As an Aging Life Care specialist, when I sit down with family members and there is a dementia diagnosis, I ask if the spouse or parent is aware of his diagnosis. While I have never accurately kept count, I would say eighty percent of individuals are not aware of their diagnosis.
But what about the remaining twenty per cent? Bruce, a longtime client, was one of my statistically unproven twenty per cent. It was tortuous for him. An accomplished engineer, he knew he was forgetting. And every time I saw him, he would tell me he was forgetting because he did not remember he had told me the week before he was forgetting. I would point out to Bruce the many things he could still do, including The New Times crossword puzzle in record breaking time. I reminded him that with 24/7 care, he would never be alone to face a task he could not accomplish by himself.
I have always felt that in my profession, in the giving there is receiving. Before Bruce moved to Arizona, I learned a lot from him, specifically what it felt like to forget where a stamp went on an envelope, what each of his medications was for and even the names of his caregivers who were a constant presence. So, let me share with you what Bruce shared with me:
“I feel stupid”
“People must think I am an idiot”
“Getting old is so hard”
“I am terrified”
“What am I going to do?”
“I don’t remember what I am supposed to do with _________
“Don’t leave me Miriam”
“What is Verizon?”
“I’ve lost my direction”
To each of these remarks, I would validate what he was feeling, never minimizing or negating his insights and fears. I helped him to recognize his strengths. But secretly I hoped the day would soon come when he would join the eighty percent who were not aware that anything was wrong with them. Peace in oblivion.