This six month project has been mind-opening. The time went by too fast.
It was a privilege to be given such generous access to the thoughts and conversation of the scientists and clinicians. The booklist their suggestions have left me with will keep me going for months. So much has been fed into my brain – I am still processing it all, but if I am forced to pick out my most leading impressions, they are these.
When I went into the care settings I found what I looked for – individual human beings who might like to talk to me. I also found more. A place that was run by over-worked, publicly under-appreciated, amazing human beings who, with their clients, made the protected space of the day care centre one of the most kindly human environments I have ever been in.
Short-term memory loss strips a person of their pretences. As a so-called “healthy” person engaging with the “ill” person, you have to be able to take directness and honesty, but once you put aside your own fears and assumptions, there is so much to learn about slowing down and ‘being in the moment’ alongside fellow human beings.
The language of fear and deficits that surround the very ring of “Alzheimer’s” and “Dementia” is the burden society inflicts on the sufferers on top the trials of their disease. It was my experience that the benefit of taking the time to sit alongside and engage over memories and stories with patients labouring under the condition didn’t just help dispel the isolation that makes this disease all the more awful; it did a lot to dispelled my own fears too.
There is so much more that can be said and learnt and done. In the meantime I will always cherish the hours I spent around the table with those most charming of companions, my ladies of the Scotswood Road, as they shared with me vivid glimpses of childhood before the First World War and after, of meeting boys’ eyes in the Bradford Barn dance at the Oxford Galleries; and memories of the gingered-haired brother with the grand singing voice, and summers dancing in the back yard, listening to the radio with the kitchen door open and setting the budgies fluttering in their cage.
Their generosity, courage and laughter remain my most vivid impression. Why are you spending time with ‘old gadges’ like us? They once asked me. My answer remains the same I told them: I can only aspire to become such an ‘old gadge’ myself one day.