Dementia patients have a lot to teach us about the soul.
I am reminded of interactions with my grandmother. Throughout her life, she would often sing at random times while she was cooking, cleaning, or simply walking about the house. She would sing songs — songs of faith. She would often sing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and other great hymns she was raised with. When she was old and her memories and her body were fading, she persisted in her habits of singing. While she did not have dementia, observing her revealed much about the nature of the soul of which several studies are confirming: there is more to the soul than we originally thought.
Dementia is the term that refers to the process of intellectual or mental deterioration. Dementia patients experience intellectual malfunctioning in varying ways and to varying degrees on a sliding scale. Typically, when it begins, cognitive functioning continues to worsen until the person no longer remembers self, past experiences, or basic identity markers to our daily conscious experience.
So ingrained to our common experience is the stability we derive from our memories of the past. In other words, those events, experiences, and relationships that make us who we are. They provide stability to us and to our shared reality with others. Our fear is that we or the ones we love are gone when they have lost their memory. This is undoubtedly why memory played such an important role in the history of philosophy. As with Descartes, it was through his memorial awareness that he was able to arrive at a knowledge of self. And, it is on some accounts of John Locke that personal identity is the continuity of our memories. So, when we lose our memory there is a tendency to say and think, “she’s gone,” “she’s no longer with us.” But as author Katherine Applegate in The One And Only Ivan, describes memory in the following: “Memories are precious … They help tell us who we are.” No doubt memories do help us know who we and others are, but they do not make us who we are. This is something theologians John Swinton and Tricia Williams help us to see about the nature of persons in their theology of dementia.
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What dementia teaches us about the soul | Voice