How to exploit dementia
I’ll explain that headline shortly, but first let me share a dilemma: I have fallen in love and have nowhere to go.
I can’t marry the other person because each of us is happily married. We can’t live out youthful passions because our youths are gone. We can’t get any closer because there is no closer closeness.
I’m talking about my wife. Hours with her always makes me feel as I did when I first had hours with her: This person is captivating, and I want to be held captive. Fortunately, she felt the same, and we moved into marriage and parenting. Our bond carried us through decades of career and service, agreements and disagreements, travail and grace.
But I must say, these days, having my heart brim for my wife brings me to a standstill. I feel the same impulse that led us to marry. We did that, and then (see good fortune above). So now what?
Now we die.
I say that with a smile. I say that thinking of an airplane flight: You strap in for the unknown, take a fast bumpy roll, rise into gliding and turbulence, sit back, eat, drink, chat, sleep, move around, sit back down. Now it’s time to descend, that’s all. This is where we meant to go.
Bodies descend. We die. I say that as my wife and I see her brain dying. So are mine and yours, but in some of us it is more visible. Before her time, Janet’s mind has started to malfunction. Her memories dissolve. She gropes for words. She stumbles and gets lost. She has early-onset dementia, diagnosed with cognitive tests and a brain scan and our own observation. Descent has begun.
It’s most gradual. We’re still flying, still moving forward, still enjoying the sights. This flight is still business and pleasure, because Janet is still working as the director of our public library, and she and I still have wonderful times. We’re still gliding. But lower in the sky.
How do you handle descending in a plane? Janet and I are fortunate to be comfortable with flying. It holds no particular fear. Not that we’re never affected. Our hearts might race, our bodies might tense. But not unduly. On the way up, during cruising, on the way down—we’re okay. If you are anxious on the flight, seeing us a row ahead across the aisle might soothe you. We’re a relaxed pair of heads reading or resting or inclined toward each other. Seeing us might bring home to you: “Oh, this is just a ride.”
Now to bank toward the title of this article. If you received an encouraging smile from either of us during descent, that is exploiting the descent.
Why do I say “exploit?” It’s to press a point.
“Exploit” is a negative word when it means “to make use of unfairly.” And of course making use of things can turn negative. If you ask me to watch your dog for a while, please don’t exploit my willingness and leave him with me too long.
But “exploit” can also be a positive word when it means “to make use of,” period. To find benefit in. Humans exploited fire and rocks and salt and on and on until we have today’s world, which of course has minuses, but also pluses. If you hold only the negative in mind, that is all you will see.
“Dementia” is a negative word when it means malfunction of the mind. It’s distressing to forget vacations and weddings and appointments, no question.
But “dementia” is a more neutral term when it simply means that one’s mind does not work the way it used to. And it can sometimes be a good thing when one’s mind does not work the way it used to. That has been the case with Janet. For decades, she suffered from depression, anxiety and insomnia. Now hardly at all. Her mind doesn’t work the way it used to. It doesn’t work against her nearly as much.
Yes, her mind has also has ceased to work for her in certain ways. But if you hold only the negative in mind, that is all you will see. You will never see the positives in exploiting or in dementia, and you will certainly never see how to exploit dementia.
Janet and I do know how. Our project This is RED aims to raise $1 million for Janet’s library will she can still contribute to and enjoy the effort. Her dementia is a meaningful motivation. The centerpiece of the project is our trying to make my debut novel a bestseller, with all profits going to the cause. We’re making use of Janet’s condition as a strong reason to succeed sooner rather than later. We both want her to see it all happen. Because what is better than reaching the end of the story in a book or movie just before the plane lands?
Sit back, Dear. I’m right here.
P.S. I composed these thoughts while on a lovely beach vacation. I first shared them with Janet while making this video below about a graphic I was going to post at the end of our wonderful week. Below the video is the graphic itself.
Janet Eldred is a former bookstore executive completing her 15th year as a library director in 2019. Keith Eldred is a writer, designer, marketing professional and long-time library volunteer. Janet has early-stage dementia. She and Keith are aiming to raise $1 million for Janet’s library while she can still contribute. Their website www.thisis.red presents a plan to donate all proceeds from Keith’s debut novel and attract direct contributions.