The Art of Kindness

by Isla Lewis, Service Development Manager

Isla Lewis

I have spent many years working in the care sector, mainly within the NHS, and more recently for Dementia Support. During my career I’ve experienced days when I haven’t felt like a nice person because of decisions I’ve had to make, or hard messages I’ve had to deliver. I really hate the way it makes me feel and it’s taken years to make peace with the fact that sometimes these things need to be done; but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to be kind at the same time.

At work, I am often told I am a ‘nice person’ and that I am a ‘helpful person’, but does this mean that I am a kind person? I used to think “well, I am just doing my job, it comes with the territory”, or “it’s just the way I was brought up.” However, it is so much more than that. Being kind should be one of the easiest and most natural things we do. But in a world where things seem to move faster and faster with each passing year, do we really understand what it means to be kind and the effect it has for the other people we encounter? Do we need to learn or re-learn the art of kindness?

Just be Kind

Being kind (despite the busyness of life and the negativity around you) can become addictive. The ‘warm fuzzies’ you get when someone feels the genuine warmth of kindness shown to them is something I’ll never tire of – and they don’t even need to have said anything, it can often be read in peoples’ faces. Kindness can come in many forms, giving your seat up on the bus, holding a door open for someone, and often it is the simplest of these which makes the most difference to people – and the great thing is, it really does cost nothing!

During the working day at Sage House our team will be called on to help with a range of issues facing people living with dementia and their carers. These are often distressing and seemingly unsolvable situations, that can feel like very dark times to our customers when they come through the door – and our team are on hand to support and guide the way.

Not all of customers are in that place when we see them, but they still need a kind word or act to lift them and encourage them to lean on us if they do find themselves in a darker space in the future.

When I think of the most obvious difference kindness can make to our customers, I am immediately drawn to one man who I have known since the charity opened. Despite having had a diagnosis for some time, he remains fiercely independent and continues to lead a fulfilling life with minimal support. His biggest challenges came when others do not take the time to listen and understand his needs or his perceived ‘meanness of youth’ which comes from negative experiences he has had using the local bus services. ‘Kids can be cruel’ is a common saying, but is that just because they have not got an understanding of dementia?

His perception of their ‘meanness’ comes mainly from a place of fear – a fear of the noise levels and of the general jostling. Dementia can affect the way we experience the world, both visually and audibly. This means that everyday situations can cause increased anxiety levels in a person living with dementia and they may find it difficult to express why they feel that way.

What isn’t often known is that the feelings someone living with dementia experiences can stay with them throughout the day, even though they may not remember what provoked those feelings. So, a negative encounter on the bus in the morning may lead to our customers feeling upset and anxious for the rest of the day with no memory of where those feelings came from – imagine for a moment how frightening that in itself would be…

Education is the key

As a charity we were clear from the beginning that our vision is “A society where dementia is wholly understood and accepted, enabling people living with dementia to be fully supported throughout the whole of their journey.”

For us at Dementia Support, it is important that an understanding of dementia and the challenges faced by those with a diagnosis is vital to changing our community’s perceptions of the condition and those living with it. We also believe that this knowledge can be gained at any age. By underpinning this message, and the importance of showing kindness, through shared activities we can help to raise a generation who no longer fears the person who acts differently or appears ‘odd’, but instead takes the time to talk to people and understand what fears they might be experiencing themselves.

Though education, of all ages, we can move away from phrases like ‘lost their marbles’ and ‘gone doolally’ and move towards an understanding that dementia is disease and not a natural part of aging. To understanding that someone living with dementia is still a person, with thoughts and feelings, and often with a real determination to continue to live life and be a part of their community.

By moving away from the negative language and misconceptions surrounding dementia we can have a greater understanding of what it means to live with dementia, and by showing kindness we can help people to live well and independently.

I’ve already said that being kind should be one of the easiest things for us to do, but I also believe that to really appreciate the difference it can make, we need to be conscious of the kind acts we bestow, and be sure to let others know when we feel they have been kind us.

Be Kind or Be Quiet

This year has been described as many things; isolating, stressful, frightening, and disorientating in terms of how time moves, but we have understood that this is because we have been living through a global pandemic. We have also understood that taking the time to check that our friends and family are well and coping ok has been a necessary aspect of ‘getting through’ it.

Consider then, that the above descriptions are what someone with dementia can experience at any point throughout their journey. This means that the act of being kind, of taking the time to just stop and listen, to be patient in the supermarket queue, or to just offer a warm and friendly smile can really change someone’s day.  So, how do we teach kindness to others and the next generations? I believe that the cliché of leading by example is probably our most solid starting point – after all, it is how I learnt to be kind…

Look out for our next blog about alcohol related dementia

Discover how far kindness can really go for those living with dementia by reading the insights of our lovely Isla in our latest blog post. From as little as showing some patience or a friendly smile, you can really change their outlook on the day.