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  • Sharon Daltrey

What is ’patronising’?

Here’s the Cambridge Dictionary definition of patronise:

patronise verb [T] (ACT SUPERIOR)

to speak to or behave towards someone as if they are stupid or not important:

To be patronising is a behaviour. A model train set intrinsically cannot be patronising. You could try telling the millions of people of all ages worldwide who collect vast amounts of model trains, train sets or memorabilia that their trains are patronising. See what they say.

I wonder why responding to someone’s current needs and current cognitive state is considered by some to be patronising? When we are talking about those with Dementia, and the accusation of being patronising by using ‘toys’ to engage with them, it does occur that those doing the accusing feel offended on behalf of the person with Dementia. While it’s entirely understandable to feel protective of, for example, your parent, it’s another thing to mistake the person they are now with the person they were before Dementia progressed. I think of it as a journey that they are on, becoming more like the person they were before they were the fully fledged adult you knew.

It’s a simple thing: those with Dementia can either respond, or not, to stimulation, a train set, for example, is simply stimulation and the person providing the stimulation makes the difference. A train set, or indeed anything, can be presented in a patronising, condescending way or presented as something interesting to be explored, the difference lies in the behaviour and the intention of the participant who doesn’t have Dementia.

The benefits of playful activities in adults is well understood now in 2022, why would we exclude those with Dementia when it is known that they can benefit from the social connection and the freedom to express themselves whilst participating?

I feel that to enter the reality of those with Dementia, to sit alongside and share and activity together is a privilege. It builds a bridge and a connection that you both can share for a moment or two. Or you could carry on sitting in silence as though you are strangers.

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