No one ever wants to hear a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, whether it’s for yourself, a family member or friend. The disease is progressive and has no cure. As Ann Hedreen writes in Her Beautiful Brain, a memoir about her mother’s illness, “I’m not up for this. Whatever this is.” It takes a community to support the needs of those living with memory loss from dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form of cognitive decline. Almost six million individuals live with Alzheimer’s in the United States, and because age is the biggest predictor of getting the disease, it’s estimated that that number will grow to 13.8 million by 2050 with the aging of the Baby Boomers.
Is it ever possible to understand the experience? A number of memoirs can help. In Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on my Dementia, Gerda Saunders documents her experience after she was diagnosed with younger onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 61. She kept a journal and put into words what it felt like to move into that strange country – “the death of the mind.” We also hear B. Smith’s voice clearly in Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight against Alzheimer’s along with that of her caregiver husband. He specifically addresses the high incidence of Alzheimer’s in the Black community and the underlying social/economic and environmental inequities which underlie the numbers. The British journalist and novelist Nicci Gerrard raises philosophical questions about the sense of self in The Last Ocean: A Journey through Memory and Forgetting as she helps her father after his diagnosis. How do you understand “the self” with a disease that dismantles it? If our “self” is made of memories, what happens when memories are lost? Look for more memoirs on our Alzheimer’s and Memory Loss book list.
Seattle has many resources to support those living with memory loss and their care partners: the Alzheimer’s Association, for 24×7 phone support; the University of Washington Memory and Brain Wellness Center, for clinical, research and community programs; the Frye Art Museum for its creative aging program; Momentia, for social opportunities; Dementia-Friendly Recreation at Seattle Parks and Recreation; and the nationally recognized support programs at the Greenwood Senior Center.
On February 8th and 13th, we’ll be partnering with the Center to screen a film featuring the voices of individuals participating in its early stage memory loss program. Be sure to register for this virtual program.
For those living with memory loss, storytelling and imagination can remain vivid during aging. In Creative Care: A Revolutionary Approach to Dementia and Elder Care, Anne Bastings, a MacArthur Fellow, talks about the power of the arts to create connection between the teller and the listener. Locally, the model Elderwise program emphasizes a philosophy based on respect and spirit-centered relationships. We’ll be talking with Sandy Sabersky and Ruth Falcon, the authors of the Elderwise Way: A Different Approach to Life with Dementia, on February 25th in a virtual program. In this time of COVID, don’t we all just want to find out ways to connect?
~ Posted by Nancy S.