Thursday, July 18, 2013

Do Dementia Sufferers Dream of Forgetful Sheep?

The above is a rather obscure, and geeky, play on the title of the book that became the movie Blade Runner, with Harrison Ford.  The book's title was, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I've always really liked it.  It occurred to me the other day when I was watching Dad sleep.  He sleeps so much these days, as do other hospice and dementia patients I've known, whiling away the hours in his recliner chair cradle, escaping from the unpleasant realities of his present-day world.  It makes me wonder why - is he sleeping so much because of the illness, or because he would just rather not be conscious anymore?  Perhaps its a combination of both.  Regardless of cause, I wonder what his dreams are like, or whether he has any at all.

As I watch him, I see the rapid movement of his eyes under his eyelids and it makes me wonder about what is going on behind them.  Dreams are our minds way of processing, making sense of, and tucking away the events and emotions of our lives - therefore, if our lives are empty of most experiences and emotions, what are the dreams for?  Is the mind still processing when there isn't much to process?  I know that Dad still experiences things throughout his day; meals, walks around the house, conversations with the caregivers, toileting and showers.  Are these enough to figure in his present dreams?  I imagine the mind, even one that is impaired, still needs to process what it observes and what is happening to it, but  I really don't know how much stimulation it requires.

As I watch, I also see him twitch violently from time to time - legs stretching out tensely, arms shifting, shoulders tightening.  Once again I wonder, is it the dreaming state - is something in a dream causing him to move and shift?  Sometimes my husband moves around or sword fights in his sleep - is Dad running, or swimming, or wrenching on an engine? It is, most likely, the Parkinson's making itself felt, and I hope it's not too uncomfortable when his muscles seize and twitch - but I will never truly know.  It is probably the dementia pulling him into unconsciousness, as well, slowing his system and fogging his brain connections into twilight. 

I have vivid dreams, in full techni-color with lots of action, and although sometimes they are unpleasant, I would miss not having them anymore.  There is a part of me that hopes he still dreams, and that in them he feels free again. I hope he is somewhere lost in the past, dreaming about being a young husband and father: building the house we lived in for forty years; fixing cars and everything else that broke down; designing airplane components and technology; swimming and sailing in the summer; spending time on family vacations with my mother and my sister and me; watching us grow up.  Perhaps we're not in any of the dreams, and he is imagining himself as a daredevil pilot, soaring through the clouds, untethered by the demands of work and family life, unaffected by the illness that his stolen away his reality.


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