Dementia: Shifting Mystery to Meaning and Management

I’ve been working on a medical humanities project. Some Duluthians are part of it, including communication instructor Daniel Egley and his partner Beverly Egley.

“Mom’s conversation changed as she struggled with short-term memory loss. She remembered events that happened decades ago as perfectly as if they occurred yesterday. However, she could not seem to remember this evening that she received phone calls today from her three eldest sons for her birthday. Furthermore, this phenomenon affected her ability to create relevant conversations with us and others. She did not say anything related to the topic (birthdays, family visits, worship experience) because she struggled to remember anything appropriate to say. In an effort to join the conversation, she strived to recall something, anything from her experience, to add to the discussions. Unfortunately, the only thing she remembered were bromides. When we noticed this shift in Mom’s phrasing, once again, we were troubled. We asked ourselves, “Why does she do that?”

Mom was the Valedictorian in her class. She worked for a university extension center and two county governments. She spent a lifetime completing crossword puzzles in ink. She raised five boys, lost two husbands and her youngest son, and still proclaims that she has lived a great life. She has always been intelligent, hardworking, creative, and witty. So, why was this smart, funny, world-wise woman suddenly using clichés in everyday conversation instead of just speaking her mind? Again, “Why” is the incorrect question. In this situation, it does not resolve the issue she has in carrying on a conversation. For the sake of Mom’s health and wellness, we needed to ask the two questions from Acts Chapter Two.

First, “What does this mean?”

Second, “What must we do?”

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