Mentioning Dementia to My Henchmen and Henchwomen

“If they think they are so young, why don’t you just hold up a mirror to them?” This was one of my manuscript reader’s responses to my description of the common behavior of patients with dementia. Very often when I made visits to them, I’d hear eighty- and ninety-year olds worry about their parents or express a desire to visit them. Take my advice: if you wish to visit a dementia patient, check in your logic at the door. Mirrors? Come now, let’s think about that for a second. Suppose, after rubbing your hands in anticipation of giving your victim a jolt, you were to actually carry out this craven act. First off, I imagine that if the patient were to look in the mirror, s/he might think that was someone else, thus foiling your dastardly plot. Second, suppose s/he did in fact recognize who it was. Like the character Dorian Gray, they would be subjected to shock and awe not to mention horror at this sudden unbidden transformation.

Of course I am taking advantage of an editor untutored in health care to commit my own merciless act of skewering him or her for such an insensitive comment. The point is, if we can let go of everyday logic for a deeper kind of logic, interaction with those with dementia can be enlightening, surreal, even humbling. Asking for momma can mean they yearn for love, as we all do. Their telling me a younger age for themselves upon each succeeding visit is a kind of time travel perhaps emotionally parallel to the film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” (About a man who is born an ancient man and who gradually becomes younger and younger until dying as a baby, if you follow me.) As for memory, facts may fade and names no longer hold sway, but the ability of being fine-tuned into emotions, which is the essence of connection between humans, can endure until consciousness dissipates.

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8 thoughts on “Mentioning Dementia to My Henchmen and Henchwomen

  1. Cathy says:

    I wonder if a desire to see one’s parents could also be a way of saying they are starting to think about “going home”.

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  2. Definitely could. Sometimes the best way to understand these patients is to take what they say symbolically rather than literally. Then they will make more sense within our more “limited” logic. However, we can never really know what an “illogical” utterance may mean; it could just simply be random vocalizing. I add the “however” as a caveat against romanticizing what they say.

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  3. Ruth Kolpack says:

    Thanks for your comments about sensitivity about dementia patients.
    Ruth Kolpack
    Chaplain
    Beloit Regional Hospice
    608-363-7421
    Mission… “To help make each moment of remaining life as full and comfortable as possible.”

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  4. I love your mention of Benjamin Button here. Caring for my mother who has dementia makes me think of that film all the time. I am convinced that the writer interacted with people who had dementia!

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    • Your resonating with my reference to Benjamin Button goes to show, we never know when something we say or write will hit home. But, so to speak,I am curious: in the film, he was not confused on account of dementia, but from his biological plight. In your opinion is such confusion similar in dementia?

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      • For me, what feels similar is the continuing regression to childhood. My mother keeps acting more child-like including in very visual ways such as how she wears her hair. It makes me think of the film even though they were clearly not portraying anything like dementia. She is also more connected with her childhood and talks about it much more than she did ever before.

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  5. Not only is that an informative answer, I can sense your loving attention to her behind your words.

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