COVID-19 Dementia Ageism Virus Person Agency….

COVID-19 Dementia Ageism Virus Person Agency….
Navigating the space between precautionary measures to protect older people and their right to live a life of autonomy is not easy. It shines a blinding light on our inherent ageist default mode – that older people, like an endangered species, should be protected at all costs, losing sight of the fact that people over 65 are the biggest growing sector of the population globally. Like with an archive or a herbarium or museum, we want to “preserve” them, not noticing that we might actually be killing them in the process…
“Yes, this virus is a killer” we are told by the so-called experts. (Is it just me, or do we suddenly find a virologist or epidemiologist around every corner?) “Lockdown” becomes the only option, like stuffing people into glass preserving jars, tightly closing the lid to make sure they are kept safe. Safe, but another form of dead. The dead of detached, the umbilical cord of life giving hugs and visits and socialising being snipped off by the fear of the virus.
What is the answer? Is there an answer? I certainly do not have one. All I know is that we cannot go on living our lives without being connected. It is killing us, and especially older people, through a long, slow deterioration of the Soul. We are validated through our social connectedness, we feel through being hugged, being seen, being heard. Touch is an essential life force.
People living with dementia are intuitively more sensitive to environmental factors. (There is ample evidence of this.) We may think that we can hide something from them – it never works. Whilst they might not be able to react to the knowing, it has an impact on them. Environmental stressors like too much noise, people fighting, bad smells, even the stress of an underlying emotion are picked up by people living with dementia. It might affect them in ways that we never think of – loss of appetite, suppressed emotions, withdrawal, increased irritability, mood swings and many more. These are NOT the symptoms of dementia, but the very real reactions to a world that is affecting them in ways that they find difficult to deal with.
It is no use that we pretend that “nothing is the matter”. Most people living with dementia are acutely attuned to their environment. The more we pretend, the more they will not trust us. Be honest, be open, talk about what is going on. We cannot “protect” people from Life. We owe them the courtesy of knowing. It is incredibly patronising to withhold Life from people as if they do not have the right to know, or the ability to comprehend. By doing this we take away agency and citizenship.
We are all in this together, all of us. And if it looks as if the person living with dementia does not understand, look again. We would have done the right thing, as with any other person, to inform. That should be the baseline point of departure. From there, we can navigate the road ahead, unchartered as it may be…
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>