While attending The Green House Project annual conference in Grand Rapids earlier this month I had the pleasure of recording dementia expert Teepa Snow in a keynote session explaining and humanizing the changes to the brain caused by advanced dementia.
Teepa speaks intimately to people who live with dementia, know somebody living with dementia or care for them. They will recognize the changes in behavior Teepa describes, such as the baffling ability to spew vulgar and hateful expletives long after losing the ability to speak. Or to pray, chant, dance or even sing and come alive to music. Such behavior can disturb family or loved ones, and even professional caregivers, who do not understand the basic neurological changes caused by dementia.
In a nutshell, dementia causes deterioration of the left side of the brain, which controls vocabulary and speech, and the frontal lobe, which controls impulse control. Dementia does not strongly impact the right side of the brain, which controls everything related to rhythm, such as music, prayer, dance and even social chitchat.
But what about cussing and swearing? Isn’t that speech? Teepa does such an amazing job explaining why we retain expletives, and the role they play in stress reduction and pain relief, that I’ll let her explain:
I love the irony that because swear words are forbidden, they provide such a powerful release when we unleash them. Think about that next time you slam your hand in a car door or spend time with someone living with advanced dementia.
Learning these insights into how the brain operates brought together several threads ChangingAging has been following regarding the way we think about and treat people living with dementia.
This helps explain why drum circles are powerful tools for healing and therapeutic dance programs such as the MetLife Foundation Healthy Living Initiative at Dance Exchange in Baltimore can have a seemingly miraculous impact on health and wellbeing. This is why the groundbreaking documentary “Alive Inside” went viral with a video clip demonstrating how music can literally re-awaken people living with dementia who were previously unresponsive. And better understanding of how the brain functions will help support new approaches to dementia care such as Dementia Beyond Drugs, a person-centered approach pioneered by Dr. Al Power and The Eden Alternative, to help eliminate the abuse of antipsychotics drugs to control people living with dementia.
If you enjoyed that clip of Teepa I highly recommend watching the full keynote address at The Green House Project’s YouTube channel: