About two months ago I was invited to have some regular contact with an elderly woman who has been diagnosed with dementia and now lives in a home for elderly people with this condition.
So I went to meet her and got to know the dementia nursing home and the staff that worked there. What I observed is that many of the residents were missing a sparkle in their eyes, or appeared vague with this blank stare. Most of the residents can‘t walk anymore and they just sit all day, with very little activity. It was eye-opening for me to see people spending the last few years of their lives this way. Seeing many of these elderly residents just existing in this haze, it made me consider – there was something more.
My Own Ways of Checking Out
Seeing all these people living with dementia was confronting to me because it made me become more aware of the way I used to live – and still partly live – my own life. I started to ponder more deeply on my own ways of checking out, of going off into my head, letting my mind go anywhere, doing things without being totally present.
I regularly checked out with distractions like surfing the internet or watching TV for hours, eating, talking, thinking, escaping into my mind, internet shopping or looking for a new home. An activity like surfing the internet itself is neutral, but it was the quality I chose to do these activities in: my intention was often driven by not wanting to feel and deal with what was really going on for me and the people around me.
I could feel how long I have lived avoiding to truly feel what is going on within and around me – so I started to realise that giving up and checking out is very familiar to me. I have not been taking responsibility for how I live and I have not been wanting to feel what I was feeling.
My experience now is: the more I allow myself to feel the more aware I get, even if it’s very confronting (like feeling people with dementia), and even if I have to feel my own choosing to check out. But this way I get to know more of me. Now I have to really turn around the way I live to support myself lovingly, to feel all and to stay present with myself and with what I am doing at any given time, and not to run and numb myself when I can feel some struggle or pain.
When I allow myself to feel all, I give myself permission to also feel the love and joy that I am and that is all around me: I now finally have felt this very clearly too.
So I started doing some research and reading articles about dementia…
In Germany we have at present about 1.4 million people with dementia and they expect a rise up to 2.2 million by 2030 (1).
So What Is Going On?
Something is going horribly wrong here. There is no coincidence in the way dementia is on the rise if we truly consider the way many people live their lives.
Dementia is not only a side effect of people getting old, it is a clear reflection of a society which is choosing to check out and distract as a normal way of being. And then, after doing that for years, they are ending up not wanting to feel how disconnected they have lived and finally want to escape from life completely.
Becoming aware of all of this and being honest with myself and how I was living, I now appreciate how much I have changed my way of living. From watching TV a lot and drinking alcohol every day throughout my adult life until I was about 30 years old, to now choosing to engage in life more fully.
Now I have a different marker in my body and I can see and feel that I am not empty but that I am full of life and vitality; this gives me a constant reminder to choose to stay present.
So now I present my whole self to that elderly lady with dementia, making sure I stay mentally present, not allowing myself to react but connecting in a loving way with her.
With that I am reminded that there is a different way, and that is what I bring into that home for people with dementia….. this is much needed.
I have started to connect to other people who work with people with dementia and I have started to talk to people about dementia in general. We need to really start to ponder on what is going on here, and to start the discussion…. what has led us to this epidemic?
By Janina Koch, Cologne, Germany
Dementia – is it truly a mystery?