All Things Visible and Invisible

A Spanish-speaking patient with advanced dementia grabbed her chest and grimaced. Everyone thought she was having a heart attack. When I asked her what’s going on, she told me her soul was hurting so much that she knew she’s going to die.

“The soul?” When I told the nurses, they rolled their eyes as if one of us had lost our mind.

And where is the mind anyway? Think about those who are left with a brain that looks like a block of Swiss cheese, yet manage to come up with the most brilliant ideas. It used to amaze me that some of my “confused” dementia patients were keeping better track of my daily schedule than I did.

I believe in the mind and the soul. Even my most unscientific side knows that while physically intangible, these are not just lofty ideas that are abused across the centuries by poets, philosophers, or, well, psychologists.

Will science ever identify exactly where our mind and soul reside? Does it matter? All those required readings on Aristotle, Descartes, and Damasio didn’t answer my question. Think about those whose heart and brain are relatively intact and active, yet never make it out of the hospital “alive.” So, we “saved” their lives… Or did we?

Science is great but reductionism is not the answer. Unfortunately and fortunately, we are more than a dish of cells. There is something remarkable and intriguing about human beings. It is often possible for those with known physiological anomalies to maintain and retain control over their mind. It also is more common than you think to find a living body that appears to be without a soul.

What then must we do? How much could we change; how much could we maintain before we’re out of time?

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About C

If you consider volunteering at a luncheon for older adults as my first exposure to the field, I have been in geropsychology for at least twenty years. As family, friend, volunteer, trainee, and professional, I have found myself in adult day care centers, senior centers, senior living facilities, nursing homes, medical and psychiatric wards, hospice, and personal homes of older adults. Wherever I go, be it an orphanage, a museum, a prison, an airport, or a random corner in the neighborhood, issues related to aging and mental health often come to mind. I used to think that I could make a difference only if I became a top-notch researcher, educator, or clinician. As I continue to follow this meandering path, it dawns on me that as a nobody in the field, I can still add my light to the sum of light by sharing what I know. Over the years, I have "converted" a few very dedicated individuals to focus on aging-related work within their respective disciplines and encouraged a handful more to stay in this field despite its winding course. I believe by bringing aging and mental health issues to the foreground, we will amass a stronger force to promote advocacy, research, and quality care.
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