Comment | Dignity for dementia victims

Based on star-crossed lovers, Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook is one of the most heart-rending films and stories of all time. Not only is it the cliché of the forbidden, highly romanticised youthful love which tugs at the heartstrings, but its sub-plot deals with a more relatable and more tragic love relationship; the relationship with dementia. A scene particularly memorable is when Allie, now an elderly woman, suddenly remembers her husband Noah and their complicated past. For a few brief moments Allie and Noah are emotionally reunited as if they had been apart for years.

However, their passionate past is swiftly forgotten as Allie’s mind shifts back into a state of confusion and fear; she no longer remembers the man embracing her. In the film, the scene of chaos that follows Allie’s episode encapsulates the fear of an elderly woman with no understanding of where she is and an elderly man distraught to find his wife no longer recognises him. I cannot properly portray the despondency that is experienced in watching that scene from the film, nor explain what it is like to deal with that situation in real life.

Dementia is a disease that has neither a known root cause or a known prevention or cure. It is simply a case of developing it or not. In today’s world, people are living longer and mental disease among the elderly population is more common than physical disabilities. The Notebook’s portrayal of dementia creates a false hope in that short time of remembrance the person remembers everything and understands the situation they are in. Though in early stages of dementia a person may be capable of situational awareness, the established stage that Sparks’ character Allie is at does not warrant brief periods of realization or ‘snapping out of it’. Dementia is degenerative and progressive. Once it starts developing, memory recollection is infrequent and random often causing confusion and frustration.

Like most mental health cases, the issue is not so much the disease itself but people’s perceptions of mental health. Many might feel as though they have ‘lost’ their loved one to this disease because memory loss can cause people to forget the names and presence of family and friends. The fact that they can forget something so important like family creates a fear within us at the thought of having this disease.  Life seems worthless if you cannot remember your own.  As a care worker I’ve met some amazing people with dementia who have shared with me everything from stories of war to stories about their first date. Each one of them retains their personality and distinctive character. Despite this, many of their families chose to not visit, treating them as if they have passed away. Dementia is not death.

It is often expressed that people ‘suffer with dementia’; I would argue that they suffer with loneliness. Despite the saddening scene in The Notebook when we feel Noah’s anguish when his wife no longer recognises him, you are reminded that he visited his wife everyday whether she recognised him or not. Dealing with dementia requires patience and a strong heart, and even when the past seems forgotten, we cannot forget our loved ones.

Jasmin Vincent

Photo: New Line Cinema

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