A Play about Dementia

Last night, I was at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. A friend of mine was so kind to invite me out to see a play as a birthday present to me. As much as I enjoy the theater experience, I am not a frequent theater-goer; my theater visits add up to four or five times a year, including the obligatory children’s plays around Christmas time. Maybe a New Year’s resolution is due?

The  theme of the play was dementia. When I heard my friend’s choice of play, my first reaction was: ”Could you not have chosen something more cheerful?” After having seen the play, I am glad my friend chose this play; not only because of the brilliant performance, but also because it has helped me understand this increasingly common disease better.

The play Med Sne (With Snow), is written by the contemporary Danish playwright Thomas Bendixen. The décor is very simplistic, consisting of a circular stage with projections representing the brain, on which the superb acting of the four artists and the powerful dancing of three dancers take place.

The main character Bent, the father, has dementia and is not quite aware of it. As a retired engineer, who takes very good care of his body and mind, he is proud of always being able to depend on his brain. Then, there is his son and daughter, who are trying to help him, but feel increasingly helpless and frustrated as the disease progresses. There is also the neurologist Lene, who tells us the cold facts about the disease and what is happening in a brain with dementia. In her words, coping with dementia feels like “…driving a whole day with 300 km/hour on an eight lane highway, where you must constantly keep an eye on all the cars and everything else going on around you”

I had my first encounter with the disease, when one of my close co-workers, at an age of fifty-five, was diagnosed last year. As his colleagues, we had observed some changes in his behavior that seemed strange, as his increasing forgetfulness, not keeping the agreements we made, seeming confused and disoriented. But none of us really knew what he was going through, until the day we were called into our General Manager’s office, who told us that our colleague was diagnosed with dementia and would be on sick leave for a long time. It was awful news, knowing the odds of recovery for this disease. He was a very experienced and competent colleague, who came highly recommended by his former employers. Tough times were awaiting him, his family, his children.

 

I think, everyone in the audience last night would agree that seeing the play was a very emotional experience. We were taken through Bent’s journey, through his own, his children’s and his doctor’s points of view, from the faint initial symptoms to his total disintegration.

Dementia is a disease that is very real and present. Learning about how it affects the brain and body of the patient, and how incredibly demanding it is for the caretakers, has definitely increased my awareness and sensitivity.