Dealing with dementia
Discovering that a friend or family member has just been diagnosed with dementia can often be as devastating as the death of someone close to you. When you really think about, it’s a terrifying thought especially for the person afflicted that one day you may wake up and not recognize anyone or anything. Your surroundings become strange and you feel like you are losing grip with reality. Everything that you have worked for, everything that you feel defines you as a person is, all of a sudden, taken away and you become a shell of someone you used to know.
Having said that, I’ve painted a pretty grim picture of the effects that varying forms of dementia may have. Society typically portrays dementia as a horrible disease rendering people useless and unable to experience the fullness of life. That’s where we got it all wrong.
Dementia is a neuro-degenerative disease that affects the mind and comes in many forms. The most commonly known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive disease that comes in the later years of life and gradually impairs one’s cognition. We must remember that dementia is progressive, that’s the key word. Just because someone is diagnosed with dementia doesn’t mean that the person should be put away for his own safety and well-being.
The effects of dementia are often described in stages and over the years, I have observed first hand people in the final stages of dementia. Remarkably, many of these individuals were still able to live life to its fullest. It’s all in how you approach the situation. In Sunday school, I was taught to hate the sin and not the sinner. In other words be as angry as you want with the disease, but don’t let it change the relationship you have with the person. This is a time that they need you the most. You are their anchor to reality and treating them differently will only make the coping process much more difficult.
During my time as a Recreation Therapist, I remember having daily discussions with one particular resident. He would ask me the same question over and over again, and I would give him the same answer treating each question like it was the first time he mentioned it. You see with dementia, its not so much what you are talking about as it is about the pleasantry of the conversation and the preservation of dignity. Another resident always carried a framed poem with her everywhere she went. It was a gift from her husband who visited her at the nursing home everyday until he passed away. The poem read, “A good friend is one who remembers the song in my heart and sings it to me when I have forgotten.” Caring for someone with dementia should not be seen a burden. If anything it’s a fulfilment of loyalty, an honour rooted in simple compassion for the well-being of a friend in need.
Roldan Sevillano is certified in Therapeutic Recreation For Older Adults. This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Should you require further information, please seek the services of your medical advisor.