I think it strange and disheartening that as a society, once a friend or a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the overwhelming reaction is to feel primary sympathy for the spouse and family, rather than for those struck down. It seems that after the initial blow has been absorbed, we are very quick to diminish, and then sever, emotional connections with those losing their short term memory. For many of us, half a man, is no man at all.
Celebrating Alzheimer’s Awareness Day on September 21 is a bit like our confrontation of global warming or the global population explosion; we understand the causes, but as a society, we have no idea how to respond. For Baby Boomers this is just the latest, and probably the last, great social upheaval we are to live thru: civil rights, the sexual revolution, Reaganomics and the internet. And now Alzheimer’s, the least silent killer we all live with but never discuss and choose to suffer thru in silence as our prayers remain unanswered. For according to the Alzheimer Association there is no cure or meaningful slowing of the disease process.
America’s Baby Boomers are transfixed by the rapidly declining health of their parents; embarrassing incontinence one day, excruciating constipation another, all too familiar flash backs of what we did a few years ago for our children. Still the unspoken and dreaded terror, lurking behind all of our faith and dreams, is godforsaken dementia. All around us we witness the epidemic of dementia in our family and friends, and are painfully aware that the medical community offers little in the way of comfort or answers. Dementia is the least silent killer, and this rolling tragedy seems to merit little discussion and less hopeful prayers.
As our American families rush inexorably into our dementia epidemic, the most frequently unspoken question is, “when is the individual gone”? Or put more prosaically, if my mom can no longer recognize her children, is my mother gone and is the husk of her body a simple vestige of only my memory, but not her soul as her spiritual journey has seemingly ended. This is the heart wrenching dilemma of what some mistakenly call the state of the living dead.