I recently read a blog post written by a woman in Florida (she blogs under the name “stumblinn”) who has been living with young onset dementia for fourteen years. Her post of May 8, 2012 was entitled “Dementia and spirituality” and you can read it here . She writes
I am glad that I have never seen myself as a victim of or suffering from dementia. Having dementia is not a choice for me, but not suffering from it is. We suffer when we resist what is, see what happens to us in life as unfair. When we remain aware at all times that everything that happens is an opportunity for learning and spiritual growth, then there is no suffering. (That does not mean there are no challenges to face as without them, there would be no growth.)
I found her comments instructive. It reminded me of an article I ran across a few years ago published by Baylor University. I liked this article because it considers dementia in the spiritual context and asks “what is it that makes us who we are?” It is illustrated with a picture of a quilt to demonstrate how the story of each of our lives is connected to others’ lives. Dementia may rob people from remembering their “story,” but others can help them remember by reinforcing each individual’s uniqueness and honoring the person’s “be-ing” not just their “do-ing.” I’ll quote Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel’s comments at the White House Conference on Aging, back in 1971:
Older adults need a vision, not only recreation.
Older adults need a dream, not only a memory.
It takes three things to attain a significant sense of being: God, a soul and a moment. And the three are always there.
Just to BE is a blessing, and just to LIVE is holy.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of resources (articles, books videos, etc) under “Spirituality and Dementia” that is available here.
The U.S. has recently declared a “War on Alzheimer’s” and some commentators are optimistic that Alzheimer’s Disease may be treatable by 2025 – read an article in the April 2012 Scientific American here, but while this focus may prove successful to combat and prevent in the future there are many people – both individuals and families who face many different types of challenges right now. This is why I liked stumblinn’s post.
The World Health Organization issued a news release on 4/11/12 under the title “Dementia cases set to triple by 2050 but still largely ignored” and essentially recommended that dementia public awareness and diagnosis needs to be expanded beyond the eight nations who currently have national programs to address dementia. One of the topics covered in the release was providing more support to caregivers. In this country, we need to continue to expand our understanding of people with dementia as people first, not medical problems to be fixed.
In the meantime, there continues to be evidence that lifestyle choices and habits still factor into the dementia diagnosis in significant ways, U.S. News article “Everyday Activities Might Lower Alzheimer’s Risk” is here and efforts to get people with dementia out in nature to reconnect with it to get back in better touch with their essential humanity are helpful as are programs reconnecting dementia patients through art (an article in The New Old Age series). I’ll explore more about gratitude for “what is” in a later post.
©Barbara Cashman, LLC