Today we learned about dementia, a terrible disease that mostly older people suffer from.
I really find it a horrible disease, although our teacher told us that there are good sides about it too.
For example: persons who have been rather moody, mean and anti-social can end up being warm, sweet, caring.
This is possible because often one’s character changes completely.
People that were very peaceful, quiet can change to loud and aggressive.
As most people will know, you lose a part of your memory.
Your life is like a film roll that someone’s rolling back up.
It’s like a drawn line that you’re erasing.
The part that you erased on paper, also gets erased from your memory.
Which causes people to forget their husband/wife, since they simply don’t remember ever marrying or even meeting them.
This can be quite painful for the husband/wife of the patient.
They can also see their daughter/son as their wife/husband, since they are so alike with how their mom/dad used to look when they were younger.
Actually, the people suffering from dementia are going back in time.
Erasing the rest.
That’s why often, if they don’t die because of other things like heart failure, cancer, a bad cold, …
They die in fetal position, like a baby in the womb.
They’ve reached the end of the line.
Also, their muscles are so tighten up that they are almost automatically drawn into this position.
Also, they often don’t recognize their reflection in the mirror, since in their head they’re always looking younger, different than they actually do.
They live in the past.
I asked my teacher what you’re supposed to do if suddenly an old woman in the home, suffering from dementia, asks you where her husband (who died 20 years ago) is.
Should you tell her once more that her husband isn’t alive anymore?
That he’s not coming back?
Or do you just go with her fantasy?
Leave her the illusion?
She told me that you best either distract her, or even better: let her talk about her husband.
If you must, you can for example tell her that her husband is out doing groceries, until she forgets again.
But you NEVER,EVER tell her the painful truth again.
Simply because she wouldn’t believe you.
All she knows in that moment is that her husband is alive, she just doesn’t know where he is.
There’s no use in arguing with her, because she doesn’t know better.
Also, they forget things they’ve learned.
Manners for example.
You can easily see a person suffering from dementia standing in the hallway, masturbating.
Or undressing themselves.
They don’t know better.
They don’t know it’s not socially accepted.
They also forget how to eat, or even talk…
They actually become a little child again.
I found it a really fascinating and sad lesson.
Although I really loved and appreciated all the beautiful stories about the good sides as well.
What I find sad however is that in the beginning, the patients almost always realize what’s going on.
They either know that they’re suffering from dementia, or that there’s something terribly wrong.
They don’t feel right.
That’s the hardest part of the disease: the realization in the beginning.
One of the beautiful stories I heard today was about a father who had always been rather grumpy, mean, severe and emotionally distanced.
He never hugged or said that he loved his children.
Then he got dementia.
He completely changed.
And now whenever his children come visit him in the home, they get a warm welcome and he hugs them as if it’s the first time he sees them.
So finally, at last, he can end his life by leaving these last beautiful , treasured moments with his children.
That’s something his children will never forget and treasure.
Because there’s no cure for dementia,
there is medication which only delays the symptoms.
So no matter how you choose to look at it, dementia is always saying goodbye,
little by little.
All you can do is make the best of a very hard and tough situation,
and make beautiful memories that you’ll always cherish.