Dementia in the eyes of the beholder

Dr. Cecilia Chan ( 013-4384388)
Gerontologist, Dementia Advocate, and Activist

My gang and I (all ladies) were attending a contemporary dance performance last night entitled “Bhumimata”. The four of us were the squarest, geekiest audience there on every level. Having a Gerontologist, Psychologist, Physiotherapist, and Sociologist student dipping their virgin feet in creative and contemporary performance can be both hilarious and risky at the same time.

On our way back after the performance we shared our personal experiences. The physiotherapist shared that she was overwhelmed with fear and worry when the dancers were moving dangerously at such great speed in the dark.

She was terrified should they hurt their muscles, or tear their ligaments and tendons ( I know….very aligned with her work right). The psychologist shared that she was mesmerized and focused on one particular dancer who seemed to be pushing the others around, which she concluded was a bully. Perhaps she was suffering from behavioral or psychological issues? ( oh wow!) The sociologist students subtly interjected that there was one part of the performance where everyone was dancing in sync and harmony, it resembles how we humans are socially constructed to follow certain normalcy, to blend in.

You do not what to know the Gerontologist’s view!

Does this scream a very obvious and succinct message?

Alright, besides the fact that we were all hopeless square-pegs when it comes to creative arts, I recall my first reaction when I was exposed to it. I cringed and I began to sweat profusely and my heart raced because I could not understand what was going on.

So, I picked out the courage to ask my dancer friend to explain it to me to soothe my aching and sore brain. She was empathetic and smiled, explaining that the most crucial thing to remember when I watch contemporary dance is to be open. Whatever I take away from a contemporary dance piece is valuable. There is no right or wrong, there is only interpretation. The real beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

This is exactly our struggle when it comes to dementia. Dementia is a unique condition that is responsive to how to regard it and those labeled with it. It also depends on which lens we use to view it. When a person behaves in ways that we don’t accept, do we cringe and are quick to judge them and slap a label on them? Do we try to understand their world and their ways of experiencing their world with a changing brain?

We should not be ashamed if we are living with dementia and yet we are. Words like dementia paralyze us with fear. It has enormous power over us. Perhaps we can take back, and reclaim our power when we can pause and reflect on it. Which lens are we using because it is indeed in the eye of the beholder?


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