January and New Year is inevitably a time of reflection. This year, I’m mindful, still in the midst of Covid-19, of the resilience of those working in the dementia care sector.
As we reflect on the challenging events of the past year and look to the future, I contemplate the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Over the years, I have met many dementia care-workers and been struck how seemingly overwhelming events in their life (relationship-breakdown, loss, grief, rejection, miscarriage, personal physical or psychological ill-health) have increased their capacity to empathise with people with dementia and their families.
Few of us go through life without experiencing such hardships. In their midst, we may feel that such challenges are insurmountable or endless. This is when our personal sense of resilience and innate coping skills are most needed.
On a personal level, it was in January 1990 that I took an HIV test. It subsequently proved HIV-positive, and I was advised that I may not live more than six months. Those were different times, with no effective treatments available.
My life changed utterly, I gave up my dream of an acting career, my mother rejected me for the rest of her life, and by the age of 25 over 50 of my friends had died. However, I drew resilience from somewhere within and have survived 32 years, despite the odds.
I write this because, I believe that all of us have the capacity to draw on our inner-strength. To deal with what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
So, I invite you reader, to reflect on the life challenges you’ve faced and how, despite the odds, you got through them.
It is that same resilience that we need to draw upon while caring for people with dementia. Whether that be persevering to understand the feelings that the person may be trying to express or persevering to reach past dementia and truly communicate with them.
I remember being in a care home with a man with dementia, who also happened to be Welsh. Alone in the room, I kept trying to maintain eye contact with the man – talking about his soft-toy dragon (the national symbol of Wales) – which he held in his hands.
Not having success, I almost gave up. However, I kept drawing on my resilience and belief I could reach him. Reminiscing about Wales and awkwardly maintaining eye contact, I eventually broke through.
Suddenly, there was a glint in his eyes, he stroked my face and handed me his precious toy.
Later staff said: “Tom never lets anyone touch his dragon.”
I believe we are able reach every person with dementia. If we draw on our inner strength, our resilience and belief that we can overcome barriers and challenges.
As a new year begins, let’s remind ourselves of our capacity to break through.
When needed, we can all rise like a phoenix.