Living Well With Dementia

making every season of life count when you are experiencing memory loss

Russell Martoccio

Autumn in Wisconsin seems to come without warning at a time when the fruitful days of midsummer are beginning to wane but when it still seems as though food, endless plenty, and the warmth must go on forever. Then, almost imperceptibly, a burst of activity is evident in a growing urge to store seeds and cones. Geese are now gathering for the migration south. There is the sense of little time and that all must hurry before it is too late. A somberness comes to the land and with it a feeling of welcome quiet and relief. The flaming magnificence of fall is now all around me. I breath in the fresh autumn air knowing that the cycle is almost complete. My heart and soul are grateful to be able to witness this change! Acceptance of change is necessary for living well with my memory loss. The acceptance of things I cannot change and the courage to change the things that I can, and (hopefully) the wisdom to know the difference.

I recently watched a movie called Iron Lady about the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher which strongly resonated with me. While in office she was described as “a tigress surrounded by hamsters.” A grocer’s daughter, educated as a scientist at Oxford, she was strong and unyielding in a male-dominated cabinet. Later in life she was diagnosed with dementia. While the movie highlights her struggles with memory loss it continues to focus on her personal qualities. She lived with grace, purpose, and dignity though all the while still believing she was prime minister. She grieved the death of her husband but always knew he was still with her. Never confined to internal exile, never dwelling on her losses but focusing on what she still had ... a life captured in a moment.

What this movie revealed to me is that living with memory loss is an individual adventure. I can choose to be strong, confident and determined or I can choose to live my diagnosis and turn my will and life over to the care of others. Remember that this season of life counts. It is not an afterthought. I continue to discover a new and adventurous life.

Russell Martoccio writes a column each month for the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County’s newsletter. To read the newsletter online, visit and click on “Newsletter.”

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