"Dementia is a mental health condition that can make or break families. Remember that behind the difficult behavior is your loved one."
SPECIAL REPORT: DEMENTIA
On my latest flight home, I sat next to a middle-aged woman and her father. Her father seemed to be struggling with some form of cognitive impairment—possibly dementia. I was very impressed with how throughout the 2.5-hour flight the woman was quite attentive to her father’s every need and kept him engaged and entertained. She did that by asking questions and sharing pictures stored on her phone that seemed to fill his soul with joy.
Very few of us pay attention to our parents when they grow older, especially those with dementia. We often take them for granted or get easily frustrated with them. Some of us even abandon them and then we wish for a different outcome when they are no longer with us.
My mother died in 2016. She had received a diagnosis of dementia during the ugly civil war in my home country, Libya. I do strongly believe that her memory quickly deteriorated because of the many times her heart broke losing loved ones to that conflict. I was lucky to spend the last week of her life with her; I was holding her hand when she passed. She might have not remembered who I was, but I know deep in my heart that she felt I was there. I would have never had it any other way.
Table. Suggestions for Caregivers
My grandfather also developed severe dementia. I remember him passing by my grandmother’s room—she died before he did—and asking, “Where is the lady who used to be here?”
Maybe I am projecting my own fears about this ugly disease since both my mother and her father died of dementia-related complications. There is nothing I can do right now to change my genes or reduce my risk, but a few things I will do and encourage you to reflect on if one or both of your parents are still alive are listed in the Table.
Dementia is a mental health condition that can make or break families. Remember that behind the difficult behavior is your loved one—a human who deserves to be found, held, comforted, and tended to with the utmost love and compassion.
Dr Reda is a psychiatrist in Colorado. He is the author of The Wounded Healer: The Pain and Joy of Caregiving.