I have always been a huge fan of Bill Cosby, so it was like a dream come true when he was here in Greensboro. He did not disappoint; we laughed non-stop for an hour and a half while he wove his wisdom into funny stories about life. I especially appreciated his take on dementia, a topic near and dear to my heart. As some of my readers know, my Mother has been waging the battle against progressive cognitive decline for at least 10 years and has a condition known as vascular dementia. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
Dementia Happens. As we age, we are fortunate whenever medical problems can be solved. Even with all of our advancements in modern science, the brain remains the most difficult organ to fix. Dementia steals our ability to learn new things, to think clearly, to take care of ourselves, and to remember things from one moment to the next. Caring for a loved one with dementia requires a shift in the way we think. I often feel like I am straddling two different realities as I visit the world of my Mother and then work to interpret her needs.
Dementia has a language all its own. When you speak to someone who has dementia, be prepared to time travel. Topics of conversation topics may pertain to any point in time. While we usually think about the past but remember that we’re in the present, those with dementia have a difficult time differentiating time. It becomes difficult to distinguish between the past and the present, and who knows about the future? But we all have these great memory banks which we can revisit. After all, we’ve been collecting memories for years. My mother and I have decades of shared history that we revisit together.
Include your loved one by sharing your world. Even when folks are unable to express themselves, their ability to understand may be intact. Even when they are quiet, this person is listening to everything that goes on around them. They usually appreciate when we take time to explain what’s going on and they may even have thoughts to share. I am fortunate to have in my mother, the perfect confidante. She listens well and never betrays a confidence. I do not hold back information about my life for two reasons. First because secrets create barriers between people; and second, because I don’t want just a one-way relationship. Emotionally, I need to be able to lean on her a little bit too.
Dementia has a new set of rules. Calm music may be calming. Loud music may provoke anxiety. Play music from their favorite genre and sing familiar tunes together. Television may be disturbing. Whenever possible, avoid the news. Play movies that the person has seen before. Stick to musicals, comedies and shows that feature their favorite actors. Avoid commercials and keep things upbeat. Stories of loss and sadness can cause depression and fear. It is our job to create a comforting environment.
Dementia changes our spatial preferences. People with dementia erect a zone of space around themselves. Though you cannot see the walls, you must be respectful and essentially, knock before you enter. When I first arrive at my Mother’s house, I walk up to her, speak to her and let her eyes focus on me rather than rushing up to her with hugs and kisses. Her mind needs a few moments to adjust to my presence and engage her recognition. I find that our best visits occur when I slow down and move at her pace.
According to Bill Cosby, dementia begins for all of us at about age 5. When we’re little kids or big kids, and someone asks why we didn’t do something, we naturally reply, “I forgot”. Cosby normalizes dementia as something that starts early in life. We forget to do things all the time. Cosby says that kids and husbands always get into trouble for things they forget to do. Some of us compare people who have dementia with how that person used to be, and then look on with pity. I like to compare my Mom with how she was yesterday. All things considered, she usually says or does something quite remarkable and I get to walk away with a smile.
©Copyright, 2013, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Family Relationships
Return to Table of Contents