Letting Dementia Be

Do you know a caregiver who needs help? (All caregivers need help.)
Show them Letting Dementia Be, written by moi, in the May 2016
issue of the Humboldt County Senior News and scroll
to page 7, or read it right here:


Photo by John Nyberg

Advice from a former caregiver:
Letting Dementia Be
by Karenna Wright

When my husband Alan was diagnosed with dementia, life threw me into the deep end of the caregiver swimming pool and instructed me to sink or swim. Sometimes I sank, but most of the time I flailed about powerless, trying to get a grip on whatever horror presented itself throughout the day.

At first, I reached out to prevent Alan from drowning, but he went under often, heading slowly but steadily toward the bottom.

There was no way I or anyone else could rescue him from this dreadful fate. Dementia would drown him, take his life, and there was nothing I could do about it. But neither could I be the silent bystander. However, I could be my husband’s witness. I could let his dementia be. I could simply let it exist and accept it for what it was. I could enjoy the time we had left.

I vowed I wouldn’t force him out of his dementia by expecting impractical outcomes. I wanted to preserve as much of his dignity and joyfulness as possible. Nor would I try to teach him anything; people with dementia can’t learn, so why cause unnecessary distress? Neither would I ask if he remembered things like giving me a zebra print hat for my birthday — recent events don’t stick. And finally, I wouldn’t suggest things like reorganizing his files; he wouldn’t be able grasp such an idea.


Photo by sunshizzle

What I would do was soothe him, read to him, give him special treats — hot chai and oatmeal raisin cookies from the local coffee shop — hold his hand, listen to him and validate him, and tell him how much I love him.

Once, when he was in a dementia fog, I watched as he tried to pick up a spoon. It took him a minute to locate it, then another to move his hand toward it, only to miss the target, fingers grasping lightly at the tablecloth. He showed no sign of frustration or anger. He merely sat back, looked at me and smiled contentedly, resigned.

This is how we let dementia be. So much more in life deserves our attention than this disease. There’s chocolate, laughing children, cuddly kittens, tall trees, and breaths of fresh air after the rain. There is wonder, delight and joy. But mostly there is love. Let dementia be.


4 thoughts on “Letting Dementia Be

  1. Thank you for this lovely piece. My husband an angry aggressive dementia man, but I received a wonderful piece of advice from our local Alzheimer’s Society and it was right along the lines of what you just wrote: Let it be. Care giving is so lonely so it’s nice to connect with another caregiver.


  2. This piece hits the nail right on the head. I cared for my husband for many years until my health gave out then I would visit him as much as possable, taking him out for his favorite coffee and long drives. He had been a long haul trucker! Many times friends and family would ask me why I did that, they just couldn’t grasp the idea that he was still himself, his Dementia was not of his doing! He may not have been able to say my name at times but he knew who I was! Never give up on those you love!


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