Memory loss is one of the well-known symptoms of dementia. Janine Valentine, a nurse consultant for dementia and the elderly at Yeovil Hospital in the UK, has discovered that one of the enduring memories of dementia patient is of their deceased pet or a pet they once cared for. My immediate thought about this is that it confirms that some of our best and most memorable moments concern our relationship with our companion cat or dog.
One of the responsibilities of Mrs Valentine is to find ways for medical staff at the hospital to build a relationship with patients who suffer from dementia.
I’m not sure how the idea came to fruition but knitted dogs and cats and perhaps other animals (about 9 inches in length) were created by nurses and volunteers at Yeovil hospital. They were made for patients with advanced dementia and each individual knitted animal was made to match the breed of cat or dog, or if not the breed the appearance of the animal, that was once owned by the dementia patient.
Initially, the patient may have found the knitted companion animal to be confusing but apparently, with a bit of luck, a smile of happy recognition then appears on the face of the patient.
This is a neat idea and quite an important one because there is a pressing need for dementia patients to build a relationship with their medical carers because dementia patients are 20% more likely to die than other patients and 3 times more likely to suffer from an injury. Their stay at hospital is usually 20% longer than average.
Clearly, a better connection with the medical staff may help to improve these statistics. Mrs Valentine wisely and caringly says that “we need to start valuing older people with dementia”. She adds, “the patients we see deserve so much”. I totally agree.
As I understand it, her initiative in creating these knitted companion animals is part of a wider campaign called “Face to a Name”, which was founded by Giovanna Forte and Jake Arnold Foster. I suppose the campaign is born out of a need to put a face to a person at hospital in the interests of better medical care.
My final thought on this is that the value of a companion animal is reflected in the deep and lasting memories of their caretakers.
Original photo by GollyGforce – Living My Worst Nightmare. The image links to the original