I hear my dad’s voice at night, low and murmuring. I enter the pitch black darkness of his bedroom and ask him what he’s talking about : he says to me, ‘Come in, I’ll show you what I’m about to do.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, What are you about to do?’ He chuckles softly and says, in a voice that is so childlike it startles me: “Catch a whole bunch of fish.” I remember him telling me years ago how when he was young his dad used to catch fish with his bare hands in a large creek behind their house to feed their family. I can only imagine that in this moment, in the darkness of his room, where time does not exist, he was a child again, and was reliving the moment where he learned how to catch fish with his bare hands, like his dad.
Alzheimer's dementia is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, now surpassing that of breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. There were an estimated 5.5 million Americans living with the disease in 2017 and it is estimated that by 2050, that number could rise to 16 million. Right now, more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Dementia doesn’t carry the visible markers that many diseases do. Upon looking at my dad, few if any would know that he’s not fully present, that his mind is elsewhere or that he might not know what year it is. The very experience of dementia itself is one of erasure. A fogging of memory, a confusion of time and space. But also, and perhaps most importantly, erasure of the self. Of the very identity one has spent years cultivating and nourishing.