I have been struggling with terminology lately after reading essays by people who do not want to be called victims or patients just because they live with dementia.
I totally understand. I hate victim theology.
But I am also uncomfortable when I hear the word hero being batted around. Or survivor. As if the world owes gratitude or praise. Why does dealing with a certain disease or a disability make you heroic? Don’t most people deal with something? And what seems unbearable to one person is no big deal to another because everyone’s pain threshold—physical, emotional, and psychological—differs.
I don’t think of Ralph as a victim and he certainly would never describe himself that way. He would say he’s a guy with a memory problem. Of course, that’s not quite the whole story either, but I respect how he sees himself. So I usually don’t say more unless someone presses or unless Ralph is going to be in a situation that might be awkward; for instance his art class teacher knows why he has difficulty finishing each painting and knows she has to tell him he’s ready to move on to the next or he never would—not a simple memory problem but easy to manage. He loves his class. And the paintings once he’s told they are finished.
And Ralph is frankly no hero and has no desire to be one. He does not want to acknowledge anything in common with others in his condition. He won’t attend a support group for MCI/Early Alzheimer’s. He is not interested in educating the public on the condition or talking about it. He also doesn’t have much interest in fighting the manifestations in himself, in exercising his brain or his body. He is going “gentle into that good night” watching the sunset from his chair on the porch.
Ralph is not a victim, not a patient, not a hero. Not suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
I tried out a new term with him the other morning. I explained (for the umpteenth time because this is one fact he chooses not to remember) that, yes, his brain shows the plaque build up connected with Alzheimer’s, that there is no telling how quickly or slowly the Alzheimer’s will progress but so far his meds are holding his memory function steady. He accepted both the facts and the term I offered.
So from now on if anyone asks, Ralph is on the Alzheimer’s spectrum. Not a perfect description, but it works for us.