Dementia – in the eyes of the beholder

The definition depends on which lens is used to view it


By Cecilia Chan

My gang and I – all women – attended a contemporary dance performance, Bhumimata.

The four of us were the squarest, geekiest attendees there on every level. There we were – a gerontologist, a psychologist, a physiotherapist and a sociology student – dipping our virgin feet in a creative, contemporary performance.

Our takes on the performance were both amusing – and even risky! On our way back after the performance, we shared our personal experiences.

The physiotherapist said she was overwhelmed with fear and worry when the dancers moved dangerously at great speed in the dark. She was terrified they would hurt their muscles or tear their ligaments and tendons.

The psychologist said she was mesmerised and focused on one particular dancer who was pushing the others around. She surmised the dancer may be a bully – perhaps suffering from behavioural or psychological issues?

The would-be sociologist subtly interjected: the part where everyone was dancing in sync and harmony resembled how humans are socially constructed to follow a certain normalcy to blend in.

As for the gerontologist – me – I recalled my first reaction to being exposed to contemporary dance. I cringed and perspired profusely, and my heart raced because I could not understand what was going on.

So, I plucked up the courage to ask my dancer friend to explain it to me to soothe my aching brain.

My friend was empathetic. Smiling, she said the most crucial thing to remember when watching contemporary dance is to be open.

Whatever one takes away from a contemporary dance piece is valuable. There is no right or wrong; there is only interpretation. The genuine beauty lies in the beholder’s eye.

READ MORE:  Communication without words in dementia world

This is exactly our struggle with dementia. Dementia is a unique condition that evokes unique, varying responses from those who deal with it and those who are diagnosed with the condition.

The definition depends on which lens is used to view it.

When a person behaves in ways we don’t accept, do we cringe?

Are we quick to judge them and slap a label on them?

Do we attempt to understand their world and their ways of experiencing their world with a changing brain?

We should not be ashamed if we live with dementia – and yet we are. Words like dementia paralyse us with fear. This fear has enormous power over us.

We can take back and reclaim our power when we pause and reflect on it.

Which lens are we using – because it is indeed in the beholder’s eye.

Dr Cecilia Chan is a gerontologist, dementia advocate and activist based in Penang

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
Support Aliran's work with an online donation. Scan this QR code using your mobile phone e-wallet or banking app:
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
27 Aug 2023 9.30pm

One school of thought Dementia is caused by aluminium that goes into the brain through vaccination …