Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Last week I participated in a dementia exposure exercise at River Forest Village Hall. This program was another step in the Dementia Friendly River Forest process. The program took about 30 minutes. I experienced some managed sensory alteration. It was powerful, undeniable and humbling.
Even though I knew the training experience was temporary, it drove home to me the disorientations experienced by people with various forms of dementia. And flowing from that, the experience allowed me to feel empathy for them at a deeper level as well.
As I was struggling to accomplish requested tasks during the session, amidst the disorientations, I had a flash of equanimity, thinking to myself that this is just the way it is, don’t fight it, do the best I can. (Is this what Navy Seal training is about?). I credit this equanimity insight to the work I’ve been doing around aging consciously.
I went through the active part of the session with greatly reduced peripheral vision. This gave me more respect and empathy for my mother-in-law, who views her world through a tunnel. Then, I was reminded of how many of us take our health for granted. Anyone who has experienced body malfunctions expresses gratitude when things are ‘back to normal’. The problem is that when our health is fine we forget to notice.
While we have limited control over how our bodies age, we do have freedom to fashion the meaning we make and the attitudes we hold. We can embrace new limits, and from there discover and give meaning to the things we still can do.
I am reminded of the author Mary Chase Morrison, who, writing in her late eighties, mused, “To preside over the disintegration of one’s own body, looking on as sight and hearing, strength, speed and short-term memory deteriorate, calls for a heroism that is no less impressive for being quiet and patient. Anyone who watches aging closely and with a sympathetic eye can sometimes be lost in admiration for the aging and their gallantry.”
Let’s appreciate the gallantry of our neighbors, family and friends who have dementia.