The diagnosis of dementia is a hard blow for those affected and those around them. While most people fear the moment when their loved one no longer recognises them, the symptoms of the disease also dominate the daily lives of everyone involved in the earlier stages. The right way to interact with those affected, however, simplifies life, which remains worth living even with dementia.
A little smirk, here and there a questioning look, in between silence and occasional nods: When my grandfather's dementia was already relatively advanced about six years ago, words became alien to him and the language he otherwise used so readily and extensively dried up into silent lips. Communication with concrete sounds was at some point no longer possible, at least not from his side, and our conversations turned into listening to music together and well-intentioned monologues from me to tell him about his granddaughter's life.
Six years later, the coffee meetings with my grandmother have also changed. Her tongue still moves in quasi-endless loops – a word carefully chosen as the sentences are being repeated as if in a continuous loop – but the content has become more one-sided. "What does your boyfriend do? What do his parents do for a living? Have you ever been to their house?" These are questions that need to be answered, even if for the thousandth time.
Two loved ones, twice diagnosed with Alzheimer's, two behaviours that are yet fundamentally different. Hardly surprising, given that there are more than 50 different types of illnesses that fall under the umbrella term dementia. "Every dementia is different, just as every person is different", confirms Christine Dahm-Mathonet of the Info-Zenter Demenz, which around 450 people visited for individual counselling in 2021. Although forgetfulness, orientation difficulties and problems with language and the sense of recognition are common precursors and symptoms of the disease, they can express themselves in very different ways.
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