Spotlight on the importance of communication in Dementia

Dementia is set to be the 21st century's biggest killer. But awareness and understanding remains low and many families are facing it alone. That’s why, during the Week, we want everyone to come together and take action. By uniting, we can raise awareness, offer help & understanding and improve care. You can find more information on the Alzheimer’s Society website.

To mark Dementia Awareness Week, Four Seasons Health Care is hosting four guest blogs from our team of dementia experts.

Our next blog comes from Colin Sheeran, Dementia Lead Project Facilitator, on the importance of communication in dementia:

With interest I read an inspection report that criticised colleagues for calling a resident 'Auntie'. The lady in question was of Caribbean origin and saw the term of address as respectful of her age and experience. However, it got me thinking about my own grandmother and the many names she was known by. I knew her and addressed her as Ouma as did all my cousins and children. In later life, when her memory and eyesight were failing she often mistook me for my oldest cousin (the first to call her Ouma) but with just a little prompting she would then say 'Brenda's Colin?' There was another Colin of my age in her life. He knew her as 'Nan' and had maintained a relationship as close, if not closer than mine from when she was his child minder. When he said hello Nan she never mistook him.

My Grandmother was married twice. Her second married name was the one used on all official paperwork hence Mrs White was the name she was known by in the care home she lived. However, she was also the mother of 'the magnificent 7' all Palmers. She was still a Palmer but known as Mum to them all. To her 2nd husband, Jim, she was known as Doll. My father also called her Doll but when he did this after Jim died she sometimes got confused. 'Where's Jim' she would ask. To use that nickname was Jim's privilege.

What you’ll notice is that I haven't told you my grandmother’s name yet. She was born in July so naturally she was Julia. I rarely heard anyone using this name but those who did were close to her and had a special relationship. My Grandfather, and father of all the Palmers, her sisters and most importantly the carers and nurses who looked after her in her final years. The carers relationship was just as intimate and special and it was their privilege to be on first name terms.

To conclude, the names we use for people are symbolic of our relationships. We shouldn't take them for granted; we should explore them in more detail as they will tell us about family dynamics and life story. We should recognise that our colleagues can form unique and lasting relationships with residents and the names they use will say much about those relationships. It's never as simple as saying we shouldn't use pet names or nicknames.

Date published: 15 September 2017

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