… who is the most aware of us all?
The aim of Dementia Awareness Week is to raise awareness of dementia and related issues. However there is a presupposition embedded in this that we are the ones with awareness. I am questioning this. What about awareness in people with dementia? What might their capacity for awareness be? What might they be aware of?
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia accounting for 60% to 80% of all dementia cases. In the early stages people struggle to maintain control in their lives, but as the disease progresses and more brain cells die off, they loose their sense of self and their sense of linear time – past and future roll into the present. When this happens they have no choice but to give up and totally surrender to their condition. Those involved in their care often give up too, believing they have ‘lost’ the person they knew.
In this late stage of Alzheimer’s people have intermittent altered states of consciousness in which there are spaces of no thought. This is something that people without Alzheimer’s also experience when they are in deep meditation and describe, when in this state, having a sense of expanded consciousness and awareness. So what are people with Alzheimer’s experiencing when they are in this state?
When my mother had Alzheimer’s she said many things that demonstrated she was experiencing expanded consciousness. ‘Television (her portal to expanded consciousness) is amazing. I can go there and ask all my questions.’ What she told me, and my hypothesis about what is happening in Alzheimer’s, are in my book, The Gift of Alzheimer’s. I ague that the empty mind experienced in Alzheimer’s is far from being a loss. It is a gift and can actually give rise to greater awareness and consciousness.
I was talking on a US radio show last week about this when a man named Harry who has Alzheimer’s, called in to the show. He said, ‘People keep trying to pull us back into their world. They don’t realise we are vey happy where we are.’ He was over joyed that I had acknowledged and validated what he was experiencing and pleaded that people should listen to him and me.
Returning to my question, ‘who is the most aware of us all?’, we are both aware but in different ways. Our brains are active all the time and we are constantly doing, except when we are engaged in some deep meditative practice. In contrast the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, as a result of damage, become inactive and this involuntary emptiness means they naturally experience a state of being and even bliss.
So what can people with Alzheimer’s teach us about awareness? We can continue to use our brains to learn, be useful and do the things that need to be done and we can also choose to join people with Alzheimer’s in their world and learn from them. They can teach us things that would be of benefit to us: how to stop, become present, empty our minds and experience expanded consciousness and awareness. We can become even more aware and have the best of both worlds.
Looking forward to you joining me on the next stage of our journey together.
Maggie La Tourelle