I used to struggle to understand if those with dementia are still the “same person” or whether they are “gone” in a “premature death”. Dementia is sometimes described as “the slow death”.
Today I view it quite differently. Let me explain.
I believe we all change day by day – not just because our experiences mould us, but because we can and do change. For example, I have had periods of Beethoven, where I play nothing but Beethoven. During these periods, it is often impossible to enjoy another composer or even play in a different style. At other times, I play nothing but Chopin, or nothing but Bach. Yet at other times, I can move from one style to another easily with no problems.
In books too, my preferences change from time to time. I move from sci-fi to murder mysteries to action thrillers to mindfulness theory and practice. Of course, if we think about fashion and clothes, everybody (I hope) moves with the times. Yet despite all these changes of seasons and tastes, I am still me in essence. There might be periods of calm and periods of turmoil and sometimes I cope better than other times. But I am still me.
And so I think Mom is still Mom, but different. The essence of her is still there, although she behaves differently, thinks differently, and perhaps has different preferences.
Because of dementia, she may have a harder time understanding and reacting to what is going on around her. Because of dementia and memory loss and not always knowing where she is, she may feel more anxious. Because of dementia and losing the right words, she may be unable to express herself and her concerns and become more distressed as a result. The end result is that she is changed, partly because of the changes everyone goes through as time passes, but also because of the changes forced upon her by dementia.
But a person with dementia is still the same person in essence. Personally, I cannot say Mom is gone or that dementia has taken her – she is still very much here. Just different.