Tag Archive | PBS

Profiles in Dementia: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Concord, MA writersI recently read Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, a compelling account of the interwoven lives of the Concord, MA literary giants of 19th Century literature and, with a notable exception (Nathaniel Hawthorne), the core members of both the Transcendental Movement and the Abolition Movement that saw John Brown as a heroic martyr.

This group of closely-interconnected writers included, among others (Edgar Allan Poe passed through as did Walt Whitman and Herman Melville), Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Despite all my college studies in English Language and Literature, I have never been able to really like – or even endure – most 19th Century American literature. (Yes, I’m American and, yes, I really loathe this period of American literature for the most part.)

My three exceptions are the three writers in this Concord, MA conclave who never quite fit in with the mindset and the groupthink of the rest of the writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons – and there are many – why I like these three writers and don’t like the rest.  If in another lifetime I decide to start a literary analysis blog, a post with those reasons will definitely make its appearance there.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Dementia and AphasiaSo, although I read my required – and no more – share of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I didn’t know much about him as a person. This book shed a lot of light on that.

Emerson, it turns out, was the financial support for these writers and their families, some for all their lives (Henry David Thoreau) and some until they published successfully (Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott).

Emerson was older than most of the other writers and was treated by them as a father figure and a mentor. Emerson was intelligent (a graduate of Harvard), thoughtful, and a practical intellectual who guided this group in both their literary endeavors and their personal lives.

So I was surprised to learn that Emerson developed dementia (Cheever, perhaps because she has not dealt with dementia in a more personal way, made the common mistake of calling it Alzheimer’s Disease, which is only one type of dementia), accompanied by aphasia during the last decade of his life.

Because aphasia was a key feature of Emerson’s neurological degeneration, it’s very possible that he suffered from vascular dementia, since aphasia is very often a feature of that type of dementia.

One of the devastating aspects of aphasia as it worsened for Emerson was that he had supported his family and, to one degree or another, many of the other Concord writers for decades by conducting a rigorous yearly schedule of paid speaking engagements around the country. Once his ability to communicate coherently was gone, Emerson’s income was gone as well.

In the last couple of years of Emerson’s life, he forgot most of the people and things around him in Concord, MA. Louisa May Alcott, whom Emerson had known for 42 years, watching her grow up from a nine-year-old spunky girl into an equally spunky woman, became a stranger to him, as did his family. 

The Forgetting PBSHowever, and this is fortunate, in the acclaimed PBS documentary, The Forgetting, Emerson is quoted as having remarked, when he was well into the disease, to a friend that, “I have lost my mental faculties but am perfectly well.”

I plan to make “Profiles in Dementia” a regular feature on this blog since I’ve got a lot of stories like these that I’d like to share and will give another dimension, in terms of personal interest, to this blog.

So, if you like this one and you like the idea, let me know by your likes and comments.

This blog’s for you, so you have a voice in what kinds of things are included here.

I appreciate you reading and hope that you will find the extensive body of information here helpful in your journey with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, whether that’s as a caregiver for loved ones or it’s you that’s walking the journey yourself.



“Life and Death in Assisted Living” – PBS Frontline Documentary

I watched Life and Death in Assisted Living on PBS’s Frontline program earlier this week, and I highly recommend this for all family members with parents with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in assisted living facilities with “memory care” units or who are considering placing their loved ones in this kind of facility.

Let me say at the outset that they’re not all awful. However, let me also say that they will never take care of our loved ones as well as we can and would. I understand that some people, because of distance or a myriad of other reasons, believe they have no other option. If that’s the case, it is our responsibility to be (or designate a family member who is there to be) all over that facility and our loved ones 24/7.

Sadly, the mistreatment, the mistakes, the lack of care shown in this series are more likely to occur. Again, I’m not trying to make generalizations here, but I’ve seen some of this firsthand with people whose family members were absent most of the time or couldn’t be bothered even when serious matters arise.

These elderly people tend to get treated differently – worse – by some staff members when family and loved ones are not involved. My first-hand observation of this – and my Mom’s when she was an ombudsman at a facility in northeast Tennessee after my dad’s death – made me (and my mom) want to lower the hammer, rescue the elders, and shake some sense, compassion, and love into their families and loved ones.

We have a responsibility to our parents and our elderly folks to ensure that they have the best care possible as they end life. We cannot do that if we’re not involved day in and day out, even if we can’t care for them at home, with assisted living or nursing home care.

The more we are present – and I mean every day, different times of the day, for chunks of time each day – the less likely our loved ones and parents will suffer the mistakes, negligence, and deaths because of lack of care or failure to do the job that this series talks about.

Mom was in an assisted living facility with a memory care unit until I knew she was as stabilized mentally as she could be. It was not the first choice she and I had made, but the first choice turned out to be a “let’s-get-you-in-bind, put-the-screws-to-you, then-make-you-hand-every-bit-of-cash-you-(or-your-children)-have-over-to-us-up-front.”

And that’s not uncommon, based on what I’ve found in my research since then. I can’t think of too many times in my life when I’ve been angrier than I was when this materialized, but I discovered that this company was fairly representative of how assisted living and nursing home facilities, especially those that offer memory care, work.

As appalled as I was to discover this, I was even more appalled to discover that this is business as usual for most of these places. 

Fortunately, the place that I found for Mom wasn’t like this, but it had its own unique set of issues. The reality is that nobody else is ever going to, or in fact can, care for our parents and loved ones the way we will and are able to.

The bottom line for us is whether we’re willing (and able, because some people are not) to make the sacrifice to do for our parents and our loved ones what they were willing to do for us when we were babies, helpless, and completely dependent on them. 

assisted living memory care dementia Alzheimer's diseaseFor the last several weeks she was her assisted living facility, I was living there because she’d fallen and had a bad ankle sprain and I needed to be there. Within a short time,we made the decision that she would move back in with me and we’d be together at home until the end.

And I’m grateful we had that time together, although I know at times it was hard for my mom and at times it was hard for me. In the end, that didn’t matter, because I knew…and Mom knew…that we were both doing the best we could and there was unconditional love and care behind that.