Memories of Croydon, explored in the ‘Wall of Recall’

By - Tuesday 19th June, 2018

An imaginative project marked National Dementia Week in Croydon

One in fourteen of us over the age of sixty-five will fall prey to dementia, that sad human condition where the body outlives the mind. The consequent lapse in mental faculties causes great confusion, anxiety and distress in sufferers and to their loved ones. This loss of short-term memory, in particular, causes grievous loss of control over the daily lives of all those living with the disease.

An initiative to raise greater awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and its treatment, begun in an Essex nursing home a few years ago, has grown into a countrywide movement to address the condition. Volunteers are enrolled to assist in day-to-day treatment of sufferers and to help integrate them within the community. These Dementia Friends wear a small, round blue-and-yellow flower badge.

Croydon’s own Dementia Action Week, part of the national event held from 21st-28th May, culminated with the setting up of three stands in Surrey Street on Friday 25th. Fronting one of these stands was a ‘Wall of Recall’, a large collage of posters and photographs from 1960s-era Croydon, designed to resonate in the minds and memories of those whose youth it recalled. Attendants at one stand explained how symptoms of the disease can often be hard to detect. In one instance, an elderly lady had the habit of drumming the fingers of both hands on a table until it was discovered that she had been a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during WWII, and thus continued the practice of tapping keys (no ‘repetitive strain injury’ here!).

Although sufferers’ lights may have dimmed, their spirits remain intact

At another stand it was explained that treatment is largely a matter of palliative care and of equipping dementia sufferers with sufficient mental and physical aids to lead relatively independent lives. These aids serve as prompts to remind sufferers of familiar sights, sounds and routines to reassure them of their place in the real world. They could take the form, for example, of the Zimmer frame on display, personalised with a horn, lamps and a flag for easy identification, or of old, familiar film posters or long-remembered pieces of music and songs to sing along to – anything, in fact, which may be evocative of a time in the past which they hold dear and associate with their youth, family, love, and favourite pastimes, sports and hobbies. The human contact from walking, talking and dancing is vital to their well-being. Such stimulus is clearly the key to keeping those neural pathways open.

The final stand provided detail of the so-called ‘Herbert Protocol’, named after George Herbert, the originator of the excellent service provided by the Metropolitan Police in assisting and dealing with vulnerable and missing persons. Under this protocol, adults at risk can have their profile registered with the Met, so that they may be identified, kept safe from harm and more easily assisted.

Croydon’s Dementia Action Alliance – with its week of special film showings at the Museum of Croydon, information sessions and even a tea-dance arranged for dementia sufferers and their carers – will have gone some way to further sensitise the borough to the needs of the 3,250 local sufferers whose lights may have dimmed but whose spirits remain intact

Barnaby Powell

I'm a former development banker (in Europe and East and South-East Asia) and a Croydon resident for over 25 years. Currently I write and speak (mainly to schools and universities) on China and the impact of its rise on the rest of us. I'm also a school governor at Archbishop Tenison's School and a leader of the Croydon U3A China Group.

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