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Aimee's picture


 I am a member of Adopt-a-Grandparent, a club that partners Bryn Mawrtyrs with seniors for weekly visits to a local assisted living facility. When I first met my adopted grandmother, she happily told me that her father had joined her for lunch a day earlier. Of course, my grandmother is at least 80 years old, and so her father is most likely deceased. However, my adopted grandmother has dementia. For my grandmother, the visit from her father was very real and very precious, even if the entire experience was a story that her brain had fabricated.

Dementia is a fascinating and tragic illness. It is frequently a neurodegenerative disorder, in which the brain's neurons grow progressively debilitated. Initially, an individual who suffers from dementia might make a mistake as simple as putting car keys in the refrigerator. But dementia does not stay benign; sufferers first lose their short-term memory, then their long-term memory, and finally the ability to walk, swallow, and breathe.

Last spring, I underwent nursing assistant training in a long term care facility. I cared for residents with dementia and grew accustomed to their frequent delusions and hallucinations. Often, residents were frightened by the irrational, dream-like quality of their hallucinations. Since the sufferers had no idea that they were actually hallucinating, every hallucination seemed real.

I was puzzled by their hallucinations. Why does a regressing brain concoct such odd, frightening stories? If the brain is becoming progressively debilitated, shouldn't it lack the ability to create such stories? 


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