Life After Dementia

Richard Gunderman emphasizes that “a dementia diagnosis is not the medical equivalent of falling off a cliff”:

To provide the best possible care for dementia patients, we n eed to get past some important misconceptions about the disease. One is that Alzheimer’s, which accounts for about 80 percent of dementias, is strictly a disorder of memory. In fact, it usually involves many mental processes, including the abilities to focus attention, organize thoughts, and make sound judgments. Another is the notion that Alzheimer’s is strictly a disease of cognition. In reality, it can affect emotions and personality, as well. But perhaps the biggest misconceptions [occupational therapist] Theresa [Klein] encounters regards a dementia diagnosis as the end.

Naturally, being diagnosed with dementia represents an important change in life, but it is certainly not a death sentence. Some patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will live another 15 and even 20 more years, though others will progress more quickly. Nor does it represent the end of all that is good in life. Theresa and her colleagues have learned a crucial lesson that needs to be disseminated to caregivers everywhere: “We should dwell less on lamenting what dementia patients are incapable of and focus more on bringing out and celebrating what they are capable of doing.”

(Video: “My Little Friends” documents a program designed in a facility in Mt. Kisco, New York that connects elders with dementia and young children)