A dear old friend with Parkinson’s disease shared how the disease affected him. He could not move as he willed and sometimes froze unpredictably, and this affected his ability to walk and to eat. His handwriting has changed, becoming much smaller and less legible. Fortunately, he is able to type text on his phone and use his computer.
Mostly, he feels the loss of easy speech. Speaking is difficult, and speaking clearly is even more difficult. He explained that he makes a lot of effort to speak because if he doesn’t, his mind will shut down, because what’s the point of thinking if you have no means of expression? (If a tree falls in a forest and nobody’s there, does it make a sound?)
I started thinking about persons who have somehow lost the ability to speak, such as persons who have had strokes. How frustrating and lonely it must be not to be able to communicate, not to be understood. No wonder some persons with stroke end up depressed and withdrawn. It is a human need to be part of a community, and not being able to participate in conversation must be very isolating. In some strokes, as in Parkinson’s, the mechanical difficulty of speaking interferes with the process of communication, and such persons are still very alert despite not being able to express themselves. Their thoughts swirl in their brains, with no outlet.
In dementia, on the other hand, often the ability to remember and process thoughts occurs first, and the person is still able to communicate. I remember Mom making things up to hide the fact that she cannot remember. Her lies and confabulations flowed fluently. Later on, when her thought processes became more confused (although she did not realise it), she was speaking clearly enough to convey the confused logic to us. It was at this time that she would make up new words to replace words she could not recall.
Now, dementia has affected both her ability to think and communicate in equal measure, so she seems fine. The other day, she mentioned that her memory isn’t what it used to be, and she has forgotten lots of stuff, but she did not seem too bothered by it, and accepts it as just the way things are.