Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Are people with dementia capable of new learning?


Despite the fact that it's often stated that they aren't, my own experience tells me different. During the course of S's illness she has had to adapt to all sorts of changes. Sometimes, this has proved more difficult than at other times, but new learning has certainly taken place. Several years ago, we bought a motorhome. We have travelled over 30000 miles in it and have recently returned from a trip to Italy. S has had to learn all kinds of things as a result from, as an example, how to get into it (you have to climb up, rather than lower yourself into your seat as you do with most cars) to how to get onto the bed  -  from one end rather than the side.

But forget about S. It had already occurred to me that when people go into care homes it takes them a while to 'settle in' but after a time they nearly always do. What is settling in but new learning  -  new people, new procedures, new routines, new furniture, new toilets etc, etc, etc?

I was therefore heartened to see that John Zeisel in his book 'I'm Still Here' makes exactly the same point. His example involves a resident who gets angry when someone sits in 'her chair'. Other residents know it is her chair and know what her response will be. They have learnt, just as she has, that it is her chair.

Of course, there will come a point when new learning may be hard to see or non existent.

But there is all the difference in the world between treating someone as incapable of learning anything new, and treating them as potentially open to learning from new experiences, like most other human beings.

I read on an online forum, 'as is well known, people with Alzheimer's are incapable of new learning'. Like many of these well known 'facts', this is actually another of the all too prevalent and damaging myths about the condition

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. It takes 2 weeks for someone to get use to a new home, whether demented or not. But dementia patients show more agitation with it, so it's more upsetting. But yes, you are right, they learn things all the time.