Dementia & the hope of God's remembrance

In the novel, Still Alice, the main character has dementia which progresses until she can no longer recognize her husband or daughter Lydia. But when Lydia places her baby on Alice’s lap and squeezes her mother with all the intimacy she can express, Lydia asks her mother: “Okay, what do you feel?” “I feel love. It’s about love.” Squealing with joy, Alice asks, “Did I get it right?” “You did, Mom. You got it exactly right.”

What could be more human and God-like than knowing and experiencing the very human and godly emotion of love? 

One of the biggest challenges we face when dealing with dementia is society’s lack of value for human life. Dirk De Wachter, president of the ethics commission at a leading Belgian university was provocatively honest when he asked, “What is life worth when there is no God?” His question is valid and the answer is that without a God to declare it valuable, human life isn’t worth more than any other animal. It’s no surprise that increasingly secular Belgium would now be the world leader in euthanasia. They have rejected the idea of a Creator God and use ‘quality of life’ as the measuring stick to determine life’s value.

What is life worth when there IS a God? Psalm 8:4-6 answers that question beautifully: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.”

Our value is confirmed because God – the glorious Creator of the universe – remembers us and cares for us. The glory and honor with which He graces humans is His very image and likeness. We are irrevocably stamped with it from the moment of our conception and it will never wear off or fade as we age or should we suffer dementia. It’s not something we accomplish or earn, but is who we are.

Dementia may seem to veil one’s reflection of that image temporarily, making communication and reality difficult to understand, but it doesn’t muddle a person’s relationship to his Creator or remove his crown of glory and honor. The person with dementia is still fully known, fully understood, and fully cared for by the One who made him. 

Isaiah speaks comforting and encouraging words to God’s aging image-bearers: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you: I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4) That’s a promise even to those who are no longer able to think clearly.

What could be more human and God-like than lovingly and tenderly caring for a person that has few of society’s ‘valued traits of humanity’ left?

The best testimony we can offer a watching and unbelieving world is the rejection of Cartesian philosophy -- “I think, therefore I am” -- replacing it with grace-filled faith: “I am loved, therefore I am” and ”YOU are loved, therefore YOU are.”

Why would this have such an impact?  It shows the world everything we believe about God:

Creation – Our Creator values us, loves us, and cares for us

Fall/Redemption – Jesus laid down His life for us, and we lay down ours for others

Restoration – God will someday raise our old, worn-out bodies and transform them so they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21)

May this Christmas be filled with all the love, peace and joy that ‘God with us’ makes evident and may He give us many opportunities to put His love on display for the world to see.

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