This evening one of our congregation gave up some time to speak to a group of us about dementia. She is a nurse specialist working with people who have dementia and a great enthusiast about her field. It's hard to pin down what I learned, there were so many things flying around from how alzheimer's disease works to the differences in behaviour caused by dementia. So here are some musings after the event.
I think what I found most revealing was the fact that people with dementia live in the moment much more than the rest of us (a factor of losing memory). The memories that remain are the deeply ingrained ones, deeply ingrained because deeply significant (whether for good or for ill). There is something of profound spiritual importance here concerning identity. It's also a challenge to the way in which the rest of us live, burdened by self-consciousness, inhibition and being too well-mannered to tell the truth. The liberating power of dementia sounds like a deeply inappropriate expression, but perhaps there is something that Christianity can relate to in it. After all, we know the cost of liberation.
What became clear, however, was the way in which our society is changing is making life harder for older people in general and people with dementia in particular. As someone at the meeting put it, if someone is recognised and known at the post office they can deal with that, but they can't deal with Sainsbury's. And post offices are closing down, while Sainsbury's are opening up. In fact, our society seems to be continually narrowing down the age bracket that it is set up for. The irony is that this is increasingly a youthful age, whilst the population as a whole is aging. Another spiritual challenge. The care of people with dementia is not just about residential homes and specialist agencies. It asks deep questions of the whole fabric of society.