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Individuals Make A Difference In Many Lives

My wife is the victim of a degenerative brain disease called fronto-temporal dementia (FTD). It starts in one part of the brain, in this case, the frontal and/or temporal lobes, and, over the course of years, spreads to other areas, progressively altering, diminishing, or even eliminating various functional capacities, similar to Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive dementias.

There is, at this time, no medical cure for it, and in fact, there is still little that is really known about its cause. There is an apparent genetic component to it, and her father and her uncle both had similar progressive dementias. While they were called Alzheimer’s disease at the time, diagnosis at that point was fairly crude, and many of the symptoms were similar my wife’s, so it is possible that they also suffered from FTD.

FTD is the most common form of dementia for people under the age of sixty, and my wife was in her mid-fifites when it started to become apparent. She was diagnosed in 2012, and at this point, she is entirely dependent, not able to perform any basic life function on her own. As we have grandchildren starting out their lives, it is a new perspective on the circle of life, where she is becoming more like the babies even as they grow and mature. We are actually fortunate that I am young enough, healthy enough, and strong enough, both physically and emotionally, to be able to take care of her at home. It would be financially and emotionally draining to have her in a nursing home, but even more importantly, the personal touch does make a difference.

I was recently listening to a couple of recorded talks that mentioned the effect of hormones on body functions. Oxytocin is the hormone that floods a mother’s body when a baby is born and when it nurses, and it enhances the bond between mother and baby. That same hormone is why it feels good when we get a hug or shake hands or engage in other physical touches and social behavior. Even having your hair brushed feels good.

While my wife is not always receptive, hugs and kisses, back scratches, and other touches do make a difference. I assume that it feels good the same way it feels good for anyone. In spite of the degeneration, there is still a real person inside, someone who needs human contact, someone who still needs to feel connected to the real world. That is difficult to fathom sometimes, with episodes of bizarre behavior or belligerence or appearing unreceptive.

I often have conversations with her, and though her words are mostly gibberish and I don’t know what she is actually saying, I can tell by her eyes, by her expressions, and by her tone of voice that she really does know what she is saying. I can tell when she is being sarcastic or trying to be funny. I also know when she is upset or trying to tell me something she feels is important. Sometimes I repeat her gibberish phrases back to her and she says a hearty “Yeah!”

I recognize that as people get older, it becomes more difficult to deal with any of the types of degenerative brain disorders in loved ones. It takes patience and, at times, significant strenuous physical activity, but it is worth the effort if possible, even if help is needed. Whatever the case, it is still true that there is still a real person residing somewhere inside. Someone in a nursing home still needs the human touch, still needs interactions. As with all things in human life and society, individual people make a difference, even when the effort seems to be unappreciated or unnoticed.

Dan McLaughlin is the author of “Compassion and Truth-Why Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Results.” Follow him at daniel-mclaughlin.com

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