The Beauty of Dementia

“Lord, please keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth”

Someone very dear to my family is suffering from the onset of dementia.  Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.  At eighty plus years, the memory of this person whom we love very dearly has gradually been fading away.  The experience of dementia can be frustrating, scary and heart-breaking, especially for the person suffering from this disease.  Dementia and Alzheimer’s seem almost criminal in their cold and deliberate theft of a person’s faculties.

The Real Heartbreak

What’s really heart-breaking is that this person whom we love so much has never been happy.  She is clever, artistically talented, and a great writer.  She loves nature, people and is very charitable.  However, for decades, my family has listened to this dear one’s troubles. We’ve all spent countless hours on the phone with her, listening to stories about her troubled childhood and how hard it was growing up.  She’s in the habit of reminiscing sadly about her marriage which was filled with conflict, strife, and constant challenges until it finally broke it apart.  Each new relationship that followed also seemed filled with white knuckled twists and turns, more drama and even more turbulence.  Happiness seemed to regularly elude this poor woman and life seemed unfair.

There’s a bright side to everything!

Recently, I experienced the first genuinely positive conversation with this dear lady.  It turned out that she couldn’t remember her many hardships.  When I asked about her health, she said, “Oh, I can’t complain.  I’m doing well for someone who’s eighty!”  Surprized, I inquired about her social life. Instead of the familiar complaint that she’s lonely, lives too far from her family, and all her friends are dead, she said, “Well, I keep busy.  I met a lady down the street and we have coffee every week.  I play bridge on Wednesday nights and go dancing with seniors every Sunday.  Really, I’m pretty happy.”  I almost dropped the phone.  Though dementia is a cruel disease, clearly, it has some benefits.  In a bizarre twist of fait, dementia is providing this dear person with a taste of happiness in her old age.

Your body can’t tell the difference between a scary movie and a scary real life experience.  When you recall the pain and suffering of a past hardship, your body can’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s remembered.  When you remember trauma, your body relives the fight, flight or freeze experience.  In the short term, your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing change. Your pupils dilate and your sweating increases.  The long term consequences of this regular stress can result in serious illnesses and a shortened life span.

Getting caught-up in your story

We all carry emotional baggage.  However, it doesn’t have to be a heavy load.  As soon as you catch yourself becoming caught-up in your memories of past trauma, sadness or heart-break, snap out of it!  Break your pattern.  Touch your toes. Jump up and down.  Break into a jog. Watch a funny video.  Do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction.  Go someplace you’ve never been before.  Take a cold shower.  Do whatever it takes to break your emotional pattern.   If you catch yourself getting caught-up in your ‘story’ again, repeat the above steps.  When you keep breaking your negative downhill patterns by suddenly interrupting your unhappiness and doing something completely different, you will rewire the neural network of your brain.  Your past will lose its emotional charge and your life will become more peaceful, more tranquil, and increasingly happier.

Try it.  You’ll like it!