Happy New Year!
To ring in 2018 in style, I decided to do a fun mini-series on "Real Talk" topics. These are the down and dirty things many don't want to address until it is too late. Unfortunately with aging come wrinkles, weird smells, unfiltered jokes and death.
Today's blog post is best paired with a glass of red wine (heart health!) and your most comfortable outfit, because this is an uncomfortable - but necessary - topic to discuss.
Aging, dementia and Alzheimer's do awful things to our bodies and minds. Unfortunately that means losing control of many things -- and I'm not just referring to your bladder. As memory loss progresses it removes barriers and "filters" we all rely on to keep our conversation topics socially acceptable, our undesirable opinions to ourselves, and most importantly: prevent the family secrets from slipping.
If you don't believe me or think "that won't be a problem for me"... continue reading. Losing your filter usually goes one of three ways:
1. The "Stand Up Comedian"
My favorite story to tell from working in a memory care happened when we had some volunteers come in to help out. One of our sassier residents, I'll call her "Ethel", always vocalized her thoughts and opinions... loudly. One of the women visiting was a larger lady and, being blessed with a slender build, Ethel was quick to share her thoughts on how that woman got so big. Ethel could not be silenced ("don't shush me honey - she did the eating, not me!") even when we tried to explain that her opinion was best kept to herself. Dementia took her filter away and Ethel frequently cracked jokes at the expense of many others.
2. The "Walk Down Memory Lane"
If you're lucky, this one means sharing fun stories, sometimes embarrassing but mostly harmless. Maybe we hear that the eldest child was conceived on a Ski Vacation and the whole family has an awkward laugh, but no one gets hurt. Unfortunately, memory lane may not be a happy place for everyone. In addition to reliving memories, both good and bad, this is where the family secrets can slip. I'm talking about affairs, unrequited loves, maybe even old lies such as "who actually dented the Porsche" in the summer of 1979... it's all fair game with dementia and Alzheimer's.
3. The "Anything Goes!"
If you want more details about this one, I recommend reading about or attending a lecture on Sexuality and Dementia. All I will say is I've heard things that could make Estelle blush.
While there is no way to prevent these things from happening, there are ways of soften the blow. It's better to be honest with yourself and your family while you still have control over your faculties. Believe me when I say it is much better to have control over when and how your family learns sensitive information.