We all need some 'Golden Moments' in our lives, to make them more worthwhile, interesting and enjoyable.
I had one of those this week, when I received this feedback from Mark Jones, who is in charge of 'The Young Onset Dementia Service' in Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan. (As you know, I volunteer for them twice a week in co-facilitating a virtual CST (Cognitive Stimulation Therapy) 'Dementia Cafe' and 'Friendship Group'.)
"Wonderful feedback from Helen and her husband David about how much they look forward to the CST groups. She commented that they are pitched perfectly with the right themes, music and images for their generation. David really looks forward to each session."
Such feedback makes my efforts in compiling and publishing the sessions worthwhile. Hopefully, they are of some value to a wider audience in addition to the twenty or so members who participate in our virtual groups? The benefits of making the materials more widely (and freely) available are that potentially many more people can benefit from tried and tested CST activity sessions.
Other 'Golden Moments' come thick and fast during the sessions - when a member tells us about a significant moment in their life; when someone gets up to dance to a favourite record; when the group has a spontaneous singalong; when one of my corny jokes gets a laugh and especially when you see the smiles on the faces of the participants on the screen and hear their whispers in considering answers.
I always find it a moving and humbling experience to be part of a group that values and respects one another as equal members. One that encourages participation and engagement and doesn't discriminate against people with more severe cognitive difficulties.
Hopefully within our sessions there is 'something for everyone' and we take great care to use media that will (probably) be held in members' long term memories (depending on their lifetime experiences). Choosing images and songs that stimulate visual and musical memories seems especially important via this medium ('Zoom' is the video conferencing tool we use), as is giving time and space for recall, reminiscence and story telling. (In face to face work we also add in materials to stimulate taste, touch and smell.)
Other 'Golden Moments' come when we learn something about a member we didn't know during CST work - about their skills and achievements, hobbies and interests, or other aspects of their personal story. Such insights can be fascinating and sometimes profoundly moving. For example, recently a member shared a story with us about flying a Lancaster bomber (for a short time) during an airshow. Another member has played his guitar for us and shared with us his love for Joni Mitchell's album 'Blue', and the reasons why.
Getting to know members via CST work helps us to develop a deeper sense of respect for them as unique persons and hold them in higher regard in the ways we think about them both individually and collectively as 'persons living with dementia'.
This is why CST work is so very important. Spending time in such person centred contact reaps rich rewards in building trust and empathy, which is perhaps even more important when deterioration comes later and things get tougher.
Some people just don't get CST and question its benefits. 'It's a lot of effort for little reward (in terms of members remembering activities)!' This entirely misses the point. The more moments of pleasure we can give people with cognitive difficulty, the better their sense of well-being will be. CST sessions may not be remembered with clarity or in detail afterwards, but the feelings that sharing time with others in such enjoyable and stimulating activities will be longer lasting.
Here is an analogy. Think of the last time you had a massive row with your nearest and dearest. Do you remember how you felt at the time? Definitely 'Yes'. What about the things you and he/she said, or even what the argument was about. 'Not a clue!'
As Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
The same is true, I think, with CST work. This is why people keep coming back to our CST 'Dementia Cafes' and 'Friendship Groups'. They remember enjoying them and look forward to rejoining them. Maybe they can't remember much of what we did last time, but they recognise us. They trust in our respect for them and our empathy for their situation. They know that we understand them. And they feel our genuine warmth and concern.
In times of lockdown especially, such personal contact is like gold dust!