My passion about dementia research: Wonder

Marjolein“Do you want another candy?” It was the third time my great-grandmother asked me this question. I was 11 years old and visited her with my father. Shortly before she had moved to a retirement home. She could no longer take good care of herself. My great-grandmother was then in her late 80s and a widow for a few years. I have few memories of her, but this visit is still in my mind. I was surprised that my great-grandmother seemed to have no idea that I had already received a candy, but I happily picked up one from the box every time.

When I got older I wondered why it was this event that really stuck with me. Of course I was too small at the time to know what was going on with my great-grandmother. But what started with childlike wonder about this situation has taken on a different meaning over the years. During my psychology study in Maastricht I became aware of the tragic side of her memory loss. I like to think that this event played a role in my passion about dementia research. After all, wonder is the source of science. No one searches for new knowledge unless one is surprised at the way things are.

History has repeated itself since my visit to my great-grandmother. I too, went to visit the great-grandmother of my children, who has dementia. And they too got the same question over and over again. Do you want a candy? With them I see the same wonder about her memory loss. Of course there is a chance that history will repeat itself again. Because of the complexity of dementia I do not believe there will be a cure for all. Possibly dementia will affect myself one day. What do I hope for then? I hope that despite my vulnerability I can feel at home and participate in society. I also hope that if I can no longer understand the world around me, there will be people who will try to understand and wonder about me.

Marjolein de Vugt, professor psychosocial innovations in dementia