Respect for Elders, Part 2

I received a ton of mail about the call I described in yesterday’s blog.  The following letter from a listener is representative of the wide range of reactions people had to that call:

Dr. Laura:
While listening to your program with my incredibly sexy husband yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel some sadness and frustration toward the caller who resented her loved one with dementia.

My grandparents, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in just over a month, are currently battling dementia, and watching the progression of the disease can be heart-wrenching.  I spent so much time with my “Pop” and “Mi-mommy,” learning important principles like “Can’t never could do anything,” and “pretty is as pretty does.”  They were known by others for their compassion, kindness, and wonderful wit.

They both began experiencing symptoms of dementia about three years ago, with simple forgetfulness turning into frequent short-term memory loss and the loss of the ability to perform simple tasks.  Dementia is a progressive illness, and although they battle it with all their might by taking medications to help slow the disease, we can see the constant decline.  Resentment has not been a feeling anyone has expressed.

When my grandfather tells the same story 5 or 6 times in a 30-minute period, we listen like it is the first time we’ve ever heard it told.  When my grandmother weaves together in her mind multiple stories and comes up with a muddled collage of a past experience, we engage her and help her to recall the old memories.  When they are struggling to remember how to pour water in a glass or operate the TV, we patiently help them recall.  We don’t do it out of obligation or even to keep from feeling guilty.  We do it because, years ago,  THEY taught us to show kindness and love and compassion.

I work in hospice, and on a professional level, I know all too well the course this mean, aggressive disease takes.  I cherish every moment that they can tell me a story, and I will treasure every time I hug them and they know who I am.  I know that one day, I will sit down and hold their hands and they won’t be able to tell a story, and they won’t know who I am.  They won’t be able to hold their heads up or smile, but I will still be there with them, because that’s the person they have helped me to become.  If I sat with them and listened to them and held their hands every day for the rest of my life, there is no way I could repay them for what they have given me.

In October, I’ll be walking in the Alzheimer’s  Association  Memory Walk (http://www.alz.org/memorywalk/) in honor of my grandparents.  I will do everything I can to fight this brutal disease and I beg those in our society to think about the compassion we owe our fellow man.  A wise physician I once worked with said “The measure of a society can be seen in how we treat our young, our old, and our dying.”  I pray that our society does not let me down, and that we treat our elders with the love, respect and dignity they deserve.

Striving to be half as wonderful as my grandparents,

Alison