"There is no death, only a change of worlds."
-- Chief Seattle*
What is dementia?
Dementia is a neurological deterioration from a normal level of functioning to a temporary, fixed, or progressive loss of cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning. Memory, attention, language, and problem-solving may be affected. The person can become disoriented, not knowing the time, the place, who they are, or who others are.
If dementia is severe or progresses in severity, the person may neglect to care for themselves, and may become disinhibited, restless, highly frightened or rageful, violent or self-endangering. There may be anomalous visions and hearing, and ideas of persecution.
With certain forms of dementia, there may be movement impairments, including perseverative movements, and balance problems. Physical functions such as swallowing may be affected (Wiki).
The three most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. There is a lot of debate about the causes of all these dementias, but Alzheimer’s and Lewy body seem to involve a build up of proteins in neurons, and vascular dementia involves insufficient blood supply to the brain.
Dementia can be caused by head trauma or medications. Medication-induced dementia can be reversed by removing the offending drugs.
Dementia and psi
Dementia is a challenging syndrome for the individual affected and for the caregivers. The nature of daily life changes dramatically and often for a long time. There is a lot of information available on how to understand and respond to the situation at the physical and psychological level. This essay will briefly speculate about how to think of dementia from a psi perspective.
Some of the symptoms of dementia are easy to interpret from a psi perspective. With other symptoms, it’s more of a stretch, but we will see what we can do. There are also some experiences which occur during dementia which cannot be considered symptoms in any way and are obviously psi. We will also touch on psi in the caregiver.
The guiding questions of this exploration are: Might people with dementia be living with a foot in two worlds? What is the purpose and meaning of psi in this situation? Might there be a developmental purpose to the syndrome? In other words, are they developing in some advantageous way, despite the very real hardships on them and their caregivers? What is the evolutionary purpose of dementia?
Seeing helpful deceased human relatives, spirit guides, and angels
Perhaps the easiest dementia symptom to reinterpret from pathology to veridical psi is when people see beings who are helpful, whether they are familiar or unfamiliar. It seems very plausible that, instead of imagining things, they are making greater contact with non-physical beings than they were able to before. The purpose of the contacts revolves around reassurance, preparation for crossing over, psychospiritual development, and finishing unfinished business.
Here is one man who seemed to get a lot of comfort –
"My father had emphysema and dementia (at least according to the doctors). He was born in South Dakota, USA. He died four years ago on May 18th. One evening he was sitting on his couch reading, and glanced down his hallway. He saw his grandmother in the hallway, she turned, smiled and waved at him and continued on. He used to wake up in the morning thinking our dog (from childhood days, gone over 30 years) was lying beside him, asleep. And he would wake up petting the dog. And then he said he woke up in the middle of the night, and my [pre-deceased] mother was sleeping beside him. He asked her if it was time for him to leave with her, and she told him -- not yet, but she would be with him until the end. For the last month of his life, he said he woke up in the morning with mom at his side, and believed she had snuck out to make him his favorite breakfast” (Planet Waves reader, planetwavesweekly.com).
And here is a woman who spent a long time talking with unseen people --
“We are going on year four of my Mother giving my Grandmother full time 24/hour care in her home. Grandma refuses to have any tests done, but the Doctors suspect bladder or kidney cancer given the symptoms. There has been a decline in her mental capacity in recent months, but still no diagnosis of anything. Mom has a small team of "ladies" that she calls upon to help with Grandma when/if Mom wants to get out and do things. In all reality Grandma should be in a nursing home and hopefully it will happen before the end of the year, if something else doesn't happen instead.
For about a year now Grandma has been "seeing" a woman that she calls Maria. She will have regular conversations with Maria and will make references to her. As in, "Betty, Maria is standing behind you, say hello" -- Mom (and her team) have humored Grandma and call Maria her "Guardian Angel".
The other night Mom was sleeping on the couch and got up to go to the bathroom and heard Grandma carrying on a full conversation. She was alert and her words concise, but she didn't hear enough to get the gist of the conversation. When Mom asked her who she was talking to, Grandma said "those two ladies over there. Can't you see those two ladies in the corner" A few of the ladies are starting to get spooked by it, but they won't abandon Mom, Thank God” (Charlotte, twopeasinabucket.com, 9/27/2011).
Seeing or hearing unhelpful humans
It’s harder to understand what might be the psi element of people with dementia seeing or hearing humans who they experience as unhelpful, mean, tricksterish, or threatening.
Sometimes, it seems like the problem lies in misinterpretation based on fear. Perhaps the spirit person is trying to be helpful, but the person seeing the vision is too scared to realize that.
"My mom is a very active 80-year-old who still works full time in an office environment. As a matter of fact, she just received a promotion. She's had a few disturbing nights. She dreams that a tall woman, in a long dress, is standing at the foot of her bed talking to her and trying to wake her up. Mom says that she wakes up and the woman is still standing right there. My mother lives alone. She said the first three or four times this happened she screamed. That's around the time she told me about it. There have been other times, in these past few years, when she'd wake up and see my deceased father sitting on his side of the bed. She doesn't seem bothered when she sees my dad, but the woman at the foot of the bed scares her, even though she's not doing anything menacing" (Planet Waves reader, planetwavesweekly.com)
Here’s another anecdote where it seems possible that there were veridical visitors whose intention was helpful but it was misinterpreted –
“My MIL swore that someone broke into their house. They lived out in the country and she said she woke up and there was a man and woman sitting on the couch in the back room. She said she told them to get the he!! out. She sounded perfectly believable but she was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's” (juswannascrap, twopeasinabucket.com, 9/27/2011).
It is not uncommon for people with dementia to be afraid of dying or not want to die. This also could make them misinterpret spirit beings whose intent is helpful.
“My dad cannot speak clearly while awake, but when sleeping he is very clear, speaking with invisible entities. On more than five occasions, he has gotten into arguments with those entities, yelling at them saying, "No, I won't go with you. I won't go with you. Go away." And other statements in that regard. Once he even mentioned that he did not want to go to the light! A friend who helps me with my dad has witnessed these actions as well. It is difficult to know if he is just rambling the way Alzheimer's patients do or if he really is talking to family, but many times he is convinced of their reality and goes looking for these people in the shower, closets, wherever. He gets pretty upset when he can't find them. Is it a symptom of the dementia or is he really in communication with the other side? We have had activity in the house on a few occasions like a portable radio turning itself on, TV turning itself on, and other electrical equipment. I feel this is my family letting me know they are around and doing what they can for me, as I am patiently waiting for his passing over naturally - but my dad is extremely stubborn and strong for an 87 year old” (Paul M, http://paranormal.about.com/library/blstory_april01_05.htm, April 2001).
Another possibility is that there are more human spirits than we realize going about their business all around us all the time, and the neurological change of dementia is one of the ways that one can become aware of this parade. But, fear and lack of preparation – on the part of the person with dementia or the caregiver – can cause a distorted interpretation of vague new perceptions.
Here is one anecdote that might be explained as a distorted perception of unfamiliar spirits –
“The same thing happened to an elderly neighbor. He told us about the 2 women who came to his house and night and cleaned. Then there was the man who came in and hid his things. We finally called his son in another state. He got here just in time to find he had had a stroke and was laying on the kitchen floor. He took him home and put him in a nursing home. The doctor said dementia. He died soon after” (dynalady, twopeasinabucket.com, 9/27/2011).
Another woman with Lewy body dementia believed neighbors were playing the organ at 3 am, Al Qaeda was chanting nearby, bin Laden was there, and men were hiding in the bushes (Fagan, personal communication, 18 Mar 13).
In my experience of recovery from neurological damage, intense fear can be incredibly distorting. It can take something real and magnify it so much that it becomes distorted, just as when you turn the volume up too high on a sound system and it distorts the signal. Some people with dementia may be perceiving veridical spirits but then inflating and distorting the danger, the meaning, and the relevance to themselves.
Medications or withdrawal from medications can also cause both psi openings and distorted emotions and cognitions. Intentionally psychoactive meds such as anti-psychotics, as well as unintentionally psychoactive meds such as antibiotics may be the culprits in darkening a person with dementia’s experience of psi.
Lastly, we have to include the possibility that there are a few mean or tricksterish spirits out there harassing people with dementia, although it’s really too early to conclude that this is definitely the case –
“My husband woke up with such a twisted hateful look on his face as he accused me of squeezing his toes and no matter what I said about being a good distance away from him carried on such a tirade I just ran into the kitchen. He had woken screaming in terror the other night shouting out that he was in agony because someone was squeezing his toes. I lay beside him but he still said there was a man at the foot of the bed. How can I with all honesty dispute what he sees when I have had first hand experience of strange things?” (lilypad, forum.alzheimers.org.uk, 1 Mar 2013).
Seeing non-human beings (most often small humanoid)
Perhaps the hardest dementia symptom to re-interpret as veridical psi is the sighting of non-human, non-angelic beings. They are often humanoid and miniaturized. This can occur in Lewy body dementia. It is also characteristic of Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a visual condition which is technically not dementia, but which can occur in elderly people, and has elements in common with dementia. It is characterized by extremely realistic, complex visions of people, animals, architecture, objects, and geometric patterns. The conventional view is that these are imaginary visions created by optic pathology. Interestingly, the syndrome is usually temporary, and experients are often notably cognitively intact (Mendelson, 2009, pp. 57-8, Wiki)
One of the unique characteristics of this syndrome is that the people seen are usually miniature. Apparently, they are often in costumes (Mendelson, 2009, p. 58).
Some neurologists hypothesize that the visions are caused by the mind compensating for insufficient optical information, similar to how people create visions in sensory deprivation tanks (Mendelson, 2009, p. 58).
But, then, are people unilaterally creating the visions they see in sensory deprivation tanks?
Another possibility is that people are really seeing miniature humanoids who exist somewhere in the universe, and that some neurological change is making it possible to tune into these beings. This is reminiscent of the elven people that are sometimes encountered under the influence of various psychedelic substances.
Psychiatrist Rick Strassman did historic research on injected DMT in the 1990s, and, despite his own initial shock and misgivings, became convinced that some of his subjects were meeting veridical non-human beings. There was a lot of consistency among subjects’ reports about a limited number of types of beings – insectoid, reptilian, elvin, automaton, and clown (Strassman, 2001, pp. 185 – 219). The famous psychedelic expert Terence McKenna had reported meeting similar beings when smoking DMT in the 1970s --
“There are these things, which I call "self transforming machine elves"….I name them 'Tykes' because tyke is a word that means to me a small child, ... and when you burst into the DMT space this is the Aeon - it's a child, and it's at play with colored balls, and I am in eternity, apparently, in the presence of this thing” (Wiki).
DMT is produced endogenously by the pineal gland in the brain. It is also produced by plants, and a synthetic form is available. Strassman speculated that the amount of DMT in your system determined what reality you are tuned into. With insufficient DMT, you may not be tuned into any reality much at all. With the normal amount, you will be tuned into conventional reality. And with more, you may be tuned into channels of reality we don’t usually have access to (Strassman, 2001, pp. 310-328).
This leads us to consider the possibility that people with Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and with dementia-related visions, may be 1) tuning into another channel of reality, and 2) DMT may be involved.
The pineal gland, where DMT is produced, is an endocrine gland in the middle of the brain. It is connected to the visual system; it produces or utilizes several endogenous substances that alter consciousness and may be psi-conducive; and it has traditionally been considered the seat of the soul.
Biologist J.V. Wallach has articulated a fascinating theory about endogenous hallucinogens that may serve to explain how visions of little people could be veridical.
In the words of radical psychiatric survivor d_vyne_madnesss:
“[The] 'reality' we take to be 'normal' and 'objective' may in fact be rather a controlled psychedelic experience!…
“Wallach proposes that…waking consciousness can be thought of as a controlled psychedelic experience. When the control of these normal systems of perception becomes loosened and their behavior no longer correlates with the external world, then altered states arise.
“Translated, what this suggests is that consciousness, the waking state we take as a 'given' and that feeds us information about the physical world, is itself a kind of hallucination that is fed to us in a controlled way by the pineal gland. Changing the dosage and timing results in a completely different experience (the aliens, the tunnel of light), raising the question of, which experience is real?” (d_vyne_madness, 2009).
In dementia and Charles Bonnet Syndrome there may be “damage” or changes to the pineal gland that change what channels of reality the person can perceive.
In the following anecdote, we might be seeing a combination of a veridical perception of a small being misinterpreted through the lens of unfamiliarity and fear. It is also worth noting that this percipient was undoubtedly on high doses of powerful antibiotics, which also could have both facilitated and distorted access to other parts of reality.
“When DH's grandmother was having serious health problems, I believe bladder/kidney issues, and pancreas issues, she got delirious. She told us Raggedy Ann climbed out of her TV in the hospital room every night and spent the night praying for Grandma on the end of her bed. She climbed back into the TV every morning.
It was just from the raging infections in her body….
Grandma was quite rational when she told us about Raggedy Ann. She's a life-long pastor's wife, so the fact that the doll was praying for her was a totally rational thing for her to say.” (angela1422, twopeasinabucket.com, 9/27/2011).
Telepathy / clairvoyance
Joen Fagan, PhD is a psychologist with a great deal of experience in working with people with dementia and their caregivers. He is currently working on a book with Jean Harsch, MSW, which proposes that “it is possible that there are spiritual dimensions to dementia and that being sensitive to these may help a little” with the incredibly difficult task of caring for someone with dementia. The book will look at three aspects of spirituality and dementia: 1) the value of cultivating the classical religious values of love, forgiveness, empathy, gratitude, honesty, etc. towards oneself as caregiver as well as towards the person with dementia; 2) the cultivation and noticing of how literature, meditation, prayer, encounters with others can pull us toward beauty, mystery, and transcendence; and 3) opening up more dialogue about the anomalous experiences that often occur during care of a person with dementia, such as ESP, NDEs, and terminal lucidity.
In a phone interview, Fagan reported an instance of clairvoyance involving his partner Irma that had occurred when she had had Lewy body dementia for seven years. At that point, she was bedridden, prone to hallucinations and delusions, and only somewhat able to talk coherently. Fagan was in another room from Irma, with a connecting hallway in between, about 28 feet away, with his back to her, but just visible to her. He was writing a check to one of their certified nursing assistants. They were not speaking.
As he handed the check to the assistant, Irma called out clearly, “That check is wrong!” Fagan and the assistant were stunned. It’s worth noting that Irma had hated anything to do with numbers her whole life and had never been the check-writer in the family. Fagan re-did his math, and found that he had, indeed, calculated the payment wrong!
Here is an instance of telepathy –
“I've also run across two reports of unusual psychic ability in Alzheimer's patients. One friend told me that while she was taking care of an elderly woman with Alzheimer's, she got really impatient and angry with her (not uncommon for caregivers) and thought murderous thoughts. The old lady turned to her and said "You're not going to kill me!" Needless to say, my friend was more careful after that” (Greenbriar, planetwavesweekly.com).
And one more instance of telepathy –
"I took care of my mother, with Alzheimer's, until she died a few years ago. One of the hard aspects of doing this was that I had to keep my mind as BLANK as possible while in her surroundings, or else she would pick up on my thoughts and keep 'nagging' me all day. If I would only think something like 'I need to make a dentist appointment today', she would keep reminding me all day long ('Have you called the dentist yet?' many, many. many times over and over...)” (Planet waves reader, planetwavesweekly.com).
Note that all three examples involve hypervigilance on the part of the person with dementia. I wonder if we could change the valence of the psi if we were working more proactively with it, educating and reassuring people with dementia and their caregivers about the normality and value of psi.
Terminal lucidity is when people with dementia or other serious psychological or neurological problems, who have been severely cognitively and emotionally impaired for many years, become lucid, rational, oriented to time, place, person, and situation, emotionally or spiritually sophisticated, or demonstrate psi in their final minutes, hours, or days.
According to biologist Michael Nahm, Ph.D., instances of terminal lucidity have been documented since ancient Greece, including cases where autopsy showed severe neurological damage that would make the lucidity virtually impossible within a materialist paradigm (Nahm, 2009, p. 90-95).
Nahm makes the interesting point that terminal lucidity looks much the same in 1) mentally healthy people, 2) mentally unhealthy people without significant brain damage, and 3) mentally unhealthy people with significant brain damage of vastly different types (Nahm, 2009, p. 100).
Joen Fagan reported an instance of terminal lucidity where a man with Lewy body dementia, who had not talked for a long time, one day said clearly to his wife, “Do you still need me?” Instinctively, she said yes, but she thought about it further, and then reassured him that, in fact, she and their children were all fine. She told him, “When you need to go, you can go.” He died four days later.
Fagan also reported an instance of close-to-terminal lucidity involving his partner Irma with Lewy body dementia and their daughter. This occurred a couple of months after Irma had stopped talking and about two months before her death. It was a very unexpected breakthrough in communication for them. Their daughter tells the story --
It is fairly early in the morning and Irma is not yet out of bed in the nursing home. I slip in to see her on my way out of town and have pulled up a chair bedside. I might have said a few things which she did not respond to prior to saying this, I don't remember. I think I was either holding her hand or touching her arm. I was searching her face and she was making pretty good eye contact and her eyes were not "cloudy" that morning. It was fairly early on in the nursing home period- maybe a month in.
I said: "Irma, I am so sorry. It was not supposed to turn out like this."
She focused and sort of straightened up, pushing her head and face forward to the extent she could and very clearly, deliberately and fiercely said: "Not at all."
The inadvisability of psychoactive prescription meds
In reading some of the online discussion forums for caregivers of dementia, I was surprised to see that there were a lot of comments about how psych meds are offered or even pushed on people with dementia, yet often these meds make people worse, and that the caregivers had found it preferable to learn to live with the symptoms or manage them in other ways.
This anecdote is an illuminating cautionary tale --
“The story I have to relate is of my father, who is still living but with a long time case of Alzheimer's. My father has had the dementia for over 12 years now. He would have died many years ago, I believe, except for the action I took of removing him from the medications that the doctors had prescribed for him.
When I began caring for him seven years ago, they prescribed Prozac, Buspar and halioperiodal (Haldol) to help control him. For two years he was on these meds and progressively grew worse, to the point of loss of balance, loss of speech, incontinence, the whole nine yards. About 1996, I became aware of the uselessness of these drugs and removed him from those meds and quit taking him to the doctors. Needless to say, he improved dramatically, regained his balance, diet, continence, speech and strength.
At the end of 1997 I had a triple bypass (due to the stress of caregiving - another story altogether) and I had to put him in a nursing home for a month while I recuperated from the surgery. They put him back on those same drugs and he returned to his previous state of falling, no comprehensive speech, etc.
It took me three months to remove him from those meds once Medicare quit overseeing him. Again he returned back to a state of somewhat normalcy - given the fact that he is a complete blithering idiot with Alzheimer's.
In the last three years, he has had a dramatic decrease in all areas and is now at the stage naturally where he was when on the meds” (Paul M, paranormal.about.com, April 2001).
It’s possible that Omega-3 supplementation may help with dementia, and that mega-dose Omega-3 may help a lot.
A comprehensive review of the literature conducted by Loef and Walach at the Viadrina European University in Frankfurt, and published in January 2013, found that, in both animal and human studies, there was a link between the dietary Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratio, cognitive decline, and incidence of dementia (Loef & Walach, 2013).
In another recent paper, Dacks, Shineman, and Fillet at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation in New York point out that epidemiology indicates a higher risk of cognitive decline in people in the lower quartile of Omega-3 intake or blood levels (Dacks et al., 2013).
A 2012 meta-analysis of human studies measuring Omega-3 blood levels, conducted by Lin, Chiu, Huang, and Su at the Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and Chang Gung University College of Medicine, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, found that overall Omega-3 level, EPA level, and DHA level were significantly lower in people with dementia, while only the EPA level was significantly lower in people with predementia syndrome (Lin et al., 2012).
In a study published February 2013, Fiala et al. at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA identified key genes and signalizing networks that might explain how vitamin D and Omega-3 enhance the immune system’s ability to clear the brain of amyloid-beta plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. The supplements helped macrophages in vitro to expunge amyloid-beta (5 Feb 2013 UCLA press release). This immune function is yet another mechanism by which Omega-3 may help the brain, in addition to making neuron walls more flexible and building myelin.
There are people experimenting formally and informally right now with high-dose Omega-3 (9,000 mg / day and higher) for traumatic brain injury, coma, severe psychological problems, and neurological damage from prescription medications. I would like to see research done on high-dose Omega-3 for dementia.
Psi in the caregiver
People with dementia range in their presentation from fairly calm and collaborative to highly agitated and endangering. It takes a lot of tolerance and skill to be a caregiver to someone with dementia. If the caregiver had a personal relationship with the person before the dementia appeared, then the caregiver has to go through an extensive process of adjusting to the progressive changes in their loved one, and this can be very grueling.
Sometimes, caregivers witness symptoms in the person with dementia that might be psi. They may miss the psi aspect, or perceive it and be threatened by it, or perceive it and be comforted by it.
Here is an anecdote of a professional caregiver who perceives the psi experience of the person with dementia and has her own corroborating psi experience --
“You can see the person is focused in another dimension, it's as if they are looking through the walls. Sometimes they will speak and at other times I see them nodding their heads in response to conversations I can't here. I can at times feel the presence of others in the room but they tend to reveal themselves to the individual more than to me. Fragrances and energy signatures are very clear though” (Cinnamon Moon, spiritlodge.yuku.com, 23 Jun 05).
And here is an anecdote of a family member caregiver who reports on her father having psi during dementia, as well as having her own psi experience --
“And the last day of his life he said mom [predeceased first wife] had run out to get things ready, but he would like us to chat with his old army buddies while she was gone. My sister and I swear we saw about ten men dressed in Second World War uniforms around our dad. Some very young, and some very old, very indistinct -- like a dream as you are waking up. Then he died that night. And strangely enough, his second wife buried him in a military cemetery, not in the local cemetery" (Planet Waves reader, planetwavesweekly.com).
The psychospiritual purposes of dementia
Dementia can be a torturous experience for the person experiencing it and for the caregivers. Is it possible that expanding our understanding and utilization of psi or spiritual experiences during dementia might make the journey any easier?
In reviewing anecdotes, several possible psychospiritual purposes of this neurological ailment emerge. They seem to fall generally under two headings for the person with dementia – preparing to cross from this life to the next stage of existence, and psychospiritual development or healing. For the caregiver, there may also be significant psychospiritual development. We will also look specifically at the purpose of terminal lucidity.
Preparing to cross
Preparing to cross may involve working on fear of crossing, loosening ties to this world, or finishing unfinished business.
Fear of crossing
Some people are afraid or unwilling to die or cross into the next stage of their existence. One of the psychospiritual purposes of dementia may be to provide a liminal period during which the person may be helped both here and on the other side to make peace with the idea of crossing. See the section on “seeing and hearing unhelpful humans” above for a couple of anecdotes of frightening hallucinations that might be interpreted as attempts by spirit beings to help someone with their fear of crossing.
Loosening ties to this world
Dementia loosens ties with certain parts of the self, relationships, and reality. Painful as this is for everyone involved, it may serve the developmental purpose of preparing to re-locate to a new stage of life.
Here is an anecdote from a Native American Medicine Woman that illustrates the view that people with dementia are sometimes making brief forays to the next world in preparation for moving there permanently --
“My training with dementia is along these lines, that the spirit of the individual is focused in the spirit realm and gradually spends more time there than here in the mundane. It is honored as such and at times they come back to the physical reality with their stories to share. I've just always accepted it as such and honored their *trance state* without disruption to it....or as little as possible in caring for their physical needs. I keep that part very simple, Mari-la. If they become rational (if that's the proper way to put it) I'll talk with them about their spiritual experiences, they seem (in most cases) eager to share them, talking about friends and relatives that they were with who had crossed over long before them. It's lovely really. I know it upsets the family but it's nothing to fear” (Cinnamon Moon, spiritlodge.yuku.com, 23 Jun 05).
Finishing unfinished business
There seem to be at least three ways that dementia may serve as a platform for taking care of unfinished business. One is to take care of unfinished business from earlier in life. An example of this will be given below in the section “A very useful overall model.” Another is to take care of unfinished business in current relationships. As mentioned above in the “terminal lucidity” section, the person may even ask explicitly if they have done everything they have to do before they cross. The third is to contribute to taking care of the unfinished business of ancestors in the lineage.
Here is an example of someone with dementia needing help from a caregiver to finish unfinished business in one relationship, and to get reassurance about some other matters --
“Well - as I knew this man for about 25 years, I knew that there was one thing I knew from that things still had to be cleared between certain people and him. I phoned the person and exlained the situation. She said that things are clear for them. I asked her to tell this so that the other person (the man) gets it (some need to hear it) - so that he can let go this struggle... As the man could no longer communicate at the phone I asked her to talk to the wife of the man to tell her what she felt to tell and to tell it to the man, then. She did this.
I also knew that the man felt that he had to take care of his wife and his son (adult people). He wanted to know that they are taken care of. When I sat with him I told him that he had prepared all he could to allow his wife and his son a life in Beauty - that both are taken care of (as this was the truth), that he had gifted his son with wisdom and support. That both in my eyes are prepared to live in Beauty - as he had supported them all his life the best way...
He had sat like sleeping before. When I told this he became "awake" - he tried to speak - he looked into my eyes - and energy was in his body... I thanked him also for all I was allowed to learn form him. Much energy was felt around him, but he could not speak - but he was "there" for a short time as I saw his eyes... I left with the feeling that important things were spoken out and released, that he felt calm, that he felt and had got the feedback that his life had had a sense and that he had done good for the family he left behind...
About two days later the man died... (I will try to share what to offer to tell people when they no longer "are there" to help them possibly to go easier, to let go, to go in peace... As many can not let go because of fear that family, loved ones are not taken care of, they also need to get a clear feedback sometimes that their life had had a sense, too...)” (Mari-la, spiritlodge.yuku.com, 25 Jun 05).
It’s possible that some people with dementia are participating in helping to heal trauma or unfinished business in their lineage. Both parapsychology and Family Systems Theory in psychology have astonishing examples of how people unwittingly repeat or seem to respond to events that happened to ancestors of which they have no apparent knowledge.
French Resistance member, Fulbright scholar, psychologist, and psychoanalyst Anne Ancelin Schützenberger wrote a complex and ground-breaking book “The ancestor syndrome: Transgenerational psychotherapy and the hidden links in the family tree,” in which she combines psychodynamic theories with psi theories to provide an additional lens for understanding distress that cannot be accounted for using the individual’s own life experience.
She gives numerous case studies of people whose distressing symptoms did not respond to conventional psychodynamic interpretations but cleared up when research was done on their ancestors, and an interpretation was made based on the ancestor’s trauma – often something which had not been common knowledge.
In this context, it’s thought-provoking to consider how often people with dementia seem to see and talk to their ancestors. If they are, in fact, participating in some healing work for their lineage, one of the ramifications of this is that it might explain why even people who have done a lot of psychospiritual work on themselves still develop the neurological problem of dementia. They may be being called to address unresolved issues from ancestor’s lives.
Despite the losses and hardships of dementia, there may be some gains in terms of psychospiritual healing and development. The person with dementia may paradoxically develop a certain mindfulness and trust, may develop less developed parts of the self, and may advance to new levels of awareness.
Developing mindfulness and trust
Here is one caregiver demonstrating quite a stunning perspective on how dementia can sometimes – in a safe and loving environment – contain elements of states of consciousness than many of us strive for --
“My sisters and I often discussed my mother's dementia and her ending up having that disease which would dictate her final journey here on earth. We noted that my mother had learned that which many advocate that we should do and that is to live in the present moment. Her deteriorating skills meant that she no longer considered the future and her memory problems stopped her living like most of us do, by reference to the past. For her, every day was new. Every day was as though she was experiencing things for the first time. Occasionally she would remember someone else's name but on the whole she lived in the moment and even then sometimes in a world that was beyond our reach….There are other lessons too. How about trust. Being so vulnerable that your whole existence is dependent upon you putting your trust in others to care for you and keep you safe. Can you contemplate you abandoning all your protections and laying yourself open to whatever may be.” (FifiMo, forum.alzheimer.org.uk, 24 Feb 2013).
Developing less developed parts of the self
And here is another caregiver speculating that some of the changes brought on by dementia might be serving a developmental purpose, pushing the person to develop the less developed sides of themselves --
“Sometimes the experience changes - the coin flips over - and the person who has always been "in charge" of their life, the one who has sacrificed and worked hard and given so much to others, becomes the one who is now helpless, the one to whom sacrifices are made, for whom others take their turn in working hard and being the giver….
You see, these archetypes can flip over and the other side is expressed as an alternative way for the Oneness to 'be' as an expression of that archetype.
Often we don't let our archetypes fully express in all their richness, because we get locked into our patterns/roles/duties, perhaps because we are compelled to do so by other people's patterns and scripts. But the Universal One chooses the moment to free us from something and use us to express something else” (Owly, forum.alzheimers.or.uk, 24 Feb 2013).
Advancing to new levels of awareness
There is also some suggestion, both from wisdom traditions, and from comments made by people with dementia, that they are advancing to new levels of awareness at the same time that conventional levels of awareness are faltering.
In a deeply researched paper prepared for a Stanford course, ethnogeriatric nursing specialist Levanne R. Hendrix, PhD reviewed the beliefs about dementia of some Native American tribes.
“Although dementia is relatively rare in American Indian elderly, it is anticipated that as Indians’ life expectancy increases, so will the incidence of dementia. Explanatory models vary from tribe to tribe, and individual to individual” (Hendrix, 2000).
For example, among the Cherokee –
“….Dementia is a part of the Creator’s plan for that person’s ultimate learning and may not require intervention or help-seeking (“naturalization” of cognitive impairment and dementing behavior, with greater “tolerance” for a wide range of behavior than white communities) (Cherokee)” (Hendrix, 2000).
The following anecdote brings up really fascinating possibilities for looking at dementia as a systemic transformation, along the lines of a Kundalini awakening or shamanic initiatory illness, that is re-wiring the person for an entirely new way of being --
“I wonder if my mum's dementia is to do with kundalini rising as it was accompanied by an activation of Uranus (planet of crown chakra) in her birthchart by the planet Pluto which makes things very intense. She told me, excitedly, that she was seeing fleeting, fascinating symbols rushing into and out of her mind. A rush of energy into the mind and brain that, in its intensity, wiped out many of her neurons and memory patterns. She feels no sense of responsibility any more….She is now very happy not to be responsible….” ((Owly, forum.alzheimers.or.uk, 24 Feb 2013).
Development of the caregiver
Taking care of a person with dementia can be grueling work physically and emotionally. The strange behaviors of someone with dementia can be threatening to anyone, but if the caregiver is a loved one, the changes and losses can be extremely depressing, anxiety-provoking, and angering. Many caregivers go through a descent experience that challenges their fundamental worldview.
It is a unique hardship to suffer as a caregiver when you are caring for someone you love who may, at times, be in agony. How do you dare to give any thought to your own suffering when theirs is so much greater? Yet the caregiver’s journey through dementia is important, not only because they too deserve care like any human being, but because there is a field effect of the dementia that affects anyone who is near it. The caregiver is part of the developmental project.
The field effect of the dementia changes the environment around the person with dementia. There is an otherworldly quality which can evoke a sort of dream state in the caregiver. The physical and emotional work of the caregiver can also be exhausting and contribute to being in an altered state. Caregivers may witness psi or have their own psi experiences for the first time. This may trigger a paradigm shift.
If there is a psychospiritual developmental purpose to dementia for the person who has it, then there is also a psychospiritual developmental purpose for the caregiver. The situation may be comparable to what ethnopsychologist Holger Kalweit, PhD observed in his studies of indigenous shamans around the world. He has written that there is a field effect of the person going through a severe shamanic initiatory illness. The people around the initiate will also tend to experience their own illnesses and disruptions. The transformative ordeal involves a wide circle of people (Kalweit, 1984).
Ideally, the caregiver arrives at state of finding their own great meaning, healing and growth in the experience. Some people come to feel that caring for someone with dementia is the most meaningful thing they have ever done. Some family caregivers come to feel emotionally closer than ever to their loved one with dementia even when the old means of communication are not there.
In reporting some Native American perspectives on dementia, Hendrix wrote –
“….Dementia is a condition in which the person’s spirit has already crossed over into the next world, but the body remains behind as it prepares to leave. The caregiver’s job is to take care of the body until it is ready to leave, and this is sacred work. The person is communicating in the spirit world, which is why language and behavior appear to us as if overhearing one side of a telephone conversation. In some Indian communities this is a mark of elevated spiritual status for the family (Oklahoma Choctaw)” (Hendrix, 2000).
The purpose of terminal lucidity
What does terminal lucidity tell us about dementia? It provides an eye-opening demonstration that the person with dementia continues to exist, either as they normally were, or even with more advanced development. It shows that explicit communication may be possible even at the very end. This communication may range from the simple but heartfelt to the more complex and astonishing. Terminal lucidity (as well as the instances of telepathy and clairvoyance above) also implies that a person with even advanced dementia may be understanding a caregiver’s communication at least some of the time, comparable to how we now view coma.
As Medicine Woman Cinnamon Moon says --
“….I do believe their spirit hears us and understands. The awareness is linking to the collective at that time and we're a part of that too. Whether it's dementia, altzheimer's, or coma, speaking with their Higher Self is always possible IMHO. Even modern medicine encourages visitors to speak with these patients. Think about the accounts of near-death-experiences people have while out under anesthesia in surgery or from accidents where they recount the details of events and who was present, who said what. Those examples are quite profuse in recorded case files too. So yes, by all means, I believe the spirit hears and responds as it needs to” (Cinnamon Moon, spiritlodge.yuku.com, 24 Jun 05).
In some cases, the purpose of terminal lucidity may be to allow the person with dementia to serve as a kind of prophet or inspiring visionary, comparable to the function served by some people who share their own astonishing NDEs. In his paper on terminal lucidity, Michael Nahm gives several examples from the historical record of people with long-lasting, severe psychological and neurological conditions who, in their final hours or days, became lucid and highly spiritual in their discourse. Just the miracle of their lucidity is paradigm-shifting for the people around them. But, sometimes, they also have a lot to impart about life in this world and the next (Nahm, 2009, pp. 90-7).
A very useful overall model
Here is a wonderful overview of what dementia is all about from Mari-la, member of a Native American discussion forum –
“when I was allowed to work with a wonderful old man who has Alzheimer over several years (he dropped his robe last year), I was allowed to journey to where he was "when he was not there". This is what I got:
_______ The room/time continuum melts away for them (often).
_______ If life and the learning areas are like football fields, then they are sometimes also drawn back to "that" football field where they still have things to do, where things are to be with. (May be the youth, war times, work...)
_______ They may switch between football fields very fast - and this confuses the others around, as they think the person now is totally going "crazy". No, as room/time continuum melts away for them (they walk in other dimensions), they can walk between the football fields - but not often voluntarily, but where they are called to. This way some people with alzheimer may look again and again for their money, some ask again and again for their passport, some cry for their shoes, some are in their work and each thing around is "connected" for them with their work...
_______ Then there are times where sterotype movements may occur - this was shown as not being on the playground of a football field, but that the body comforts itself (like with autistic people) to calm down, to release physical stress that touches the body, to give itself a rhthym in a world where the person has lost the daily rhythm... These stereotype movements (like putting together the same cloth over hours - folding it, unfolding it, folding it, unfolding it...) gives a calm and smoothing sensation to the body where the spirit has lost much connection to... Like with autistic people I do not feel to "interrupt" their movement, but to see which kind of comfort is needed - and to offer it, may be (if allowed) touching the arm softly and carressing it)...
_______ They forget to take care of their body - this way the others have to be patient and to help them eat, drink... As the life energy flows back to the middle of the life center (preparatiopn for death) over a longer time (what I got), not forcing them to eat, but softly encouraging them, softly helping them... I saw people becoming harsh and loud: "Eat! You have to eat!" - but they can not, as according to the process of dying the life energy moves to the center - it is one of the first steps of preparation to death. (I hope to share more about the steps of the dying process itself, how the energy leaves the body in which steps, too... It may help a lot to understand what happens - whether it is in seconds or over years...).
_______ Yes, they get what we say - not in our words, but beyond words - in the dimensions where there is understanding without words. One person with alzheimer - the life energy still had floated very much to the center - eating was no longer possible in a good way, drinking not - the body followed the natural way of the dying process in refusing food and drinking (...also with harsh reactions, as the natural dying process was taking place and eating and drinking would hurt on a certain level, then. It is not easy to get "the" moment, when refusing food and drinking is one of the sacred and powerful steps of the dying process in its natural way. It is not to be misunderstood not to feed them and to give them to drink - but to see when the dying process sets in with more power...)” (Mari-la, spiritlodge.yuju.com, 25 Jun 05).
Dementia is often a descent experience for the individual and for the caregiver. A descent is a kind of human experience that many have but many do not have. It always involve a dismantling of the self and prolonged suffering. It leads to the creation of something new, to the attainment of new gifts. Not only does the individual evolve to a new version of themselves, but they bring something new and important to the community.
What would be the evolutionary purpose of dementia for the community, for the species? Dementia alters consciousness by altering the brain. Although it damages familiar landmarks of consciousness, it may make possible other attainments of consciousness.
There are many phenomena that suggest that shutting down some brain functions may pave the way for new insights and abilities. Examples include: terminal lucidity as discussed above, comas that lead to OBEs or NDEs, brain scans that show that people under anesthesia have increased brain activity and are responding to visual cues (see 5 Dec 11 post); psychotherapy that uses psychedelics to heal; and traumatic brain injury that leads to the psychic opening of professional psychics and mediums.
It may be that people with dementia have more of certain kinds of consciousness, and are, therefore, not only able to do advantageous work on their own growth and healing, but may be able to promote the community’s growth and healing.
In many cases of dementia, there seems to be increased communication with other parts of reality. Maybe this is beneficial for the community as well. For example, the recounting of inspiring or informative encounters with other beings can trigger big life changes in people who hear of them.
In some cases of dementia, the person seems briefly or sporadically to attain a prophet-like condition during which they may shed even more light on the nature of human existence.
If they are contributing to healing any trauma in their lineage, that would certainly benefit other family members and descendants.
There may be other evolutionary purposes. Although we can generalize, each instance of dementia is a unique developmental path for that individual and the caregivers, which has the potential to create something brand new.
Could we possibly ease the experience of having dementia or caring for it if we tried to look for the psychospiritual purposes, and work more proactively with any psi that might occur? Believing in, valuing, and explaining people’s psi experiences can have a mighty impact on their mental stability, sense of meaning, and ability to function. Training and education in this aspect of dementia care could make a difference for everyone involved. We could start by collecting insights about dementia and psi from around the world and ancient times, and then build on that.
If you have a psi anecdote about a person with dementia or their caregiver, please comment below or email me. Also, please contact me if you know of anyone who has tried high-dose Omega-3 for dementia.
*Thanks to Cinnamon Moon, Forum Founder, spiritlodge.yuku.com, for the epigraph.
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