donderdag 20 november 2014

Alive Inside Documentary

Today I watched Michael Rossato-Bennett's documentary about dementia and music.  "Alive Inside" needs to be a recommended watch for anyone affected by dementia .... okay, I guess that makes all of us!  It shows that the part of the brain that gives all people a love of music is not destroyed by a dementia - and that by listening to the music that they enjoyed in the past, people with dementia can reconnect with life and experience some necessary pleasure that is so often missing from their lives.

Here is a link to the trailer for the documentary.

maandag 29 september 2014

Euthanasia - is it becoming an option of choice?

The 2013 figure for deaths due to euthanasia was published in Dutch newspapers today.  On the increase were the number of people who choose to die after being diagnosed with a dementia.

"Dementia was the reason behind 97 cases, mainly early stage dementia in which patients were able to properly communicate their wish to die."

For more information visit:

While I acknowledge that euthanasia is not permitted in the majority of countries - this Dutch figure does indicate how many individual anticipate their future life with this debilitating disease.  As with all issues of personal choice, - it is a topic worthy of discussion.

maandag 24 maart 2014


Last Thursday morning my husband phoned me six times within the space of an hour.  By the time I noticed the missed calls and contacted him, anxiety levels were on the rise.  The reason for his panic?  Not remembering whether he had packed his wallet in his bike bag (where it was now not), or whether he had left it at home.  This lack of recollection was making him very anxious due to the imaged ramifications of having lost his wallet during the commute to the office.  Covering all possible causes, he had borrowed money to take the train to a point on the journey where he had changed out of his cycling jacket, believing that his wallet may have dropped during this process.  Meanwhile, the wallet spent the day undisturbed on the dressing table.

Compare this to our 11 year old son chaotically forgetting his school lunch pack at least once a month -  and not realising until lunch time.  Actually I have even witnessed him walking into the school grounds without his school bag,  lying forgotten at home.  I suspect that these memory lapses do annoy him briefly, albeit the outcome is not enough to make him change his behaviour patterns.

My own middle-aged memory seems to be functioning at an adequate capacity, although it is noticeably not as sharp as it once was.   My main complaint is that I am terrible at remembering names, yet have an uncanny knack for remembering the names of actors.  Admittedly, I sometimes need to phone home to check that I turned off various appliances, or to send someone to the supermarket because I have forgotten a necessary ingredient for the evening’s meal.  For me being aware of these memory lapses has resulted in efforts to change my leaving-the-house behaviour to minimise their reoccurrence.  I rarely call new people by their names, until I am certain that I will not mess it up.

Forgetting for someone with dementia is often complicated by not remembering exactly what is forgotten, and subsequently becoming anxious that you have forgotten something that you must remember.  To confuse matters further, the anxiety can attach itself to something unrelated, being manifested in a behavior (for example:  searching in someone else’s wardrobe) that further complicates the possibility of understanding what is happening for the person.

Short term memory is what holds us in place.  During the early stages of a dementia, gaps in short term memory become ‘black holes’ that the person drops into, losing themselves and confusing others as they search for a way back on to solid ground.

maandag 6 januari 2014

The Train to Somewhere

Last month I was traveling by train from Paris to Amsterdam. An elderly woman joined the train in Brussels. She was shown to her seat by two train security guards. The guards were friendly towards her, and as she wasn’t handcuffed to the seat, it seemed that their involvement was supportive rather than custodial.

The lady was dressed in a tailored skirt suit and calf length boots. Oddly she wore a sheepskin bucket hat that remained on her head throughout the entire journey. She was seated about three seats behind me, yet was constantly leaning forward to scrutinize her fellow passengers. Her gawking blue eyes made people uncomfortable, and left the impression that there was something abnormal about the woman herself.

Ten minutes after the train departed Brussels, the woman left her seat and started searching the train carriage. Stopping at each seat to glare at the person filling it, before moving to the person in the next row, she made no sound. At the end row, she exited the carriage. She was returned to her seat by a train steward. Apparently she was not looking for the bathroom, but for something or someone she could not explain. This pattern of: staring, searching, being returned to her seat by the staff – continued for the next two hours until we reached Amsterdam.

As the train pulled into Amsterdam, the woman asked me if we were in The Hague. She spoke Flemish, which is similar enough to my second language for me to understand the question. Unconsciously, I responded to her in English. Not only did she understand my reply, she spoke to me in English. I advised her to seek the assistance of the train staff. Eventually a female staff member instructed the lady to stay in her seat until all the passengers disembarked from the train. This staff member promised to return and help the woman clarify her destination plans. The staff member then left the carriage to prepare for the train’s arrival in Amsterdam, the final destination for the service.

As the train pulled into the station, the other passengers stood to collect their bags and to put on their coats. The woman also stood up and joined the line leaving the train. Her bag remained on the rack as she disembarked the train. Fortunately, her sheepskin hat was easy to spot, making it easier for staff to intercept her before she wandered into the streets of Amsterdam without plan or possessions.

There is little doubt that this lady had a dementing illness. The holes in her short-term memory removed her ability to make and follow a plan. Somehow she had a valid train ticket, perhaps purchased on a day less hindered by her short-term memory loss, or possibly purchased by someone else wanting to believe that she was capable of safely reaching a specific destination in the capital city of another country. Either way, the dangers of travelling alone without the ability to plan, orientate, problem solve and understand your surroundings and predicament – are great. Many sad stories exist of people with dementia who have gotten lost and are found dead a few days later. This well-presented lady was incapable of finding her seat on the train, albeit she had been shown the seat at least a dozen times and had her luggage on the rack above it. Her chances of finding her was to an Amsterdam address on a cold winter night, when she believed she was in The Hague – were very, very slim.