Finding Happiness, Not Heartbreak, Among the Demented

Finding Happiness (not heartbreak) Among the Demented

By Susan Stewart

In a recent article (March 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine) about caring for people with dementia, author and visiting nurse Sally Tisdale delves into the day-to-day world of real people suffering from the various myriad forms of brain disease. Offering us a rare glimpse of the highly individualized (and often mysterious) responses to their demented condition, Tisdale finds “… a world that is far more nuanced than the commentary surrounding it: there is grace here, rare intimacy, moments of startling clarity—and yes, happiness.”

“The stark fact is that dementia is incurable, progressive, and fatal, but … in the company of the demented, one finds peace and unquestioned love in at least as much measure as in the rest of the world,” she continues.

Where others see only loss and embarrassment and tragedy, “I see the riches: the brave, vulnerable, completely human work of figuring things out,” Tisdale explains. “People with dementia sometimes have a rare entrancement with their surroundings, a simplicity of perception, a sense of wonder.”

“The communal response to dementia seems to invite only existential despair,” she says. “Yet people with Alzheimer’s consistently rate their quality of life higher than their family members do. … people with cognitive impairments were no less happy than healthy people.”

Please read Tisdale’s piece in its entirety at https://harpers.org/archive/2018/03/out-of-time and hear the joy it offers to those affected and those who care for them. I think you’ll agree with her when she concludes: “What a wonder it all is, that we appear and abide and fade away and no one knows what follows.”

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