“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.