Dementia and Family Secrets

A conversation with therapist Nancy Sowell about the family secrets that came out as she was caring for her grandmother with dementia.   Nancy recounts the curious distance and even hostility she had always felt from this side of the family, and how it all began to make sense as her grandmother opened up for the first time.  She describes the powerful way that dementia can lift a person’s inhibitions, occasionally allowing for shared grief and even healing of old wounds that she had only sensed were there. She also discusses the power of secrets and shame in families, and how difficult it is, even now, to know how to talk about a painful secret with the rest of the family.

Living With a Parent With Dementia

A conversation with Liz Havu about the experience of caring for her mother, who has both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.  She discusses the progression of her mother’s illness, and the corresponding adjustments and sacrifices she’s had to make in her own life in order to be her mother’s primary caregiver.  She talks about her promise never to put her mother in a nursing home, and how this decision has brought her family together in more ways than one.

Self-preservation for Dementia Caregivers

A conversation with Frances Randolph, whose husband had early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Frances talks about the outgoing man she married and how dementia changed him so much that he became someone she barely recognized, someone who ultimately became violent with her.  She describes the events that led up to him being transferred to a nursing home, and how she gave herself permission to care for herself even if that meant only going for short visits.  Frances describes the series of losses inherent in his Alzheimer’s, including the loss of her sense of herself as a wife.  She reports that it was only after his death that she could reclaim her memories of him, as a man with dancing eyes… 


Dealing With a Difficult Parent Who Has Dementia

A conversation with Julia Jarvis about how her relationship with her difficult father has evolved both before and after he got dementia.   She describes how during her childhood, Julia’s father was moody, punitive, and sexually inappropriate.  For this reason she limited her contact with him, but with the birth of her own children she allowed him a second chance to be a part of her life.   Now that he has dementia, some of his previous tendencies have returned, but in a different form.  Julia talks about her struggles to make peace with him, and about the challenges now faced by the caregivers in her father’s life.


Dementia in a Holocaust Survivor

A conversation with psychotherapist Marushka Glissen about her mother, a survivor of Auschwitz who now has dementia.  Marushka describes how her mother’s childhood trauma contributed to psychological suffering later in life which strained her relationships with her husband and with Marushka.  Ms. Glissen then describes how her mother’s dementia, while it has impaired her memory and mental abilities, has also softened her personality dramatically, creating opportunities for a more loving relationship between mother and daughter than had ever existed previously.  She raises the possibility that for some who are haunted by painful memories, dementia may actually provide a bittersweet respite.