Dad, Descartes, and Dementia

My dad’s dementia worsened over the course of several years. It was quite disturbing to see his memory loss, confusion, difficulty expressing himself, and inability to perform even simple tasks. The changes in him raised questions for me, questions which I wrote about as follows a year and a half ago:

“So is he even the same man as the one who raised me? I started to think of his life as being over. I wondered why God hasn’t taken him. I even wondered about his faith. Is he still capable of believing in God? How can he think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable (Phil. 4:8) if he can hardly think at all?”

I did come up with answers to these questions, and submitted a short piece describing some of those answers to The Banner, a magazine published by the Christian Reformed Church in North America. They accepted my article and published it in their December issue. You can find the online version of the article here. When I thought carefully about what it means to be human, I realized that dad was still fully human and remained so all the way to the end of his life. I hope others who have friends or relatives with dementia will find some encouragement in what I’ve written.

Dad With His Great-Grandson Theo, Christmas, 2013

Dad With His Great-Grandson Theo, Christmas, 2013

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at
This entry was posted in Psyche, Spirit and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dad, Descartes, and Dementia

  1. dementedgirl says:

    This is a really interesting post.

    I personally DON’T see MIL as a “whole” person. To be human is to love and empathise, be aware of others and your place in the world – she is not any of these things, or if she is to a very shallow degree (I often refer to her in my blog as “in 1D”.

    She was never one of life’s deep-thinkers, but now she only seems to function on a surface level only – she doesn’t seem to have any concrete thoughts of her own at all.

    Not trying to deny her humanity, and don’t think she is any less worthy of being treated with humanity, just that she is no longer a “whole” human. At least not to me.

    • bobritzema says:

      Thanks so much for describing your experience. It must be hard to be with your MIL when she has so little awareness and gives no sign of love or empathy. My dad did still try to relate to others. Though he didn’t have much awareness of what was happening, he would occasionally surprise us with something he had noticed. I believe he still loved my mom to the end, even though his understanding of love was much diminished. I did find it helpful to focus more on what remained than on what he had lost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s