One of the questions often asked in caregiver support groups is how long will a person with dementia live? My answer to this question is always the same. Each person is an individual and the same way we can’t know how long each of us will live, we can’t know how long an individual will live with dementia.
Sadly, most people tend to generalize and forget we are talking about unique people. The term dementia or Alzheimer’s becomes a mold that makes us see only the condition instead of the individual. It’s time to break that mold and stop using problematic labels. Look at the person, understand the person and help the person.
Different Dementias, Different Symptoms
Dementia is an umbrella term that covers several conditions that cause change in a person’s memory and ability to think. When these conditions affect a person’s day to day life it is called dementia.
There are many types of conditions that can cause dementia.
The 4 main conditions are:
Each of these conditions affects people in different ways and even the same condition can present itself differently in each individual. This is one of the main reasons you can not generalize how someone living with dementia may react or behave.
He’s Stage 5
There are lists of stages from “The 3 stages of Dementia” to “The 7 stages of Alzheimer’s.” Although these lists were most probably invented to help family and staff understand what kind of help the person living with dementia may need, these stages have become yet another way to put people living with dementia into a mold.
Calling a person a stage, as in “He’s stage 5” is dehumanizing. Has anyone referred to a cancer patient as “stage 3” or do we say, “He has stage 3 cancer?” I have also never heard a pregnant woman referred to as “She’s month 4”, rather “She is in her 4th month.”
If we really want to look at all the stages of cognitive decline, we would have to begin our stages at adolescence! Did you ever wonder why children are able to learn a new language so easily? It is because the ability for learning a new language begins to decline as we reach adolescence.
From our 20s and 30s we already start to have plaques and tangles in our brains, that is part of the normal aging process. (In Alzheimer’s-type dementias, the amount of buildup of these proteins is much greater.)
As we get older, our brain cells start to die. Other factors, including
stress, can affect the rate blood flows to our brains.
Our brains are constantly changing, and everyone’s change is unique. This also includes people living with dementia. They are people, not stages.
Anything is Possible, Even if You Have Dementia
There are so many factors that can affect how a person can live with dementia. Genetics, diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and socializing are just a few of the factors.
This is why you can’t put people into a dementia mold. Each person is different and each person’s condition will progress in their own individual way. The reason it is important to break the dementia mold, is to allow a person living with dementia to not be limited. There are many people living very fulfilling lives with dementia.
Last year Paul Harvey, a pianist who is living with dementia, was given 4 random notes on the piano and improvised a beautiful composition. It was so amazing, that his video went viral. The BBC Philharmonic recorded his song, “Four Notes” and raised over a million dollars for charity. Last month Paul Harvey was invited to play with the BBC Philharmonic and after, was given the chance to conduct the orchestra. After this amazing experience Paul said, “I say anything is possible, even if you have dementia.”
The real way to break the dementia mold is to listen to those people who are living with dementia. Many are traveling around the world lecturing and even writing books to help others. If we break the dementia mold and remove the harmful labels, we will allow people living with dementia to reach their full potential rather than limiting them with our preconceived notions.
Oran Aviv has been a reflexologist for 25 years and is also a Certified Validation teacher. She combines both the principles of hand reflexology and Validation to teach ©Hands-on Dementia to help people connect and understand at a deeper level those who have memory loss.
You can follow Oran on:
Facebook: Reflexology – Oran Aviv and see notifications of her future blogs
Youtube – Oran Aviv Reflex and More and learn how you can use hand reflexology for self care
Oran is also the author of Hands-on Dementia for Caregivers, a Step-by-Step Guide to Learn 3 Reflex Points to Help your Loved One and Yourself