Forgetting and Forgotten:
Dementia and the Right to Die
By W. Lee Hansen
Almost eight million older Americans suffer from dementia, approximately two-thirds of them with Alzheimer’s Disease. Many older and not so old people fear they too may experience dementia in their later years. Or, they may end up as a caregiver for a family member with dementia.
My wife, Sally, suffered and died after a decade-long siege of dementia. Her experiences retold here, along with those of my own as her caregiver, can help the many people who find themselves making a similar end-of-life journey. To assist them, I propose and discuss a humane way to deal with dementia at the end of life, one that Sally believed in and would have enthusiastically endorsed for herself. The solution is called the Right to Die. Because Sally could not exercise her right to die, we had to endure her traumatic final years in memory care as she struggled with her steadily worsening affliction.
People like Sally and me are “The Forgotten.” Those with dementia forget who they are, who they once were, and who we their caregivers are, not to mention the activities that gave meaning to their lives. Both those with dementia and their caregivers are often forgotten by long-time friends and even family because sustaining relationships with those suffering from dementia, along with those who attend to them, is extremely challenging. Coupled with this, our culture—through its failure to remember and properly respect the elderly—means that a large aged population nearing the end of life is forgotten. The challenge is finding ways to treat these people with the dignity and respect they deserve.
This book needs to get into the hands of those suffering from dementia and their caregivers, who may want to exercise the right-to-die option on behalf of their afflicted loved ones. Nobody knows who is going to end up with dementia. Sally represents all of us who want to die with dignity, to have a say in when and how we want to die. And who doesn’t want to die with dignity? This reality, accompanied by not knowing who will get dementia, encourages readers to set up their end-of-life plans before dementia arrives unexpectedly at their doorstep.
Click to view larger