Coping with the Stigma of Dementia
People stare. Most are not unkind, they are just curious. But when someone “different” from the norm becomes part of their environment, they often gawk without thinking about or understanding how this affects others.
Anyone who has cared for a disabled child or has a visible disability of their own knows this. However, people who care for an elder with dementia may have more difficulty coping with the stares of the public because the person they are caring for was once their dignified father or charismatic mother. The pain of seeing others stare, not knowing how this person was robbed of his or her cognitive abilities, has the potential to bring out the defensive protector that lies within each of us.
Dementia Constantly Throws Us Curveballs
In addition to this public pressure, when I used to take my father to his frequent doctor’s appointments at the local clinic, I was also faced with the challenge of not knowing which version of Dad I would be escorting.
Dad’s dementia descended, full-blown, overnight following surgery. He was a dignified intellectual, who made it his life’s work to be considerate and caring to others. But now he was suddenly capable of becoming a spectacle at a moment’s notice. When Dad was sleepy and I was wheeling him into the clinic, he was basically ignored. I could take him to his appointments in the para-transit bus, they would wheel him off and I would be on my own with dad in the clinic. A sleepy Dad was a quiet Dad, so he didn’t stir much interest.
Sometimes he was awake enough to know what we were doing, but those times were fairly low-key as well. Anyone paying attention could note issues, but those sideways looks came and went quickly.
On the other hand, when Dad was deep into one of his ultra-demented states, he did provide quite a show. A time I remember well was an instance when he was alert and happy as could be. This should have been a positive thing, but in that mode, he was loudly having a conversation with someone who was not there, in Spanish, his second language. He was waving to “his public” as if he was riding on a parade float. Of course, people stared. And the little brat in me wanted to yell, “He’s smarter than any of you! He can’t help this, so stop staring!”
How did I cope with stares from strangers when I was in public with my father who suffered from severe dementia?
I didn’t say anything. But I became painfully aware of what spouses and adult children go through when their dementia-stricken loved one has an “episode” while out in public. Many…
Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. “For anyone having to walk the last segments of life with a loved one, read this.” …Delores
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