28 July 2008

'Dementia: the past makes sense of the present'

Today’s Daily Telegraph has a very interesting article, Dementia: the past makes sense of the present.

In his groundbreaking new book, psychologist Oliver James explains a revolutionary way to care for dementia patients, developed by his mother-in-law. Here, in the first of a two part-series, Cassandra Jardine talks to them both. Read the full article here.

I got to know a little about the different forms of dementia through Frances Molloy, the founder of the Pastoral Care Project when I met her at a Mass I celebrated nearly eight years ago in a nursing home in Birmingham, England, where many of the residents had different forms of dementia. Frances is originally from Rathlin Island, off the north coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. I was involved with the Project for the rest of my two-year stint in Britain.

The Mission Statement of the Project reads:

The Pastoral Care Project is inspired by the Christian tradition and is committed to promoting and providing, pastoral, spiritual and religious support for patients, residents, their family, carers and staff within residential and nursing homes or in the individual’s private residence. This ensures a holistic approach to all frail elderly people including those with dementia-related illness.

Frances has a passion for the spiritual needs of patients and has often come across an utter lack of comprehension or awareness of this among those taking care of older people. However, when this basic need is pointed out Frances meets with cooperation.

I have found it distressing at times to meet friends with dementia whom I knew when they were in full vigour. I remember meeting a Christian Brother who had taught me in my last two years in O’Connell’s Schools in Dublin, An Bráthair (Brother) Mícheál S. Ó Flaitile, whom I revered and with whom I had kept in touch over the years. But the last time I went to see him I nearly cried. He had been very active intellectually up to his 80s but then declined fairly rapidly. He didn’t even know me.

But on the occasions when I have celebrated Mass with groups where many had a form of dementia, or where many were mentally ill, or had mental disabilities - three different categories - I have always been very conscious of the presence of the Risen Lord who can touch the hearts of each of us. We don’t lose our dignity, we don’t cease to be an image of God through dementia, through a learning disability, through mental illness, whether temporary or permanent.

Rathlin Island

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