Dementia, Part 2: The Dangers of Spiritual Dementia
Posted by February 21, 2017on
While dealing with the effects of dementia on my mother, I learned some lessons about the spiritual dementia afflicting mankind and threatening us.
Witnessing the debilitating and discouraging effects of dementia on my mother led me to consider that there is a spiritual analogy to this dreaded condition. Humanity has long been experiencing spiritual dementia.
How mankind exhibits symptoms of spiritual dementia
Consider the different aspects of dementia and how they are experienced spiritually by the world around us.
1. Memory loss.
People with dementia tell the same story over and over again. They don’t necessarily tell it again because they’re fond of the story, though that may be true too. They simply don’t realize they just told it to you—sometimes only 10 or 15 minutes before.
At Sabbath services my mother could listen intently to the message and even nod in agreement at certain points or laugh at a joke. Yet in the restroom five minutes later she would ask me, “What day is today?”
God knows that mankind is forgetful. He often told Israel to remember—the Sabbath, the holy days, how He had rescued them from Egypt, etc. At the same time, He also predicted they would forget Him and His ways. This was not fate or predestination—there were some godly people who believed God and kept His ways. But the majority grew comfortable and slipped away.
Because it is so easy for us to forget, God teaches us through repetition, such as through the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days, which celebrate and memorialize His plan of salvation. We observe the Sabbath every week and the holy days every year.
2. Loss of executive function.
People with dementia can’t make sound decisions, because they are unable to extrapolate from an experience and apply it to future situations. Every day is the same. Every day they have to be told to take off their sneakers before they take off their sweatpants—no matter if you have told them that every night for the last 365 nights. They will still try to take the sweatpants off over the sneakers and then become confused when that proves impossible.
People with spiritual dementia can’t make sound decisions either. The scripture is apt: “Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Book learning, trials, you name it—seemingly, no matter how often they run up against a brick wall, they are perplexed and don’t know how they got into the jam or how to get out of it. Like trapped wildlife, once they are set free, they often end up right back in the same trap because they cannot resist the bait. To learn more about bad decision making, read “5 Foolish Things We Do to Foul Up Our Future.”
3. Dressing apraxia.
That is a fancy word for a very simple problem: people with dementia can have difficulty putting on clothes. It takes them a long time to get dressed even with help. You can hand them the garment in question, oriented in the right position for them to put on, and they will take the garment and turn it sideways or backwards and try to put it on that way.
They will make excuses for this, but no matter how many times you show a person with dementia where the tags or zippers are to orient them to the correct way to wear something, they will continue wearing their clothes inside out, upside down and backwards.
This is another dimension of “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” People with spiritual dementia have eyes, but they cannot see. They cannot learn by instruction; they cannot learn by example; and they cannot learn from their own mistakes.
People with dementia often aren’t able to keep themselves clean. Some refuse to bathe. Some do bathe, but have trouble remembering where they left off and wash the same body part over and over again. Some are incontinent. Some take all of the garbage out of the trash can and carefully lay it out on the counter to “save” it.
People with spiritual dementia have poor spiritual hygiene. They can’t “discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23). They don’t see the need to “wash away [their] sins” (Acts 22:16). They don’t see that what they treasure (“the passing pleasures of sin,” Hebrews 11:25) is garbage. They don’t see that they are making messes and leaving them for other people to clean up.
Our sins are like that garbage. God loves His children and forgives. He wipes the counter (and the spiritual slate) clean. He knows that while we are in the flesh, we are not in our “right mind”—and never will be until we fully have the mind of His Son, Jesus Christ.
I’ll cover the last three points in Part 3.
Read Part 1: "Dementia, Part 1: What Caring for My Mother Taught Me"
To learn how we can be spiritually clean, read “A Clean Start.”