In Praise of Trying Something New
I recently visited John, a 94 year old friend living with dementia. On my way to see John the heavens opened and I took refuge in the nearest shop, which happened to be a Salvation Army charity shop. OK, so it wasn’t the absolute nearest shop, but I’ve been in before and they have quality stock so I thought I might as well make a beeline for it. While in the shop, I spotted The Yes No Game on sale for £1.50. Without much thought I bought it, then headed back out into the rain, which by then had eased off a little.
Later in the morning, I pulled out The Yes No Game from my rucksack, and asked John if he would like to take a look. I explained the rules - that the aim of the game was to avoid answering directly with the word “yes” or “no” - and if either of us accidentally said either of these we would ring the bell. At the time I wasn’t thinking of all the “dementia friendly” communication guidelines which advise against asking a string of closed questions one after the other, let alone aiming to catch someone out, or ringing a bell when they do so. On paper, the suggestion sounds stressful and definitely not fun for anyone.
As we played The Yes No Game it occurred to me that this game was like a topsy turvy version of the mini mental state examination with an Alice in Wonderland twist. John has a quick wit and a great sense of humour, and trying to avoid saying either “yes” or “no”, his answers to the questions were often well timed and intentionally funny. John is also a little hearing impaired, which meant that in this context, mishearing some of the questions actually worked in his favour. When I asked, “Do you like heavy metal?” he answered, “Mussels?” and when I asked “Do you like rap?” he answered, “Crab? Do I like crab?” In both cases - whether artfully or accidentally - John successfully avoided answering either “yes” or “no”.
While I would not go so far as to actually recommend using The Yes No Game with someone who is living with dementia - in fact, let me be clear that I am absolutely not recommending this - I would certainly recommend taking a chance on something that might spark interest and humour, with the following principles in mind:
Be prepared to try something new, but always in a safe environment where the person with dementia feels at home
Make a risk assessment of a new activity, but be sure to consider what may go well and be enjoyed rather than thinking only about what may go wrong
Let the pace of the activity and the time you spend doing it be set by the person with dementia
What works well with one person may not work at all with another person, or may only be suitable for that person as a one time activity. I’m not sure I’ll take The Yes No Game along to my next visit to John, but who knows what other gems I may find next time I pop into the Salvation Army charity shop.
(Reflection written in October 2017)