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The Lëtzebuerger Journal is already celebrating its second digital birthday. We have found our place in the media landscape, evolved and are ready for 2023. None of this would be possible without the people who tell us their experiences and perspectives. To mark the occasion, each team member looks back on a story that was particularly meaningful to them this year.
Senior citizens, pensioners, grandmas and grandpas – no matter what you call them, they are the section of society that has already left behind the part of life characterised by (professional) activity. Those people who are gradually slipping into a more passive existence, whose abilities are slowly but surely declining and who will eventually be dependent on help. But people in the last stage of life are also those who possess a richness that always makes me listen spellbound – a richness of stories they have lived through, of experience gathered over a lifetime and the wisdom that results from it, even if it sometimes does not fit the classic definition.
It may be a trifle unusual for "conventional" journalism, but at the beginning of my text on how to treat people suffering from dementia, I talked about my own experience, because two of my grandparents had, or have, Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. What quickly overwhelms many relatives, I see as part of growing old. As my grandmother would say, you just "become a child" again. In old age, thoughts crawl into the past. Things that have long been part of the "passé" are remembered as if they were yesterday. Basics like table manners or etiquette in public are wiped away, because what was there two minutes ago is no longer remembered in the minds of people with dementia.
Of course, the conversations become more repetitive, the exchanges are mostly limited to "old jokes" and the hours spent together take place mostly – if not entirely – in the little living room at home, after all, physical abilities also decline with advancing dementia. Nevertheless, the person whose memory is clouded by the disease must not already be forgotten as they are not gone – on the contrary. It is precisely when memory is fading that affection is needed. A loving gesture, a hug, an encouraging handshake. Simply all the things you need yourself when you feel lost and insecure. And for people with dementia, insecurity eventually becomes a constant companion.
"It is precisely when memory is fading that affection is needed. A loving gesture, a hug, an encouraging handshake. Simply all that you need yourself when you feel lost and insecure."
My grandmother, who celebrated her 93rd birthday in November, forgets any details about our professional activities, relationship status or shared conversations – what remains, however, is the sigh of relief when she hears a "yes" as the answer to her question about whether her children and grandchildren are happy. Because of her illness, she no longer knows where my boyfriend works, that I, myself, have been working for almost ten years now, or the name of her carer who lives with her 24/7 and looks after her. All details that are actually unimportant, because what counts for her is the knowledge that she was able to teach us something we can take with us and the confirmation that we are satisfied. A kind of wisdom, or simply the profound knowledge of what is really important in life.
I could fill pages with the many stories that my "Boma" told me and that fascinate me every time. Pages with all her expressions and phrases that make me smile, but behind which there is always a piece of wisdom. And I could fill pages about how important it is to treat people with dementia in an appropriate way, which is also the way to act around old people in general – because like them, we all grow old at some point and can only hope that someone takes this to heart.