Silver linings in the dementia cloud
BY JACK YORK
Thumb through the latest dementia statistics that hit us from all angles and it’s easy to get depressed. More than 5 Million Americans are living with the disease, by 2050, this number could rise as high as 16 Million. The diagnosis has reached a point where the fear of dementia is stronger than the fear of dying. Wow!
But, take heart; there are positive stories to be had out there in the world of dementia.
So enough of the gnashing of the teeth, how do faceless numbers and foreboding statistics get turned around? It’s actually not that hard, lift your head up from faceless statistics, and go out and meet people who refuse to let a diagnosis, and the perceptions that surround the diagnosis, get in the way of a fulfilling life.
Since co-founding “It’s Never 2 Late” more than 18 years ago, I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of people, deal with dementia in a positive, head-on way. This includes people with the disease, their families, and their caregivers from senior living communities. These stories have been a never-ending source of optimism for me and our company, but no one person has hit me quite as passionately as a humble, retired pharmacy owner in the middle of Georgia– Robert Bowles.
I had the pleasure of meeting Robert last year at the Dementia Action Alliance conference. He and his cohorts were panelists at the event. They brought a unique perspective to it, a usually eschewed perspective– the perspective of actually living with the disease. It was not replete with self-pity or sober reflection; but rather an inspirational message that hit me between the eyes. It was simply “Quit feeling sorry for me, just treat me like a normal person! This is not what I envisioned for my future, but I’ll make the most of today.” There was no bitterness, just a normal Joe enjoying his life from a different perspective.
“It was a relief…. no longer did I have to struggle in darkness as to what was taking place in my body.”
Robert’s journey has been a remarkable story of an attitude adjustment. After seeing eight physicians over 18 months, he finally received a diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. Robert explains. “It was a relief…. no longer did I have to struggle in darkness as to what was taking place in my body.”
Initially, he thought he could cope, but trips to multiple physicians left him cold, and later depressed. He explains. “When I sold my pharmacy at age 63 and stuck my key in the door for the final time, I immediately became depressed. I no longer had my patients to love, care, educate, encourage, and give hope to. I was drowning in darkness. I immediately became depressed and was started on an antidepressant. The 11th day of treatment, I became catatonic. Over the next year, I began having syncope (fainting episodes) and falling and injuring myself. During this time, I slept 16-20 hours a day.”
With his family’s support, his faith, and his own sense of determination, Robert turned it all around. His family is a bright spot in his life, adding joy and purpose. Robert appreciates that they love him just as he is. So today, years after his diagnosis, he lives life to the fullest each day and takes nothing for granted.
Robert’s story, and my relationship with him, profoundly transformed my perspective of dementia. It changed how I talk to people with the disease and how I talk to people about the disease. It inspired me to share a positive message of hope. I love the opportunity GRAND has given me to share these stories; they will be the focal point of my work with the publication.
Years after his diagnosis, he lives life to the fullest each day and takes nothing for granted.
So the next time you are dealing with your own dementia demons, or you hear more about the dreads of the disease, think about the good old boy in Georgia who is actually enjoying life, one day at a time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JACK YORK
As you can see from his first article for GRAND, Jack York is more than the president and founder of Its Never 2 Late, a highly successful technology company serving thousands of elder citizens and the communities who provide their care; Jack is a man on a mission to help spread the words and deeds of real humanitarians that inspire, educate and motivate.