Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

This is my favourite photograph of my Mom. It was the last time I saw her happy. It was April of last year and it was her 91st birthday. My mother has dementia and as I have watched her descend into confusion and paranoia and anger, it has forced me to examine my own life, emotions and motivations. Her dementia has taught me a few things:

1. No resentment is worth hanging on to.
2. Life actually is pretty good, if I choose to see the good bits.
3. What I used to view as people doing things “to me” was incorrect. People do things, even cruel or unkind things, out of their own motivations, history or pain. I have very little to do with it – I just happen to be in the way.
4. Just because I feel something uncomfortable, I don’t need to act on it. Guilt, anger, sorrow are just feelings that will pass.
5. I don’t need to act on other people’s expectations of me.

It is not easy to be a care-giver of someone with dementia and it has not been easy for me. While I would never wish this disease on anyone, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned. I wish my mother had learned these lessons before she was hit with Alzheimers. I believe it would have made her final journey now, a little easier for her.

16 responses to “Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

  1. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s. I am so sorry for the difficult time. This list is really priceless, especially #4. I totally relate and it took me a while to figure that one out, but it bares reminding. Thank you. And hugs to you and your sweet mommy.

    • Thanks so much. Alzheimer’s is such a terrible disease. There is no dignity in it and it is hard to watch as someone goes through it. But in everything there is a grain of learning to be had.

  2. My Grandmama suffered from dementia before she died. The woman I knew and loved was long gone before that body died. It was heartbreaking to watch, and my Dad wound up being the one who had to take care of her. It was a very stressful time for our family. Those five things you list are very good lessons. We all need to take note of those truths. Thank you for sharing.

    • It is a hard thing to go through. I saw my mom today and miraculously she was happy-ish. More than I have seen for a while. Those 5 things are what are keeping me sane at the moment. I’m sorry your family had to go through this too.

  3. Such heavy stuff you’re going through yet you seem to have a deep peace underlying it all…., your words are an inspiration to me…I’m gonna post your 5 points on my kitchen wall so I see them everyday….You are a wise and beautiful human, I am eternally grateful to you Diane.

    • Thank you Christine, those are very kind words. You as much as anyone know how hard-fought-for that peace is. It still feels fragile but each day I can maintain it, it gets stronger.

  4. Diane, I love your list of things you’ve learned about yourself along this hard journey you’re having to take. Remembering these things is sure to make your life much richer and more peaceful. I was talking about this exact thing with my massage therapist recently. She was describing a friend’s mom who has dementia, but who sits on a park bench, strikes up conversation with anyone who wanders past, and often invites them back to her place for tea. (This is all under the watchful supervision of her daughter). If I end up with dementia, that’s who I want to be 🙂 You’re right that we need to make peace with our demons now.

    • No kidding, Sally! My mom never even admitted that she had demons (she has a lot!) before the dementia hit. In fact she never even admitted that she had dementia. The words “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s” can’t be mentioned or hinted at around her without her pronouncing that we all think she is stupid and getting in a huff. In a perverse way, she is teaching me a lot…what I don’t want to do with my life. Sad, really. There is still joy to be had but she can’t see it.

  5. Good lessons to go by. My Aunt has dementia and I don’t know if it will turn into the “A” word. She is so sweet the time I visited her on Christmas. Forever 57 years old. She’s in that time warp.

    • If 57 was a good time for her, then perhaps forever 57 is not so bad. Generally, if the memory loss is consistent (i.e. doesn’t come and go) it is likely Alzheimer’s but if it is inconsistent then it is more likely to be vascular. Or so we have been told.

  6. You have such a collective wisdom and intuition. Your words to me yesterday will be embedded in my memory. I think our culture must now regain the knowledge of how to die, not just the death itself, but rather the process. I sense that this movement is gaining momentum currently with groups such as Dying with Dignity and so forth. Thank you for being a friend. This is a harrowing part of the circle of life and an instructive journey as you have so aptly noted.

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