life lessons learned from dementia

sunsetHard experiences often teach the best lessons. Helping care for my elderly dad triggers childhood memories and reactions, fears for the future, and all the worst of me at times. The positive result is time to reflect and apply what I learn to other areas of my life. I have a lot to learn(!), so here are my first three lessons from my recent visit:

Even when I can’t “fix” it, I can still serve.

I would like nothing better than to cure my dad’s Parkinson’s and dementia, but I can’t. Medications, therapy, visits, prayers – other than a miracle – will not “fix” my dad. However, I can serve him. True service is determined by the one being served. He needs simplification in language and task, and continual and creative adjustments as his abilities change. He also needs my patience when he would prefer to do something (slowly!) himself and my respect even when he is confused or forgetful. Those last two are much harder for me.

Besides my dad’s illness, there are many things I’d like to change in this world: peace in place of violence, an end to inequities and inequalities, reconciled injustices, healing for hurts, desperation to encounter hope. I can’t fix those things either… but I can serve. I can go where I am called, give my best in all I do, and think of others rather than myself first – one day at a time. I can consider what will best assist others rather than what I want to do or what is easiest for me to offer.

I don’t have to be right.

I learned quickly that I cannot win an argument with a dementia sufferer. To the person with dementia, his perception is the only thing that is true. My dad’s delusions, paranoia, and denial are his reality. I cannot reason, argue, convince, or win him over to my perspective. I can only help him with what he believes.

That is often true with other people also. Even if we see the same scenario play out in front of us, our individual personalities, backgrounds, and values give us different perspectives of that incident. I can discuss, persuade, or pressure for hours, but I will never be the one who is right. I am learning – slowly – that I don’t always need to be right. My truth is often not the one truth in a situation. I can only help people if I care about and work with what they believe.

Attitude is powerful.

You would think I would know this one by now. I cannot change my father’s attitude, but I can change mine. I can look at his disease as a glass half empty and focus on all he has lost and who he was, or I can view the glass as half full and concentrate on what we can still enjoy together – neighborhood walks, quiet rests on a park bench, joy at watching fat rabbits in the yard, a New Mexico sunset streaked across the sky. He can sense my attitude, and he reacts accordingly.

He is not the only one affected by my choice of attitude. My family, friends, and co-workers also react to my half-empty or half-full mood. My actions may be good, but my attitude has the most powerful influence on his response.

These are the three lessons I am working on this week. I will share others in the weeks ahead, but this is enough for me for now!

How about you… which of these three is hardest for you?

What have you learned about serving others, caring about what they believe, or choosing the right attitude? 

13 thoughts on “life lessons learned from dementia

  1. Oh, Terry, I SO identify with your experience. It brought back memories of time with mom who had the same disease. Being willing to not be “right” was probably hardest for me with her limited mind! Although ALL these things were not easy. What a gift to him to have someone who cares enough to adjust to his needs! Love you!!!

    • You have been my inspiration through many hard days! I tell my sister often about how you cared for your mom for so many years. It is a nasty disease, but he is a good man, and my sister is AMAZING as she cares for him. One day at a time… Love back to you!

  2. I love this statement – “true service is determined by the one being served.” how many times a day do I get that wrong? great point about being on the other’s agenda, rather than your own. Thanks, Terry!

  3. I love how you love your dad! Your kindness towards him and his challenged mental state reminds me that I need to be aware that the way I think and understand life isn’t the way everyone else does–especially my mom. Thanks for the reminder to show up with grace. To be there for them–not me. Tough lesson that I struggle with learning–again and again.

  4. You are so open and vulnerable is your sharing…bless you sweet friend. This is a hard journey…

    Judy Kirkpatrick AIA Global Leadership Council, North Africa, Middle East and the STANs 651 Taylor Drive Xenia, OH 45385 (C) 513-235-5297

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