Many in the Starts at 60 community are facing the dilemma of what to do when a loved one starts to forget. Many more of us may face this in years to come, either with our parents, our spouse or partner. It may be our family who will face our forgetfulness and dementia.
It is so difficult to watch and be part of someone’s mental deterioration. What are the rules? Are there any rules? Where do you go for assistance? How should you speak to the forgetful one?
In Forgetiquette, Joan Sauers with her sage advice and trademark irreverence helps to relieve the frustration of dealing with dementia sufferers while offering practical advice that will help you help them.
When Forgetiquette arrived, I sat down and read it from cover to cover, in one sitting, then I turned back to pages marked on the way through and read the advice again. Joan is not preaching, but she does what few have attempted – she assists us confront dementia and learn to laugh with, not at, the sufferer and ourselves. Memory loss is not laughable, but looking at the situation with a little humour can help. Above all, she reminds us that, though it may feel like the loneliest job in the world, we are not alone.
Importantly, Joan speaks from experience and, in fact, dedicates her book to Don Sauers and Ted Heery. The first page tells us: “… when someone you love has dementia that relationship (and your sanity!) can be even harder to maintain. Over the years my once quick-witted father gradually lost his memory, and the strain on his caregivers was excruciating. As he neared the end of his life, my wonderful father-in-law also started to lose touch with the here and now. Both have passed away, and I miss them every day.”
So much of what Joan writes immediately resonates, such as “Talk about dementia without judgement. The stigma is what keeps people from accepting they have it. And don’t be afraid to be upbeat and even funny! Who cares if it’s in questionable taste if it makes your old man smile?”
How much should you share with your loved one? Should you correct their memory of an event? Should you allow them to play (safely) with your children? Treating the person with respect is stressed many times, such as: “Even when they act like a seven year old, don’t treat them like one. They’re not children; they’re adults with memory loss”; and “As the disease progresses, use simple words and short sentences. But never talk to them in a baby voice”.
Something that happens with dementia sufferers is they do not audit their words. Joan’s advice is: “Unintentional slights to loved ones are inevitable and must be forgiven. On the spot. Accept you will occasionally feel hurt. And then man up and deal with it.”
Every person suffering from dementia and their families will face this disease differently – they could do worse than to keep a copy of Forgetiquette handy – it is a good read and may just offer advice which helps smooth the day. Even if you don’t know someone with dementia, it is such a worthwhile book I highly recommend it to anyone.
About the author
Joan Sauers is the author of fourteen books, including Mothers & Daughters, Ageing Disgracefully and Sex Lives of Australian Women. She is a screenwriter, consultant and lecturer in screenwriting in Australia, Europe and Morocco and lives in Sydney.
Join the Starts at 60 Book Club