“Perceiving dementia through different perspective”

LAST night (July 28), my group of friends, all ladies, attended a contemporary dance performance entitled “Bhumimata.” Among the audience, the four of us stood out as the squarest and geekiest on every level.

Having a gerontologist, psychologist, physiotherapist and sociology student dip their virgin feet in creative and contemporary performance can be both hilarious and risky at the same time.

On our way back after the performance, we shared our personal experiences.

The physiotherapist admitted feeling overwhelmed with fear and concern as the dancers moved at high speed in the dark. She was terrified that they might injure their muscles, tear ligaments or strain tendons (I know, this aligned with her line of work).

Meanwhile, the psychologist shared that she was mesmerised and focused on one particular dancer who seemed to be pushing the others around, which she concluded was a bully. Perhaps she was suffering from behavioural or psychological issues?

The sociology students subtly pointed out that there was a part of the performance where everyone danced in sync and harmony, resembling how humans are socially constructed to adhere to certain norms and blend in.

The gerontologist’s perspective is not necessary for the context.

Does this scream a very obvious and succinct message? Besides the fact that we are all complete novices in the creative arts, I distinctly remember my initial reaction: I cringed, broke into a sweat, and my heart raced because I couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

So, I picked up the courage to ask my dancer friend to explain it to me to soothe my aching and sore brain. She was empathetic and smiled, explaining that the most crucial thing to remember when I watch contemporary dance is to be open.

Each takeaway from a contemporary dance piece holds value. There is no definitive right or wrong; it’s all about interpretation. True beauty lies solely in the eye of the beholder.

This is exactly our struggle when it comes to dementia.

Dementia is a unique condition that is responsive to how we regard it and those labelled with it. It also depends on which lens we use to view it.

When a person behaves in ways that we don’t accept, do we cringe and are quick to judge them and slap a label on them? Do we try to understand their world and their ways of experiencing it with a changing brain?

Living with dementia shouldn’t bring shame, but unfortunately, it often does. Words like dementia can instill fear, and its power over us can feel overwhelming. However, by pausing and reflecting on it, we may find a way to reclaim our power and face it with strength.

Which lens are we using because it is indeed in the eye of the beholder? – July 29, 2023


Dr Cecilia Chan is a gerontologist, dementia advocate and activist.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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