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Published on: March 26, 2014
by Sarah Barns for Daily Express:
DEMENTIA sufferers can retain their sense of identity and lead happy lives as long as they focus on the here and now, says a new report.
More needs to be done to create balance in the lives of dementia patients, argues the report.
A Good Life With Dementia says greater emphasis should be placed on helping people with dementia to value living in the moment rather than focusing on memory loss.
The report states, “Aside from death, the only thing virtually guaranteed in dementia is the loss of memory. So it’s unsurprising that addressing memory problems is a key aspect of caring for people with the illness.”
While traditional methods of caring for dementia patients placed “lots of energy into devising activities and tools for remembering”, the report authors argue for a new approach based on the idea that “we do not need to continually remember to retain our sense of identity to enable us to be happy.”
The document was written by independent research agency ESRO and published by Red & Yellow Care in association with the Alzheimer’s Society and strikingly suggests that patients with dementia can teach those without it to live a more rewarding life by appreciating the moment.
“We thirst and pay huge amounts of money to have amazing experiences, but many of us then miss the moment because of our desire to record the memory through photography, film or social media,” claims the report.
“We are unlikely to revisit what we’ve documented, and that looking back never quite captures the thrill we would have felt had we properly engaged in the moment.”
This is a view shared by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman who argues that the value placed on a person’s ‘remembering-self’, their memories, is overrated.
The report stated, “While past experiences are crucial in shaping our present selves, we do not need to continually remember them to retain our sense of identity and enable us to be happy.”
Mr Kahneman says that our “consumption of memory” is less relevant that we realise and “we do far less of it than we think, and have a disproportionate sense of its importance.”
He adds that there is a key distinction between the “remembering self” and “experiencing self”, that is the self that’s living in the moment.
Our “experiencing self” has a greater say in how happy we are, and we could arguably feel more fulfilled if we could repress our memories a little and focus on momentary pleasures.
The research highlights the importance of working with dementia patients proactively and “finding out what they can still do and what they can’t”.
When people begin to find remembering more difficult, it suggest there’s an opportunity to embrace happiness that comes from the present moment and to indulge those pleasures whenever possible.
The report found that 72 per cent of UK adults think that “not living in the past” is important to happiness.
It has used new research and interviews from more than 80 people living with dementia to explore ways to allow someone with the illness to live a fulfilling life.
The authors of the report have created six areas to focus on to help people with dementia feel more fulfilled: respecting a sufferer’s identity, embracing the now, sustaining relationships, allowing good and bad days, taking risks and maintaining physical and emotional wellbeing.
Creators of the report said a timely diagnosis is crucial to helping people plan for their future and even goes as far as to suggest that if planned for, dementia could be seen as an “unexpected gift” due to the freedom which comes with a person’s inevitable decline.
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