I’m finally sorting out my experience at the recent conference of the Dementia Action Alliance. DAA. Some may not agree that three weeks ago is still recent, but do not forget that this account is brought to you by someone who may be “loosing the tethers of time.” And if you are still bothered, well, take a chill pill, relax…it’s summer !
The conference was held at a fancy, glass-enclosed hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. The place seemed well set-up as a convention center, complete with a “Grand Ballroom.” Most amazing was the attendance: over 350 people, united by their acceptance and support of people living with dementia of all kinds. I hadn't expected to be so moved, but I was blown away by the diversity and intensity of the group.
Of course, there was humor…. one of the plenary speakers described a family custom where his wife gives him a watch every year, even after his growing dementia made it impossible to read an analog clock. This explained his fashion statement of wearing 15+ watches simultaneously over the course of the gathering. Later, he related an experience that had just occurred at the conference that morning. He was sitting in the plenary session when he felt his mind freeze, and turn off -- “I was having a bad day, we all know what that is, right?” He stumbled awkwardly out of the ballroom in a fog. Somewhere else he might be assumed to be drunk or worse. As it turned out, an attendee noticed his troubles and cared for him. He got him up to his room on the 12th floor and tucked him into bed, where he slept like a rock for two+ hours and woke up with only a foggy memory of what had happened.
I was also the recipient of a straightforward act of kindness, on the elevator of all places. The hotel had made a few accommodations for the Onslaught of the Demented. For instance, a quiet room had been set aside at the end of an out-of-the-way corridor as a place to escape the energy that might accompany any crowd of 350 people. So, if you were stressed out you had a place to go…as long as you weren’t too stressed out to find it!
But the architecture, itself, while perhaps impressive for a business gathering, wasn't all that inspiring for our group, spatially challenged as many of us were. A few examples:
*The meeting rooms were (mostly) on the 4th floor.
*Except for a few that were on the first floor, which may or may not have been the lobby level.
*From which, open space towered (at strange angles) back up to the 4th floor.
*Escalators made their way up through this space as well, but they were turned off, perhaps as a safety measure. [Jane note: they had been turned off because many attendees with dementia found them too noisy and distracting.]
And the elevators, oh, my. Just looking at them made me think longingly of the Quiet Room. The interior walls were a jagged and bizarre pastiche of life-size women happily working out, spotless mirrors, Trump-like gold everywhere, and some kind of highly textured floor covering, all on the Walls. In your face!! Compared to all this manic busy-ness, the buttons for the floor numbers were so discrete as to be hard to find. For me, the elevators got more wild than less so over the two-and-a-half days. One time I was in there, having pushed the button for floor 4. People were coming and going. I pressed 4 again, and still nothing happened. A professional-looking lady stopped quickly and asked me if I wanted help. I thanked her and declined. She was fine about it, no obvious judgements, and the car emptied.
I pressed 4 again and you can guess what happened…. Nothing. I was on Floor 4 the whole time!!
But I was safe….in the Community of the Demented.