Dawna Friesen: ‘Diagnosis of dementia isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.’
I remember when it dawned on me that my mother was showing signs of dementia. She was visiting me for a few weeks and I always made sure I left her something for lunch while I went off to work.
One day I called her to see how her day was and ask whether she’d had lunch yet. She sounded cheery and energetic and said yes, she’d had pea soup.
That’s when I knew something was up. There was no pea soup in the house. When I got home, I checked the fridge and realized she hadn’t actually eaten anything all day.
It hit me then that we were at the start of a long slide which no one would be able to stop. I knew enough from my father and grandmother that there is an inevitability to the progress of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
It slowly steals memories and eventually leaves a shadow of the person who was once so vibrant and full of life.
I have written before about how I feel I am grieving for my mother who is still alive and how we need to get to the point where a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean exile to a distant, unreachable place.
But just like the disease evolves, so has my thinking about it evolved.
After that incident with the pea soup, my mom continued to be active and go on little trips and hang out with my son.
She loved to laugh. We had some great times together.
In some ways, she seemed more relaxed and tolerant and willing to see the funny side of things than before she developed dementia.
When we moved her off the farm and into a beautiful retirement home, where she had her own suite and had all her meals in a lovely dining room, she seemed to blossom and loved interacting with the staff and the other residents.
That phase didn’t last forever, but it was a happy time for her and for our family.
So, what I realize now is a diagnosis of dementia isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.
Sure, we know where things are headed at some stage down the road. But there’s still a journey to get there, and it can be filled with joy and laughter.
The most important lesson my parent’s story has taught me is that living in the present is the richest part of living. Retrieving memories is powerful and meaningful too, but when that ability starts to fade, we shouldn’t give up.
We should become even more aware of the power of the moment and remember not to exclude those who have the disease, or be dismissive and impatient.
We must — as the Alzheimer’s Society says — be there for those who are still here.
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