When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it’s natural to focus on the many aspects of their life and yours that are being lost. Indeed, the dementia journey can feel like a long process of erosion.
In Alzheimer’s Disease, the part of the brain that allows us to convert experiences into memory is affected first. Brain cells shrink and die. As they disconnect from one another they can no longer create the connections that allow memories to be stored. This results in the loss of short-term memory.
Damage to nerve cells in other parts of the brain results in further losses. Eventually a loved one may be unable to go to work, make a cup of coffee, recognise family members, ask for what they need, speak, or feed themselves.
As a care partner, the changes caused by dementia affect many aspects of the life you once knew and your plans for the future. Precious aspects of your relationship are lost, like conversation, support and security.
Because many people find it hard to relate to a person with dementia, some of your friends may disappear too. And as society tends to recognise people because of what they do, rather than just because they are precious human be-ings, dementia may also result in a loss of recognition and respect.
While walking on the mountain a few weeks after my mum died, I sat on a rock to admire the view. As I looked down, I noticed two heart-shaped quartz crystals embedded in the rock.
The message to me was clear:
Dementia is like a process of erosion. Over time, a solid rock may wear away and crumble into sand. But that is not the full story, because that same process of erosion may reveal a beautiful crystal hidden in the heart of the rock.
It takes courage to embark on this journey of loss. But many care partners have discovered that dementia can also become a journey of love.
Dementia strips away much that is superficial in our lives. It reveals aspects of our loved ones and ourselves that were previously hidden from view. It destroys the myth of independence, and invites us to connect with our loved one more deeply than we had ever imagined possible.