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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dementia: A Thief in the Memory Factory

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength:~Isaiah 26:3

Dad once joked about the brain being the Memory Factory. But now, in his factory, the conveyor belt is in place, the cogs are ready to turn, the wheels are polished, but we can’t seem to find the light switch of his memory factory. It’s dark in there, Dad's factory is shutting down and no one seems to know where the on button is.

It’s extremely tough and frustrating to figure out what might be the one thing a dementia sufferer could still have interest in. Is there something they can do instead of sitting on their favorite chair, sleeping, and wondering what is happening to them? What’s going on in their minds? Dementia is wicked, it’s cruel, and a thief—a thief of memories, dreams, and even motor skills. It kills.

And yet God, in His still small voice, whispers, “Do not be dismayed. Don’t give up hope. I am with you, and with the one who’s slipping into darkness.”

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. ~1 John 1:5

Dad still remembers scripture. Some of it he can recite word for word, like Psalm 23, Psalm 118, and 1 John 1:5. We just have to get him started. 

God will show up, do not be dismayed. Dementia is not spiritual darkness.

Dad and Me
When the memory-clinic doctor finally—and officially—declared Dad suffered from dementia I realized that no one had actually said it. We all knew it but we just didn’t mouth it. Dad has dementia.

What? Not my dad. Not possible. The strong man who took care of me in the jungle? Not to mention that this was the man who studied the brain, the heart, the whole human body. But here he is, an abandoned factory … or is he?

Today at the breakfast table we stumbled upon something that seemed to turn on the lights—a conversation about what he does remember.

“Dad do you remember your life in New Guinea?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied. “I remember a lot of things.”

“Do you remember where you lived?”

“Yes, I can draw you a map.”

A map? He can’t draw stick people, he doesn’t know what to do with his toothbrush but he can draw a map? 

Look at the detail. I put this map on Facebook and his younger brother left a comment saying that Dad even penned in the place where he had worked, and Mom’s office on the docks is there, too. 

This is what we’ll work with, then, I thought. It’s a wonderful little miracle. It seems we have found something that will hold his interest for a few hours. Who knows, by the end of the month we might have a map of the whole country. Now that is something to look forward to.

This is truly an amazing discovery. Part of the factory is still functional. We found the secret door. Dad could tell us stories about his young adult years, recalling the names of friends and what they did together. He even recalled the routes he took with his friend, Harrie Van Gen, through the jungle on their motorcycles, and the death of his motorcycle when it met the front end of a truck.

Yes, he had a good laugh about that, and remembered the detail of the accident. His little open section of the memory factory was hard at work. It was wonderful to see his tears of joy. For the rest of the day Dad was quite content. 

Today I asked him to draw another map. He did. It looked like the other side of the island. As I sat on the staircase, trying to jar his memory, I realized that this journey of discovery is for the caregiver and care-receiver to take together. I'm not his supervisor on duty, I'm his companion. And along this journey together we hope to find the map that will lead us to the one door—the entrance to the Memory Factory that's still functional.

Dad and His Bike

A Caregiver’s Prayer

 Thank you, Lord, for the blessings, the miracles, and for the maps that lead us to the answers you’ve graciously revealed to us. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us on this journey, help us to keep our faith and our trust in you. Show me how to be a friend, a companion. You are our hope, and the door that holds the key to this journey. Give us a heart to serve others, as we put our own lives in your hands.

 Beloved Caregiver

In darkness of mind
Still light you will find
Surrender your fears, your anger, your tears
I am Yahweh, the one who hears

I am Truth, the light, the only way
Ever present in your everyday
A broken soul will be reborn
The Spirit’s song never forlorn
(Copyright, by Deborah L. Alten 2018)


  1. Well written Deb. Very sad about your Dad's dementia. Let's pray you'll find the door or the on switch that leads to the memory factory that is still functional. Praying for you all. Xxx

  2. You put into words what I experienced with my mom, until the mini stroke that took her voice for the most part and her ability to write. The one thing she never lost was music. I did some research and it appears we store music in many parts of our brain. It is one of the last things to go. Praise God because it was my mom's favorite thing. Today they use music therapy to help people with traumatic brain injury relearn language. It might be an additional opportunity to connect with your father and for him to connect with other hidden memories.

    I was never able to do the blog about my mom's journey, though you encouraged me often. I am so blessed that you are able to do it with your dad. It is beautiful.

  3. Thanks Saskia. I think you're right. We just keep on praying.

  4. Carrie, it's never too late to write about some of the wonderful stories. You went through a lot, I know there were many victories in your journey. Lots of heart ache too, but those you conquered. Miss you.