The mind is such an interesting thing. And lately I have learned a lot about perception and memory. It has been in the news recently that we are not ready, as a culture, for our aging population. There are so many elderly who suffer from different forms of dementia. In our family, we have 3 distinct forms being exhibited right now. And not in some distant cousins, either. Up close and personal immediate family members. Learning about their different forms has been interesting. And it has made me think about our minds and bodies, and how we care for them. And what happens with there is some sort of a short circuit. I have friends who have dealt with mental illnesses and addictions in their families; we have that in ours, too. Mental health, in my experience, is becoming more and more an issue as our population ages.
There are so many theories about what we eat and how it affects our health. We are becoming a culture of medication. I know that in our home, we would run to the Tylenol or Alleve if a headache occurred. We would run to the DayQuil for a cold, or a myriad of other over-the-counter medications to treat our symptoms. But learning about alternative ways of dealing with symptoms led me to the approach of treating the entire person, versus the symptom. What is the root, causing that symptom? So many times, for us, it was our immune system being compromised. Our aches and pains were often caused by a lack of good, quality, minerals in our diets. We have changed how we look at food. And sugar feeds an awful lot of dragons, to use a term prevalent in the Whole30 diet. And these choices in diet are affecting our longevity, and the quality of our lives as we age.
Although, in our family, we have three separate and distinct types of dementia (none of which had the same causes) we are dealing with the same issues – confusion, loss of short-term memory, diminished capabilities, loss of knowledge common before. And their worlds greatly contract. It is so much like how a young child begins to step out into the world, gently testing the waters of society through play groups and park outings, dance lessons and Little League. And in the teens when their world explodes through learning in school and driving a car by themselves! I fondly recall learning about all the places close to our home when I began driving. I had not realized it was all there because I was a passenger – not the driver – and I had not truly paid attention to where I was going or where I was. And as we mature, our world grows exponentially as we embrace international awareness. We begin to actually listen to the news and participate in conversations and have experiences outside our neighborhoods. We get jobs, we vote, we go to college or marry and move out on our own, fully engulfed in our mature world. Only with these dementia patients, the process is in reverse. It is a letting go of what they once clung to desperately. It is becoming that little child, all over again. And when they have those lucid moments, trust me, they know. They know what they have lost and are losing, day by day. I think that is why so many dementia patients are angry. Somewhere, deep inside, they know what is happening and they cannot do a thing about it. I believe that frustration exhibits itself in angry words and a lashing out at others. Pure frustration. Many dementia patients cannot be alone, ever. They cannot function at the most basic level without assistance. And that is where our culture is headed, and I don’t think we are ready for it.
“Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me.” Ps 71:9
“Now that I am old and gray, do not forsake me, God.” Ps 71:18
“Yet, I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand. With your counsel you guide me, and at the end, receive me with honor.” Ps 73: 23-24
“Yours the day and yours the night; you set the sun and moon in place.” Ps 74:16
“O most high, when I am afraid, in you I place my trust. God, I praise your promise; in you I trust, I do not fear. What can mere flesh do to me?” Ps 56: 3b-5
“I am a sojourner in the land…” Ps 119:19
These beautiful Psalms light the way for us, with our faith and with assisting those who are aging. Their dignity and the love we bear for them, leads us in ways to care for those who are aging. One of the Psalms I did not list there, but which comforts me greatly when I am facing some daunting tasks is: “May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, no outcry in our streets” which is Psalm 114:14. To me it gives me strength in that the Lord will hold it all together. That when I cannot keep it together, the Lord will protect me against a “breach in the walls” of my life. God will help to stem any “outcry in our streets” and will give me strength to help those who need it. Caring for those with these many manifestations of dementia is a work that is tiresome and draining – on our mental health and our physical well being. As caregivers, we need to grab hold of these promises God has made to His people, and hold on. We need to be pro-active in ensuring we are healthy ourselves, and that we have the help we most desperately need, yes. But ultimately, it will be the strength of character and faith that will see us all through.
“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your kind spirit guide me on ground that is level.” Ps 143:10
“The Lord supports all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” Ps 145:14
“You, Lord, give light to my lamp; my God brightens the darkness around me.” Ps 18:29
“Your love is before my eyes; I walk guided by your faithfulness.” Ps 26:3
There are just so many examples of God’s faithfulness to carry us through our lives. In our family, we are facing some rough and dark days. We are about to take on more responsibility, caring for those who can no longer care for themselves. But we are not going into this alone and unprepared. We are preparing as best we can. And we are relying on our faith and the promises of our God to see us through. We are also being smart in preparing our bodies through better nutrition choices, and through concern for our own well-being. You cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself, first.
I think our country, and our world, as we progress further and further, and our population continues to age, will have much to think about, and many to care for. We are not having babies like we used to in our world, as much as the population-fearing-fanatics like to think we are. The workforce is not being replaced quickly enough (look at the studies being done in human resources and the world of working statistics). There are fewer and fewer people to replace our existing population, honestly. So who will care for those who cannot care for themselves? We already have an abysmal system of warehousing our seniors. Truly horrific so much of the time, even with the generous exceptions. It is becoming more and more obvious that we need to have our extended families, once again, under the same roof. It used to be common to have grandma and grandpa live with you. At least three generations under one roof. I think we need to seriously look at doing that once again. We are doing it – out of necessity, yes, but out of love, too.
Is it ideal? Maybe not. But I also know it will help us to grow as people. We will learn to serve and interact on a different level. We will be responsible for not only our children, but our parents, too.
“God is present as my helper; the Lord sustains my life.” Psalm 54:6
Our world is going to radically change. Our home is going to change, too. Our lives will not ever be the same. But the Lord sustains our lives; He is in control and is always present as our helper. “My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my secure height, I shall not fall.” Psalm 62:6-7 And as we, just one family, face these many challenges, I am curious as to how the world will deal with our aging population. I believe in the sanctity of human life, from a natural birth to a natural death. And I know we can care for our aging family members.
God grant me the patience to assist my family members in their last days, to grant them peace and dignity and to let them feel our love wash over them and give them comfort. Grant our family the strength through our faith in God to be the gentle caregivers for those who need our care the most – those who cannot care for themselves. Amen.