Granny and that I would rather be anywhere but there.
A couple of times after that I wouldn’t avoid going as such, but would have something else to do. I also noticed my Uncles and Aunties who where looking after her were also very reluctant to spend time with her. For me this was because I would find she would forget who I was altogether, repeat the same conversation and she would write the same things down 4 times a visit.
The reason came down to a lack of understanding. I can only see what is going on from my point of view. Without having any understanding about how she is feeling I just feel useless, feel sorry for her and that there is little point in me visiting if she will not remember 15 minutes after I leave.
Brian gave us an hour course on how dementia not only affects the person, but also the carer and how you can make things easier for them. One of the biggest things in my change of attitude was to do with bookcases.
Imagine if you will that a dementia patient has 2 bookcases; one is the memory bookcase and the other is the emotional bookcase. The memory one is very unsteady and rocking all the time. The emotional one is steady as a rock and very well built.
When you visit someone living with dementia it is important to remember that you are creating emotions, rather than memories. For instance you can visit and allow your frustrations to get the better of you and get in an argument, spend time correcting or let them know they have said the same thing 15 times. By the time you leave they will be emotionally upset, angry or confused. They may not remember the reason why as the most recent memories have already fallen off the shelf.
So the biggest lesson I took from this is, that it is about a change in attitude towards anybody dealing with mental issues. Have a bit of an open mind as to how people are acting. Have a bit of empathy and to look deeper before making any judgment and asking if someone is ok. You never know someones internal struggle.
As a first time blogger, I'm sure you'd agree Chris is a natural. He's given us a fascinating insight into how dementia can not only affect the person with the condition, but those around them too. Have you changed the way you treat someone you know because of a mental illness? Has Chris' words made you think again? Let us know in the comments below.
Chris is the owner of a lovely little cafe in Middlesbrough called Foodies. You can find their Facebook page right here!