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South Westerlies

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communication, dementia awareness, exercise

A spell of cold winter weather ends as the winds swing round from the east or the Arctic and come from the Atlantic, billowing in from the south west. To step outside on such a morning is heaven; the air is fresh, moist and balmy. The birds respond and sing their little hearts out.

This type of change is very evocative for me. It instantly recalls my childhood in south-west England, where this damp soft breeze is the prevailing element of the climate. Immediately I inhale deeply and visual and other images of headlands like Brean Down that stick out into the Bristol Channel come rushing in. Today this was accompanied by a strong urge to go back there and the words ‘I want to go home’ came with it.

Now in some ways, this is nonsense. My home hasn’t been in that part of the world since about 1975 and my parents’ house is long sold. So I asked myself what I meant by ‘home’ anyway. In this sense, I was referring to a whole collection of recollections and emotions. Part of it was about people, how they were in those long gone years. Part of it was about the ever-moving mucky brown waters of that part of the sea, how you can see bits of Wales on the other side. Other images included being in open spaces on the hilltops around Bath, looking at the endless clouds scudding past. Another part was just the sensation of being enfolded into this comforting wind. Beyond this, I was still thinking about childhood for some time afterwards: the interior of our house, the walk to school, the places where I played or hung out with my friends. And this just from the sensation of a wind. (Do people elsewhere feel their winds like this, like the Mistral? I imagine they do.)

People with dementia often say they want to go home. This can happen even when they are in their own house. It often happens in other settings like care homes or hospitals, though often when they are asked where home is, they may give their childhood address rather than their current one, or else they can give no address at all. We tend to interpret this in a rather literal way, and say that they are disorientated or that they have forgotten everything and regressed to their childhood memories. In some ways that’s no doubt true. However, I think there’s more to it than that. By ‘home’ they may well mean a complicated collection of things that cannot be verbalised. This may include a sense of comfort and familiarity. It may include fragments of all kinds of things from earlier life, some of it verbal but much of it involving other senses. The sense of other persons is important here: mother, brothers, sisters, other people who were loved once. ‘Home is where the heart is’ is a cliché but it’s relevant here, even if it doesn’t give the whole picture.

For now, time to get the wellies on and renew myself with some more air on my face.

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