When Laura Wayman’s father started showing signs of dementia, her mother tried to downplay his symptoms to friends and relatives.
Her parents had already retired and were spending their days traveling the country in a recreational vehicle. But then Wayman’s father started to become increasingly forgetful and confused.
Wayman’s mother turned down offers from her children to help look after him and tried to manage the situation on her own.
But her father’s condition became blatantly apparent after a tragedy struck the family.
Her mother suffered a heart attack and Wayman’s father couldn’t comprehend what was happening to his wife, so he didn’t call 911.
“(His) reactions to this emergency were slowed by his dementia, which was far more advanced than anyone had realized,” Wayman recalled.
By the time a neighbor called for help, Wayman’s mother had died.
Wayman feels her mother might have survived had she informed others of her husband’s deteriorating condition.
“She was just doing what she had always done, believing she could do it alone,” Wayman said. “It ended up taking her life.”
Wayman, who recently relocated to Chandler, is now on a mission to prevent another family from enduring the same tragedy she’s experienced.
“My vision is to bring light into the darkness of dementia through education, awareness, support, encouragement and hope,” she said.
She has written books, consulted caregivers and held lectures on the complexities of treating someone with dementia.
Her knowledge and expertise have prompted her to call herself the “dementia whisperer” because she teaches caregivers non-verbal tools.
Adults with dementia communicate on the basis of emotions, Wayman said, and need caregivers who can adapt their body language and facial expressions.
“My years of observations and interactions have taught me that communicating with the dementia-challenged person involve much more than the words coming out of your mouth,” she said.
Wayman has trained nurses, police officers and family members on how to positively interact with someone showing dementia symptoms.
As more of the general population continues to reach retirement age, Wayman hopes society will begin to shift its perspective on cognitive disorders like dementia and eliminate the stigmas associated with them.
There’s a tendency to ignore the severity of a relative’s disease, Wayman said, and that’s because there is not enough awareness in the community on the intricacies of dementia.
“Denial will make the dementia care journey much more treacherous,” she added. “Dementia-denial causes a caregiver to go along with the person’s insistence that he or she is fine.”
The pandemic has understandably interfered with Wayman’s mission to spread awareness around Chandler over the last few months.
She transitioned to training sessions on Zoom and continues trying to connect digitally with Chandler’s elderly communities.
“My work is all online and virtual right now due to COVID restrictions and I can continue raising dementia-awareness from anywhere,” she said.
There are ways to ease the burden dementia can afflict on a patient and their family, Wayman added, but there are not always enough resources publicly available to navigate this complex disease.
“Every dementia care journey is unique— and you can also expect that the landscape will be constantly changing,” she said.