Many people do not realise the impact undiagnosed dementia can have on a person. I want to tell you about one example I came across. I will call the ‘carer’ Ben.
Ben’s mother shared the same birthday. This created a special bond between them and he told me that they were very close. Ben was an only child and told me that their relationship was a mixture of mother/son, brother/sister and best friend. He began to notice changes in her, which he found disturbing. Ben’s mum lost interest in normal everyday things and did not want to go out. He valued their regular chats and spending time with her, but she refused to speak to him on the phone or have anything to do with him.
Man to man
Ben tried to talk to his dad about this but his dad thought that reassuring him that everything was ok would protect him. This meant Ben could not even support his father in this. Ben realised his father was worried about how he would take it and was trying to protect him, but it divided the family yet again. The father’s refusal to get a diagnosis meant they were denied the help and support they needed. As his feelings of worry and concern escalated, there was nobody Ben could talk to about the grief he felt for the loss of this wonderful relationship and the concern he felt for the wellbeing of both his parents.
Of course, as is often the case, Ben had other issues going on at the same time.
A relationship had failed, leaving him feeling a loss of that hope for the future he had expected together, including a family of his own. He felt unable to talk about this to colleagues.
A colleague on Ben’s team was going on maternity – the general excitement about the impending birth simply compounded Ben’s feelings of loss. He could not explain this to colleagues or his line manager because it was private and he did not think they would understand. Ben’s mental health was under siege and this began to impact his performance and ability to cope.
A drop-in session in his workplace for anyone affected by dementia gave Ben the outlet he desperately needed. This was not a group session, so he found it less intimidating. Ben attended and was able to finally talk to someone non-judgemental about his feelings and worries. In the beginning it was like taking the plug off a volcano! The release of pressure was both tangible and beneficial.
It‘s good to talk
Ben talked and asked questions about the things he did not comprehend. Understanding what is happening enables us to focus on what the person can do and not to take negative actions personally as they are a result of the disease. It also helps us to explain it to others close to us.
A listening ear
Over the next few weeks Ben needed occasional Carer Buddy chats. He was also signposted to some counselling sessions which were available through his workplace. Ben wouldn’t have accessed these by himself as he was too immersed in his problems to see the way forwards. A few months later Ben made contact again. He was insistent on passing on feedback from his counsellor who had told him:
“Being listened to when you needed it most was fundamental to your recovery”
Whilst Ben’s mother had not had her dementia diagnosed, the impact on him was no less.
Dementia Carer Friendly Workplace
A Dementia Carer Friendly Workplace will provide a safe environment to explore issues, address mental health and wellbeing and provide peer support. Removing the taboos and stigma from the workplace enables conversations and understanding to spread. By doing this we can retain valuable skills in our workplaces and improve the mental health of those affected by dementia.
When others witness the health benefits of support to colleagues they see leadership in their workplace and value their employer.