I read at a nursing care center every two weeks. From the hearts of people who never remember me, I receive amazing gifts.
What is to be learned from Alzheimer’s or other dementia patients?
Sharing: Some people enter into relationships with a requirement for memory retention. They need verbal reflections of their own value from those who have fully-functioning memory banks and verbal fluidity. Without empathy, the face of a person with dementia is constant frustration—the “all about me” need never satisfied. Pure charity (love) is giving without the expectation of reciprocation.
The Existential: In reality, all we have is the moment. We tend to forget the present as we rehash the past and plan for the future. Moments are lost as our busy minds run wildly. Visiting with someone with dementia quiets our minds when we allow ourselves to be still as we hold loved ones’ hands, look into cloudy eyes, and offer kind words. Moments become a celebrations larger than the indulgences of memory or mind-preparations for dinner or other non-monumental planning.
Recognition of Personhood: Society, as a whole, has corrupted how we celebrate personhood. We are asked to admire the crazies on reality TV, boorish politicians who devalue segments of our population, and advertisements defining beauty and success. Reality TV vs. reality: people get old or have disabilities and they still have value. Political rhetoric vs. reality: there is more value in a person who has worked for many decades, raised a loving family and done their best to be honorable than any politician who ignores the many needs of the elderly. Advertisement vs. reality: no model is more beautiful than an elderly man or woman with a smile—with or without teeth.
What inspired this post? I always greet and hold the hands of each resident as they come to my readings. Again, after I finish my 20-minutes of readings and humor, I tell each person goodbye and hold their hands.
Last week, one woman pulled my hand to her lips and kissed it. Her eyes were clear. I bent down and kissed her white hair in need of a brush. In that existential moment, we connected as women on a journey together.
I grieve for all those young people who are not learning from their elders. Learning may be wisdom imparted or the acceptance of an elder who only has “in the moment” to offer.