When you hear the words dementia or Alzheimer’s, a certain image may come to mind. For many people, the cliche is that it is someone who has “lost time” and is living in a time period other than the present. You may think “scatterbrained”; someone who loses their keys or puts their purse in the freezer by mistake.
The reality is that dementia is a very personal disease that looks very different for each individual. It not only depends on which type of dementia they have (there are over 400!); it also depends on which part of their brain is impacted. In addition, every person has their own history and unique story, which also impacts how dementia is manifested.
Over the past few months, I have been blessed to get to know many of the residents in my Mom’s memory care facility. They are all precious and unique, and sometimes uniquely challenging for the caregivers. I wanted to share a little about them here to help put a “face” to the different ways dementia can impact individuals. For their privacy, I have chosen not to use their real names.
This lovely lady reads anything she can get her hands on. Not limited to just books or magazines, she reads the back of the dinner plate, scraps of paper, signs on the wall, directions — anything she can get her hands on. She just has a love of words. When she’s not reading, she’s talking. She loves to talk to people. Sadly, sometimes her words no longer come out in the right order or even the right words, but she still wants to communicate. It was no surprise when I learned that she was a librarian. Books and words were her livelihood and her passion.
Did you ever have one of those wind-up toys that would go until it hit the wall, bump, turn, then continue going? This is how it is with the walker. He walks from sunup to sunset, only pausing occasionally for meals, a hug or to say hello. Then he’s back on his path, very purposeful and determined.
For these two gentlemen, dementia has impacted the language area of their brains and they have lost the ability to speak English. One only speaks German, the other Spanish, and yet they are the best of friends. They spend their days together, walking, chatting, and sitting, with some mysterious method of communication that is unfathomable to others.
The Computer Specialist
After retiring from the Navy, he built computers. Even now, you will rarely see him without his iPad in hand. He knows how to FaceTime with his wife and you often see him assisting the staff with technical issues. He’s always willing to act as photographer/videographer for the many activities they have. His memory issues have not impacted his technical skills.
Why This Matters
It is easy to create a single image of what dementia looks like in our minds. By doing this, however, we do not take into account how the disease impacts each and every person differently. This is why it’s essential for us to understand that room for individual experiences should be given when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s. We must strive to not just have an empathy towards those living with the condition but also attempt to learn more from them about their experiences and struggles. Learning about people living with dementia can help us understand more about the illness as well as respect its diverse forms. As we strive to educate ourselves on dementia and its various manifestations, let us make sure that we prioritize listening so that it is a personal education instead of relying solely on textbook details. We can also explore ways on how to help families dealing with this illness, from providing support groups or offering caregiving services such as home visits and meal delivery. It is important that we continue finding ways to show our compassion towards individuals living with dementia, normalizing their experiences instead of ostracizing them through stereotypes.