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Understanding Dementia Through The Eyes Of Theater

Whether you’re someone living with dementia or you’re a caregiver of someone living with dementia, you’re already aware of how challenging life can be when your world is turned upside down. Hence, a theatrical play production titled The World Turned Upside Down is produced by an organization called IDEAL (Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life) Program to mirror a realistic depiction of dementia through the eyes of the caregiver and the client.

It surprised me to know how authentically relatable this play is when it comes to dementia, especially when it hits close to home. The first segment is about a woman named Sally who takes the car keys from her dad Steve who has not yet been clinically diagnosed with dementia, but the signs are there. When Steve is looking for his car keys, Sally tells him that she took them. “Dad, you forgot where you were while you were driving”. Sally explained to her dad. Steve tried to brush it off by saying it was a simple moment of forgetfulness, and that it was nothing to be worried about.

“Sally please, that was a five-minute blip. I told you I was just…things went a bit hazy that was all.” Steve explained to his daughter. “I stopped the car for a couple of minutes. I couldn’t remember where I was. That was it.” Sally tried explaining to her dad that he could have been in a terrible accident, and her dad explained that he was waiting for the results from a doctor to explain what was wrong with him. So, Sally insists that until they find out what's wrong with him, he should be cautious and not drive anymore saying, “Until you get a diagnosis, and we know what’s going on, you’re not driving.”

Steve gets offended and insists that he does continue driving as part of his daily living. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous Sally please”. Steve explained. “I need my independence, and I need the car.” When the segment was over, an audience member explained that the daughter could have handled the situation better because her dad felt that she was taking away his independence as well as his right to choose for himself. When dementia starts to deteriorate your mind, a major sign is when your ability to function behind important objects such as a car becomes noticeable to the point where your well-being could be a danger to yourself, and others involved. “Early days when mom was still driving, I’d come home, and the car wasn’t in the garage.” ALWAYS group member Jane Ward explained. “She had been driving back from where she was shopping, and got a little bit confused about where she was, and she just parked up and walked home.”

This segment hit home for me because during the early days before my dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia, he started to visibly show his mental decline through his driving. There were days when he drove too slowly, there were days when he couldn’t park the car properly. There were days when he couldn’t stop checking his car and when we thought that it might be obsessive- compulsive disorder, looking back we realize now that it was early signs of dementia. The night that my dad went to the car and didn’t remember how to start the engine, he never got behind the wheel again.

The second segment was about a woman named Gill, who brings her two kids to announce that she’s been recently diagnosed with dementia. The kids don’t take it well, as Gill’s daughter asks her brother Tony how he allowed this to happen to their mom. He explained that he knew nothing about it and explained that he lives with their mom. She will most likely have to move back home too. The sister rejects the idea and explains that she has a job and a life to get back to. Then she explains how they need to start looking into different living facilities because she can’t live on her own.

When your parents become sick, the transition to caregiving becomes a difficult process because there’s so much a person must sacrifice which includes doing things for themselves. This is especially difficult when you fall into this randomly and not by choice. “To care for another person is extremely difficult, and it’s difficult to the point where caring for the other person involves us not having stuff that we need or want.” Director Paul Jepson explained. “Which is the classic problem with the relative in this scene, who didn’t necessarily particularly decide that they were going to care for somebody, they just started doing it by accident.”

The third segment involved a man named Tony who’s taking care of his mom with dementia, and things become so overwhelming that it reaches a boiling point. “Mom, I’m sorry. Look since Sandra’s left, I’m getting the kids up, I’m coming around here and getting you up.” Tony explains. “I’m trying to get to work, I’m back here at lunchtime, I’m back again to pick the kids up, I’m back here in the evening, I can’t cope with it, mom! I just can’t carry on like this! Something’s got to give mom.”

After this segment, an audience member stated that a child is responsible for their parent, and Tony’s taking on that responsibility is stressful, and having too much pride can cause a person to not admit that they can’t cope with the situation. Another audience member explained that there needs to be a stronger support system because Tony needs just as much support as his mom. I appreciated these statements because I didn’t choose to have this responsibility, but it’s a lot of work that affects me mentally and emotionally. So, in this case, I felt less alone. I truly appreciated seeing dementia represented through the eyes of the theater, and I would recommend this strongly.

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