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Following the Yellow Brick Road of Dementia

by KT Leong and Anne Das

In 1939, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) released the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”, starring Judy Garland in the lead role of Dorothy. In the movie, Dorothy is swept up by a tornado from her Kansas farm and deposited onto the magical land of Oz. To return to her home in Kansas, Dorothy had to go to the titular Wizard of Oz by following the Yellow Brick Road. A road that would lead her and her companions to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz resides.

To follow the Yellow Brick Road is to embark on a journey, one in which supportive companions can mean the difference between a rewarding adventure or being hounded by winged monkeys. Dorothy wouldn’t have made it without the aid of Scarecrow, Tin Man or Lion.

The journey on the road of dementia is similarly fraught with challenges, winged monkeys notwithstanding. And in the December session of the Dementia Cafe of Ipoh, which was held at 1 Lasam Greentown, Simon Lam was the companion to guide that day’s participants of the Dementia Cafe on the Yellow Brick Road.

As a professional nurse who specialised in the area of dementia for over 40 years as a clinician, in management and was a previous director of an aged care consultancy, Simon was Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion all rolled into one.

He explained step by step, the challenges that those living with dementia must face, and how to circumvent these bumps on the Yellow Brick Road of dementia.

For instance, he spoke about how those living with dementia might become depressed. You may think that they have nothing to be depressed about, especially if they have a family to care for them, but we have to remember to look at it from their point of view. They’ve lived a full life and now, because of the dementia, they’ve become “less” than what they were. They feel humiliated and pitiful, thus becoming depressed and even suicidal.

Simon also spoke about ways of dealing with the challenges. For instance, if someone with dementia suddenly says they want to visit their sister. But their sister had actually passed away several years earlier. We shouldn’t insist that the sister has passed away. We shouldn’t force our reality onto them because THEIR reality is that they only just spoke to their sister a couple days ago. How DARE you insist that their sister is dead!?

Instead, we should agree with them. Perhaps ask them about their sister, such as when was the last time they spoke? Then mention that since the sister lives far away, that you guys should plan a holiday to visit her. Then divert the subject to something else, such as what to eat for lunch. After a while, they’ll forget about visiting their sister.

Dementia isn’t a straightforward condition. We need to have empathy and think of it from the point of view of the one living with dementia. Their reality is different from those of us who are fortunate enough not to have dementia.

Imagine that the only vehicle you’ve ever driven is a car, this is your reality. But then, someone comes along and tells you to pilot a space shuttle. You tell them that you are just a regular car driver, but they insist that the “real” reality is that you are an astronaut and you must pilot a space shuttle. Naturally, you would be frustrated that they would insist you do something so ludicrous. You would become angry and lash out. This would be a totally reasonable behaviour. Because the reality they’re pushing on you is not the reality that you live in.

Simon’s lecture was enlightening, but it wasn’t the only highlight of the session. After a brief break following his lecture, the participants of the session followed it up with a session of song and dance. It is the season to be merry after all!

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