Ronald or Maggie?


Questions: Supposing you had dementia, will you tell? Why?

Who will you tell?

Will you even know you have dementia?

Answers: umm, Yes, No, Maybe, It depends.

I have always wondered about the above questions, and struck by the different approach taken by 2 previous world leaders:-

In 1994, Ronald Reagan gave a speech announcing his Alzheimer’s disease. He ends his speech by saying –

“I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”

By all accounts, he led a life cosseted by close family and friends until he passed away 10 years later.

On the other hand, Baroness Margaret Thatcher is not known to have admitted to having Alzheimer’s. Her daughter Carol was vilified for revealing her mother’s illness in her memoirs. She said (this taken from article in BBC News) –

“I almost fell off my chair. Watching her struggle with her words and her memory, I couldn’t believe it,” she says.

“She was in her 75th year but I had always thought of her as ageless, timeless and 100% cast-iron damage-proof. The contrast was all the more striking because she had always had a memory “like a website”.

In recent years, more and more public figures are standing up to admit they have dementia – Glen Campbell, Pat Summitt… Like Reagan, they are aware of their condition, facing up to it, accepting help, trying to live their lives the best way they can. Unlike Reagan, they are not hiding away.

There is still a significant stigma against mental illness in Singapore. There is no public face to dementia. Dementia is generally attributed to old age, as seen in the recent article below, which also highlights how family members go along with this erroneous belief.

Denial sure looks sweet and pleasant. But the truth is a great deal more painful and ugly. Painting only a rosy picture about mild dementia puts an unreasonable burden on caregivers who struggle daily.

But I’m guilty of going along with mom, and not talking about her dementia. That’s why the visits to the Memory Clinic are a strain. Undergoing the memory test makes her irritable, because the questions are so simple and she probably realises she ought to know the answers. Not knowing irks her.

And the Neurologist saying to her “You have dementia!” gives me a fright. I sense she is not willing to understand, not willing to acknowledge there is a problem with her mind. Because our sense of self is in our heads. That’s where we “are”.  Being told we are not right in there must be earth shattering.

I am full of admiration for a fellow blogger, Kate Swaffer, who blogs regularly and advocates for dementia sufferers like herself. Please lend her your support!

Back to my original questions. Would I tell? Probably. If I knew. Will need all the help I can get!

Wouldn’t you tell?

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25 thoughts on “Ronald or Maggie?”

  1. i tell about my brother, because it brings me comfort, knowing that people pray for him and me, and makes me feel like someone cares, while it is just my brother and i fighting this battle

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  2. Singapore is not alone in it’s held stigmas about mental illness. Many cultures around the world and in the United States have various degrees of “let’s not discuss this openly” about it. But with the disease increasing and touching so many lives, those stigmas are slowly falling away. Would I tell? After a lot of crying I would be a very vocal advocate.

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      1. Thank you. I hope to never have to be my own advocate but in the meantime I do what I can. And yes, the burden on the relatives is rough but we cannot know what is weighing down the one with dementia. I’m sure it too is heavy.

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  3. Yes. My entire adult life has been an open book, with the strangest forms of familiar diseases. I read a post yesterday by a woman who, after years of being told that her pain is in her head, and trying everything her doctor can give her, a visit to a specialist revealed osteoarthritis throughout her body. I hate that she is dealing with that awful condition, but I am glad that she no longer has to listen to people who say she isn’t really sick, and it’s all in her head. Long way of saying I’d want to know what’s going on, and an honest prognosis, with no pussy-footing around.

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  4. Yes, I would want to know and yes I would tell. But it would probably take me a few days or more to digest and come to terms with the diagnosis before I told my family and then my friends. We get the support we need by sharing the truth and not by hiding it.

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  5. My mother was told by her doctor that she has dementia. Dad talks about it occasionally, but I can’t seem to bring myself to say those words in front of mom. I’m not sure she really understands or believes. She has never spoken about it. I find it a terribly difficult subject to discuss with her.

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  6. I’ve thought of the possibility of my parents suffering dementia, but I’ve never thought much about it for myself other than hoping it neverhappens. It makes me uncomfortable to even think about it. But I’m pretty sure I would tell…

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    1. Yes, it would seem unfair and disrespectful not to let our loved ones know.
      I’m hoping it doesn’t happen to me until I’m really really old. There are preventive measures – exercise, eating fish and veg, and reducing stress in life.

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  7. A man whose memory was affected by the abuse of prescription drugs in his younger days does not like people to know that he has memory issues. He fears people will take advantage of him. When I was with him and had to correct or remind him about something I had said, he’d become angry. Of course, anger is triggered by fear. So I would have to assure him that communication is regularly screwed up by many totally healthy people!

    I go to my oldest sister in a few days, wondering if she will remember me… What a disease!

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  8. It is absolutely imperative that we tell. Hiding the truth perpetuates the stigma and the denial. The world needs to know and prepare to cope with the coming dementia epidemic. It’s already here, but it’s going to get much worse. By educating and waking people to the reality confronting us, we are doing important work that will save lives and improve the quality of those lives.

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    1. It is so hard to tell sometimes. I can imagine someone afraid that they are having dementia will feel very afraid and vulnerable. There are also those who will take advantage of people with dementia. I agree it is good to share the news with loved ones, especially in a safe setting.

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  9. As we get older, there is definitely some memory slowness, if not loss, not due to dementia. The truth can be cruel and hard to face. Be gentle, as you would want someone to be gentle with you. We do what we can.

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