Fittingly enough, it was during this election cycle my mother received her dementia diagnosis. Thanks to her stroke, she’s moved fairly quickly through the levels, like a pro-gamer unlocking ever more complex realms of challenge. When she was unable to feed herself or attend to hygiene, memory care became inevitable. My periodic visits have become studies in both specific and general cognitive atrophe, in addition to whatever else it is when a son becomes the elder to his parent.
As a way of holding on to the rail when the seas get rough, I have begun to look at the memory care facility, and mental disability, in an anthropological light. I’m always on the look out, in my mother’s case, to see what parts of personality persist, and which patterns remain as a kind of behavioral bedrock. Observing which of her symptomatic responses were there all along in nascent form. Seeing her surrounded by her ‘peers’, each with their own expeditions underway, it forces me to wonder about the so-called sanity of us all.
My understanding is that one-in-three seniors suffer from some kind of memory dysfunction, with a full five million or more receiving professional assistance in daily living. If you add in by way of the graces of lay practitioners- family members and friends doing their best to provide critical care- the number of those non compos mentis may be three times that. This means as a voting block, there are ten to fifteen million or so, who are legally able to cast votes, though they may not know night from day, or whether shoes go on hands or feet.
Which bring us to the realm of the undiagnosed mental indigents, including clinically uninformed or perpetually ’undecided’ voters. I realize, technically these are different groups but there is also overlap. The underlying idea being, a decision is based on information, and if that information is driven by pure fabrication, emotional remnants, manipulation, or just cerebral breakdown, the result is pretty much the same. Not a very creditable vote. But a vote with equal weight to all others nonetheless.
This all makes me think about the larger body politic, those of us who either claim or aspire to lucidity. Some of us, the more flexible ones, question our judgments and opinions, and may be legitimately undecided as we weigh our options. I fear a great many never do this, they are unburdened so to speak. They can be cajoled to vote against their best interests, and even darker, live unaware they are useable as human fodder from a macro perspective. I’m not suggesting that to be a citizen one needs to be sentient, or even socially aware, but I do wonder about functionally viable thresholds.
No matter what the outcome of this present contest, it will be hard for me to separate my mother’s dementia, from a mass dementia of sorts that seems to be sweeping the land. Both are ruled by irrationality, highly unpredictable states, and often beget tragic-comedic instances and episodes beyond belief. We can ask why these things happen, yet if there are answers they are not anywhere near solving the larger conundrum of their lamentable existence.
One thing I am very thankful for with my mother is the Blues. It’s pretty engrained in most of us, including her, to hum along with a twelve bar rhythm, letting time pass bye and troubles float away. This easily beats words for getting down to the marrow. Luckily, me being an amateur musically, I don’t have to do much to hold down the bottom, and let her cares fade away. It soothes and has great meaning for us both, on that microscopic scale where we dwell while the clock ticks. Unfortunately, I don’t know a correspondingly deep and healing tune for that collective realm where actions have consequences and we supposedly remain accountable and responsible for ourselves.