July 24th, 2024

To Your Health: A valuable resource for dementia patients

By Gillian Slade on August 21, 2017.

We value memories without even thinking about it, going to great lengths to create scrapbooks that record precious moments from our past, perhaps adding photos of evocative images. Those memories can help us experience once again a moment of great joy or one of sorrow. They can occupy our thoughts endlessly, bringing pleasure or not, depending on our focus.

When you are faced with the news that your brain is no longer functioning as it should and that you have dementia it can feel overwhelming. While many books on the market address caring for those with dementia there are very few written by someone with a personal diagnosis of dementia.

“Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia” by Gerda Saunders is particularly valuable in this regard.

In 2010 as she was approaching her 61st birthday she received the diagnosis of microvascular disease, which is the leading cause of dementia. She ended up retiring earlier than planned as a result and embarked on telling her story.

With an aging population we all will, or currently do, know someone with dementia. It is in our own best interests to be aware of the challenges faced by those with dementia so that we are an understanding and compassionate society.

Saunders cleverly weaves her own fascinating background, growing up in South Africa before immigrating to the U.S. in 1984, with medical and research information to give you an understanding of the brain and all sorts of other relevant information that really gets you thinking. Saunders holds a doctorate in English and served at associate director of the gender studies program at the University of Utah until she retired.

She includes her own journal notes of the challenges and experiences that dementia presents for her and unexpected ways our memory works.

Most of us have memories from childhood that now may seem quite inconsequential and yet they have stuck with us vividly. Saunders presents information on why those memories have lingered while others have not. Our emotional response to those particular moments appear to play a big part in whether our brains decide to store them.

Our memories, that we depend on so fiercely, can also play tricks with us. Saunders reveals details of a memory that took place on the farm where she grew up. Her siblings were also there when that memory was forged, however there are significant differences in how they each remember the event. It is fascinating how all of the subjects witnessed the same thing and yet remember it differently.

Saunders is generous in revealing the challenges she currently faces in everyday life. The value in us knowing these is huge in understanding the challenges those around us may be facing.

There are frank discussions with family that Saunders invites us to join revealing the concerns she has for the future, planning for additional care and what that will cost. Saunders already reveals details of the sort of life she would not want to be living in future and has given family specific questions to answer to determine if her life is worth living.

“Memory’s Last Breath” is published by Hachette Books and is available also at Medicine Hat Public Library.

Here’s to memories and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her by email or call 403-528-8635.

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