The gift of dementia.
Yesterday I spoke to my friend whose husband is living with dementia. Lockdown has not been easy, but she has done everything possible (and impossible) to protect him from COVID-19. A sudden urinary tract infection did not help, nor did the impending doom of possibly running out of wine and having to go for x-rays.
Whilst helping him with his morning bathroom routine, he takes his hand and gently strokes her hair, saying “I love you.” The gentleness, vulnerability and uninhibited affection hits hard. More than thirty years of marriage – a good marriage – but never has he shown affection so unguarded.
Can it be that there are indeed gifts in this journey? I do believe so. We spend our lives building up defences. And then dementia breaks them down. IF we are in a loving relationship, surrounded by the things and the people who we love and who love us, our true Self starts shining through more and more. We become, we grow, I do believe that we actually evolve when we no longer resist being who we really are.
I can see the same thing happening with my Mother. She now has no problem saying things like “I love you”. Those words never came easy before. She has become gentler and more grateful. I thought that she would find it difficult to adapt after my Father’s death. Yet, she is content, telling me constantly that she has nothing to complain about.
We need to look at dementia not as a monster disease that eats away at our Selves, but a different way of Being in the world. We also need to see that people living with dementia should not be institutionalised.

Our teachers.

Probably the most important thing that people living with dementia teach us is to be in the moment. While we spend hours and hours on meditation and mindfulness courses, they have perfected the art of Being. Just Being…
What is the most difficult thing for most of us at the moment in this COVID-19 pandemic? Do Be still, in the moment. I have practised the art of Being in the moment for the better part of my 54 years in this lifetime. Yet, I fail miserably. The internal dialogue churns away like a stuck record, if I am not hungry, I need a cup of tea, or I check my phone – scrolling between facebook and instagram and whatsapp and linkedin and back to facebook. Yes this is an extraordinary time, yet what better time for us to become quiet? Yet, we flit around like the butterflies in a garden full of tempting colours.
Is this perhaps why so many people find it so hard to Be with someone living with dementia? Is this why we always want to reminisce with them and forever try our best to make them remember things from their past? I see this with my mother, who is so content to Be in the moment with her dog, her television programs, her garden, looking over the sea. She has no need to think back all the time, nor to worry about the future. She has perfected the art – thanks to her memory loss – of Being in the moment. And it makes her so happy to not have to stress about anything outside of the now. She delights in our phone calls, in the weather, in what is happening in the soapies on tv, in the meals they have and the new growth in her garden. Is this not the ultimate state of bliss that so many of us yearn for?
In this peculiar time that we are now facing, perhaps we will begin to see the gift that people living with dementia is offering us. The gift of Being in the now. And perhaps we will take more time to Be with those living with dementia, not get frustrated with the fact that they cannot remember the past, or have no interest in the future. Perhaps we can learn from them about being Present, truly Being with them without any distraction. It will stand us in good stead to learn this…
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 <> <>