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(Katy Lemay for The Globe and Mail)
(Katy Lemay for The Globe and Mail)

Dementia will not make me a basket case. Here is my manifesto Add to ...

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers.

In 1517, a monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It was a passionate statement of an alternative vision of what the Christian faith and church practices could and should be.

His action shook his contemporary world, and eventually led to a new and different way of viewing and living faith.

Recent personal events have made it necessary for me to write my own declaration, my own manifesto, for how I will view and lead my life differently. My claim to the right to use the term “manifesto” lies in the depth of the shock I have received. It has shaken me to my core.

On Jan. 10 of this year, I visited my family doctor, accompanied by one of my daughters. The appointment had been made because my family had brought to my attention that I had suffered a major memory lapse. This unusual event was upsetting for all of us. How could this happen to me, and what did it mean?

The details of the appointment are not important; the results are. A sympathetic and thorough doctor led me through a verbal examination, and then the accepted test for assessing mental acuity. It seems that I have a noticeable memory loss.

In the normal progression of life, people in their 90s do not have memories as sharp as when they were, for example, 70. However, my tests showed that I am beyond that, at what is medically called the beginning of dementia.

Just hearing that word applied to oneself is enough to produce severe shock.

After a while, I surfaced and began to think as well as react. How does one handle this? Who am I now? What is the future likely to be? Can anything be done?

These queries and many more went round and round in my mind. Finally, getting fed up with all this, I picked up a pencil and started to jot down thoughts and ideas. I am not ready to become a basket case, and surely there must be something to do that will help.

Being only a medical problem is not living. I am nearing the end of my life, but I’m not there yet. My challenge is to make my remaining years rewarding.

Morning came today, and the sky has not fallen. I am the same person that I was before that appointment. The diagnosis is undeniably scary, but predicting the future is much less definite. The medical folk do not pretend to be able to know how my particular affliction will unfold. Apparently the range is from a swift, dramatic slide, or a slow growth in disability, or staying put with no apparent change. For a few there can even be a slight improvement.

One thing is made clear: There is no “cure.” This is not reversible. A few suggestions were made. Walk as much as you can. Stimulate your mind. Observe good dietary habits.

So here is my plan: Until it’s proven otherwise, I assume my particular affliction will be one of the slow-growing type. I will continue to do activities that I find stimulating, and I have added daily walks to my regime.

My bookcase holds 65 family albums covering family and trips for as many years as there are albums.

I now keep an album by my chair, and will go through one each day. This should help me retain memories of past years and people.

I am setting up a pattern of reminders to aid my faulty memory, such as a bulletin board to hold activities, daily appointments, people to contact, and so on.

I am starting a diary in which to jot down social gatherings, gifts received, anything that I feel is particularly important to remember.

A few words, the date and place should suffice and not take much time to do.

Finally, I will be open to any suggestions that will make things easier.

Life has been good to me, and continues to be. It has not always been easy, but always worth the effort. It will be so this time, too.

It would be a crime to waste the relatively few years I have left. How fortunate I am to have around me here, and at a distance, a family that gives love and support with no hesitation. I tend to be better at giving advice than taking it, but I promise to listen and weigh what is said. That’s about as much as I can promise.

Now – on to the future! 2013 will be a great year. I will have four new great-grandchildren added this year, and the older members of the clan are busily engaged in their lives.

What more could I ask? “My cup runneth over,” to quote a book Martin Luther would recognize.

Marjorie Gibson lives in Vancouver.

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