Rolf Heine’s Lecture on Dementia

Rolf Heine’s gave a lecture here at Camphill Ghent on October 29, 2019, entitled “How does the therapeutic will affect the life of individuals with dementia?”

Notes by David Schwartz

Is dementia about losing one’s memory?  What is memory?  To live in the present requires concentration.  In order to concentrate memory needs to be set aside.  Dementia is a condition in which a person is submerged in the ocean of memories and cannot forget, cannot separate or become free from memory.

Four stages of dementia were described in the lecture:

Stage #1 The Threatened “I”:  A person cannot remember something like someone’s name.  They cannot come into the present sufficiently to concentrate.  Anger or aggression may arise in the person who cannot remember.  This is the stage where the person feels that their “I” is threatened.  It is important for the caregiver not to judge or challenge the behavior that arises from this situation, not to take it personally, but to understand it and help.

Stage #2 The Confused “I”:  A person is living too strongly in the past, in their ocean of memories.  They become disoriented.  What am I doing now?  What happens next?  The caregiver helps by giving the person orientation in the present moment and guiding them to understand what is to happen next.

Stage #3 The Lost “I”:  In this stage the person is immersed/living in their own world, realm, sphere of memories and cannot come into the present, into the place where they actually are on earth.  There may be an aversion to water/liquids.  They prefer solid ground.  Also, persons in this state may like animals.  Music/singing can be helpful.  Finally, persons in this situation draw closer to the elemental world.

Stage #4 The Submerged/Detached “I”:  In this situation the person is unresponsive, just sits, for example, like the Sphinx.
In this state, the person’s “I” has detached from the body.  The lower “I” connected with the bodily existence may be submerged, but the caregiver can ask:  Where is the higher or true “I” of the person?  This “I” may be felt to be above, outside the body.  The higher “I” is now not able to incarnate in the body.

Dementia needs a community of caregivers with a sense for actively helping.  One caregiver alone is not sufficient.  Dementia speaks to us about the person being able to become old.   Persons with dementia ask us to accept them as they are, not to judge and challenge.

Dementia has meaning for the individual and for humanity as a whole. Dementia is about the loss of autonomy via the aging process and the learning to accept this loss, learning to accept it in the body or in death, without a body.  With dementia, the person gives up autonomy on earth and discovers a new level of self-consciousness that is free of the body.  In this sense, the person learns that autonomy in the earthly sense is an illusion.  They learn that they need others and life in community.