I recently took Terry Gross to task for doing a show on aging dogs while overlooking, in my opinion, older people.
So to be fair, I’m blogging a rave review of her show yesterday that explored some really provocative questions about Dementia.
Let me pose a hypothetical question before I explain the details of the interview:
Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with early onset Dementia and you’re offered the choice to participate in an experimental drug study. If you take the drug, your memory will be preserved but you will die from the side effects within three months. If you forego the drug, you may live for a decade or more, but you will suffer the symptoms of Dementia.
That’s the question posed in the new novel The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley, who has written more than three dozen novels, including many mysteries featuring the L.A. detective Easy Rawlins.
Mosley tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that he wrote the novel — and imagined what Ptolemy was thinking — after watching his mother’s mind deteriorate from the early stages of dementia.
“When you deal with a person who’s experiencing dementia, you can see where they’re struggling with knowledge,” he says. “You can see what they forget completely, what they forget but they know what they once knew. You can tell how they’re trying to remember. … What I saw in my mom’s eyes and in some of her expressions, was her saying, ‘I want to understand it; I want to understand what you’re saying; I want to enter into a dialogue with you; I want things to be the way they were.’ That’s the crux of the novel: What would you do to have things the way they were?”
In the novel, Grey meets with a doctor who offers him a medicine that will restore the electrical connections in his brain — and his memory — but only for a short period of time. “The doctor says, ‘I can give you this medicine
and there’s a chance that for the next three months, you’re going to have perfect memory. There’s a chance that you’re going to be able to think the way you used to. At the end of that three months, it’s a definite you’re going to be dead,’ ” says Mosley. ” ‘If you don’t take the medication and you’ve got a good body, you might live another 10 years, but you won’t know a thing. So you make the choice: three months aware or 10 years in a daze?’ “
I don’t think many of our readers will be surprised that when asked, Mosley said he would take the drug and early death sentence rather than live with Dementia.
What do you think? I think it’s a serious question with implications regarding how our culture views Dementia, and in turn how our culture treats people suffering from it. I’d like to hear what the experts in our audience think.