10 important facts i learned about people living with dementia from being my mother’s care partner

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My mom (right) and her brother Eddy (left) during one of their last visits together (April 2013). They both lived and died with Alzheimer disease and dementia in their mid eighties.

My mom, who lived with Alzheimer disease, and I were care partners for more than a decade. My care partnering role changed and evolved during that time. When it began, I lived overseas. In 2011, when it became clear she could no longer live on her own, I returned to Canada to live with her in her own home. She was relocated to a nursing home, which I came to call a “dementia jail,” on November 16, 2012. For the next forty-five months I visited Mom for several hours virtually every day.

I didn’t see her on August 11, 2016; I didn’t have the strength that day. But I was by her side for the next six, and I held her hand when she died on August 17, 2016.

Being my mother’s care partner was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also the most rewarding. I learned so much. I loved so much. I cried countless tears. I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything because I also experienced the deeply spiritual privilege of loving another person unconditionally.

Below are ten important facts I learned during and after the time I spent being my mother’s care partner (I’m still learning!)

People who are living with dementia, no matter what “stage” of the condition they are living with:

  1. are human beings with wants and needs just like the rest of us
  2. have feelings just like the rest of us
  3. have rights just like the rest of us
  4. deserve to be treated with dignity, just as we all should be
  5. are aware of the world around them, even when it seems they might not be
  6. are capable of loving others
  7. deserve to be loved and cared for
  8. can teach us lessons if we are open to learning
  9. are different than us, not less than us
  10. are not “empty shells”

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JM