Halloween is a great day to have fun pretending to be something we are not: a superhero, a ghoul, a princess, a pirate or a variety of other clever disguises.
Most kids can hardly keep their excitement down. When they ring the doorbell, we act surprised and ask “Who are you?” We hear, “I’m Spiderman” or “I’m Pocahontas” and we acknowledge their new identity without question, knowing that the person under the costume is really just the cute kid from next door.
We laugh and play along with the ruse, rewarding them with candy. We know they will head home after their night of pillaging, dump out the spoils, swap stories and candy, and be told to look the other way as a parent sneaks a Snickers.
Then they remove their alter-ego costume and go back to who they were before: tired, sugar-high kids needing a good night’s rest.
There is something mysterious about how children behave when in costume. They may do and say things they might not have the courage for otherwise.
Even adults behave differently when masked. Simply look at a New Orleans Mardi Gras party to see how a decorated facemask markedly changes the dynamics in a room. Yet, at the end of the day, all of these masked impersonators turn back into the people they were before the day started.
But, for 5.8 million Americans of all ages who are living with dementia related memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease, the mask of memory loss and confusion stays put. We can’t just remove it and go back to normal. Until research is able to create a “dementia mask remover,” our loved ones will struggle with the dementia that covers their personalities and abilities.
November is national Caregiver Recognition and Dementia Awareness Month. This is a time to learn about dementia-related illnesses, and the many resources available to those suffering from them. Personally, you can reduce your own risk of dementia, or slow its effects, by focusing on healthy eating, sufficient hydration, regular exercise, restful sleep patterns and challenging brain work. The Alzheimer’s Association and Area Agency on Aging both have a multitude of resources available on these topics. The more you know, the better you will be able to manage the journey.
In addition, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 16 million Americans last year provided care for those loved ones, with 18.5 billion hours of their time. Caregivers need to know they are not alone. They too can learn better self-care techniques, gaining strength for their own journey.
The city of Chanhassen is committed to providing a dementia aware community. Our Dementia Friends Training sessions have taught city staff and commissioners, as well as business leaders and emergency responders, useful tools for both understanding and recognizing dementia related behavior and how to best help deal with it.
The city also works closely with local senior housing directors, Carver County, and area health care providers as they direct their own specific work within this population group. Combined, we have many resources at hand to help unmask the mystery behind the disease.
Although the mask of dementia seems daunting, we do know the person behind the illness is still the same parent, grandparent, cousin or sibling they’ve always been. Our challenge is to look beyond the mask, adjust when it gets in the way of seeing more clearly, and create new ways to live a full and meaningful life in spite of it.