Recently, we posted a story on our Facebook page about a new initiative in Sheffield that was bringing small farm animals to a care home for dementia patients to spend time with. The article highlighted the ‘fun, innovative initiative’ and reported that ‘such treatments can, in some cases, increase interaction and conversation with dementia patients – and it is even claimed that there can be physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure.”
While we applauded the efforts being made by the team wanting to stimulate residents, it was frustrating that something as simple as spending time with animals or pets has become a newsworthy ‘initiative’. One of our followers agreed: “The Eden Alternative pioneered the right way for elders since 1991, but 25 years on, we are still reporting things like this as newsworthy, it's like saying humans need to eat and drink. It should be standard practice,” she rightly said.
I see news stories about this all the time and it is something that really makes me laugh. It just seems quite honestly bonkers. When I first started working in dementia, I came across the Eden Alternative, as mentioned above. I was incredibly impressed, it is a fantastic organisation, whose goal is to promote quality of life for the elderly through education, consultation, and outreach. Crucially, they say that “the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our elders”. And they combat this with activities, occupations and projects to keep the elderly busy and stimulated.
Amazing concept? Of course. But at the same time, I thought ‘what’s new? What’s different?’ Of course it should be like this. The big part of a care home’s job, aside from the medical one, is to make sure those three stressors of loneliness, helplessness and boredom are addressed and nullified.
And, I mean, I shouldn’t have to point this out, but with loneliness we need company and human connection; with boredom we need stimulation and interest; with helplessness we need to contribute and do things.
All these initiatives are great, and I applaud anyone trying to make the lives of the elderly and those with dementia better. But what they, and we, are doing, is not new. Or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s. Completely. Normal. And it’s a sad indictment of where we’ve lost our way in the past. We’ve become inhuman in the way that we treat people.
So now, what we’re doing is trying to find our way back to a normal way of spreading human kindness. And it cannot come fast enough.