Dementia and the Gift

I get a lot of gifts from people with dementia. And I’m not talking about abstract and intangible gifts. I’m talking about actual stuff.

Sometimes they are gifts “stolen” from another resident at a memory care community. Sometimes they are pulled directly from a dirty clothes hamper. Sometimes they are things that aren’t really useful to me–like a used lipstick.

I have been given family heirlooms only to return them to family members at a later date. People have insisted I accept horse figurines, gently used toothbrushes, expensive and inexpensive jewelry, cat beds, and rocks. People color me pictures. Once someone gave me a photo of their grandbaby so I “wouldn’t forget what babies look like since no one has them nowadays.”

Positive Things in Dementialand

There’s something refreshing about visiting a group of people at an assisted living, nursing home, memory care community, or adult day center—where divisions of social class tend to disappear, no one cares who much money you make, and a retired janitor is just as respected as a retired cardiologist. And all that stuff I watch on the news that makes me fear for the future of our country? I leave it at the door when I visit my friends with dementia. (It’s better than hot yoga—where my mind wanders to a Facebook argument about politics that I am tempted to enter as I contort awkwardly into pigeon pose.)

Nursing Homes and Guilt Traps in Dementialand

And then there are people who promise their loved ones that they will never place them in a nursing home. I once had a woman say to me, “My husband and I promised we’d never do that to each other.”

I can promise my spouse a lot of things. I can promise I’ll never cheat on him. I can promise I’ll never blow all our money at the casino. I can promise to always take the kitchen trash out when it’s overflowing. (Bill, I promise you the first two–I make no commitment to the third. The third was just an example.) You see, those are things I can control.

Impulse Control (Or Lack Thereof) in Dementialand

When I do presentations and explain how dementia can impact impulse control, I ask groups, “How many of you have ever felt like hitting someone, kicking someone, or verbally berating someone…but didn’t?” It’s funny. I’ve asked this question to quite a few groups: nursing home administrators, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, family caregivers, nuns, cops, […]

The Hilarious World of…Dementialand?

There’s a risk in associating humor and dementia that I cannot deny. I don’t want people to think dementia itself is funny. As a society, we do have a challenge in getting people to understand that dementia isn’t just about forgetting in old age. It’s so much more than that. The memory loss, as I often say, isn’t the worst part for many individuals and families. Alzheimer’s and related dementia diagnoses are serious and life-altering, but funny things do happen along the way. It’s okay to laugh when those funny things happen.

Fatigue in Dementialand (aka Why the Dementia Brain is So Tired)

People with dementia are often perceived as not trying when in fact they are working extremely hard. The dementia brain must work constantly to make sense of the world. It is struggling to interpret one’s environment in the way that the non-dementia brain might struggle to understand a calculus problem when one never took a calculus class.