Why should people with dementia be encouraged to talk?

Playing Call-to-Mind

It is all too easy to feel isolated and lonely when living with dementia. Most of us need to feel loved and want to belong to a family or group – we are naturally herd animals. We like to talk both about complex issues and ideas, but also chat away with small talk and everyday exchanges. We want to communicate our thoughts and feelings, to feel we belong. Anyone who has worked in an office environment will know how important it is to chat on a Monday morning about any events that happened over the weekend.

It is no different for people who are living with dementia, both those with the disease as well as the carers, friends and family. We all want to feel we belong and, because of experience of dementia in my own family, I have invented a game that helps people to connect, even when their brain is affected by dementia.

Call to Mind gives people with dementia a voice!

The game is a fun and non-threatening way to start conversations and get to know one another. Call-to-Mind is the world’s first board game specially designed to encourage conversations, to stimulate thoughts, and identify interests. It’s a great way to get to know someone’s likes and dislikes and to talk about what matter to them. It gives people with dementia a voice!

It can be played with anyone from about the age of 8 to 108 and is a great way for families, friends and carers to spend time together. It’s sure to get everyone talking and you never know what you find out! It is now beginning to be widely used in care homes and social groups supporting those with dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a disease of the brain and the effects vary widely depending on which part of the brain is affected. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and counts for about two-thirds of cases in the elderly. Vascular dementia is the second most common cause, and dementia with Lewy bodies the third. There are others as well including early-onset dementia. It used to be thought that this was a disease only affecting the elderly but doctors now realise that people as young as in their forties are being diagnosed.

A common factor in all these is a loss of the ability to remember things. Most of us suffer from this as we age, but, as memory loss increases due to dementia, some will find themselves withdrawing from conversation. Many feel and embarrassed about their lack of memory and their difficulty in finding the right words to use. The frustration in not being able to express oneself easily can mount up and may result in a person withdrawing from interactions, eventually becoming bad tempered or even aggressive.

Friends and family may also feel these frustrations and want to help by suggesting words and even finishing sentences. This is not always the best approach, though it may seem the most natural thing to do. The most important thing to do when someone is struggling to find words, is to stay as calm and relaxed as possible, giving lots of time and space for someone to find the right words if they wish to.

Playing Call to Mind makes people feel included

One of the most important results of playing Call-to-Mind is that the person with dementia feels included and listened to. Their general well-being and confidence increases as they realise that what they say matters to others; that people are genuinely interested I their thoughts and opinions, and that they have both a past and a present life that’s worth talking about. They are then regarded much more as a person who happens to have a disease, and who is trying to live life as fully as is possible.

I have seen hundreds of people with dementia play the game and start talking clearly about their past. One man who played Call to Mind – picked up a card that asked for comment on music. Suddenly he revealed to his carers that he had had a career as a professional musician. He had been a saxophonist and he had plenty of stories to tell.  His carers told me they had had no idea that he had led such an interesting life. After this he felt better and he and his carers always had things to talk about.   This is just one of the inspiring differences I have seen Call to Mind make in the lives of people with dementia and their carers.

People with dementia are individuals

The most important thing to remember is that no two people with dementia are the same, just as no two people are identical. We all have preferences and talents. Playing Call-to-Mind can unearth these and help family and carers provide suitable activities that match their current interests. This is not just a reminiscence game, but a communication tool that rediscovers the past, explores the present and imagines the future. Try it out and enjoy!