My husband, Frank’s eyes flickered in mild recognition until the wild look of confusion and dismay returned.  My sister had approached him as he sat in the hallway facing the nurse’s station.  He has been diagnosed with late-term dementia.  His broken hip meant an extended stay in a skilled nursing facility.  My sister’s short visit was pleasant and comforting for him.  Even though he may not remember most of the people who visit or that they came to see him, he revels in the company and delights in every minute.

At times, I’m tempted to compare the mentally challenged community with other disabilities such as dementia.  I know the differences are great but the similarities are also huge.  That day I was struck with both the similarities and the differences. 

Dementia slowly (or  quickly) steals large portions of the cognitive understanding of its victims.  Like an infectious, leaking virus in the brain, dementia symptoms eventually become more the character of the person than the original personality.  One caregiver confided, “It was as though my mother left me inch by inch, slowly, softly creeping away until another individual appeared one morning.   I would wake up to another, different person. Once again, I felt that I’d not had the opportunity to tell my mother good-bye.”  The caregiver moved in her chair in soulful remembering, ” The first realization of the process was hard; but each time it happened over the 15 years of her decline, it never got easier.” 

Persons with developmental disabilities are born with the delays in their cognitive abilities.  Unless a form of dementia overtakes their brains, their minds will develop and mature like any other person.  They can learn.  They merely learn more slowly. 

David is a fascinating person.  There is much going on in his brain.  David has a quick smile and almost never complains.  However, David is not able to express his feelings and desires in a normal amount of time.  That does not mean that the feelings are not there.  One week, I asked him a scheduling question.  He looked at me smiling; but he didn’t answer.  On the way home, he blurted out in his quick manner, “Next week.”

The conversation that followed was peppered with my questions concerning what was happening next week.  A quizzical, amused expression overtook his face as he repeated, “Next week.”  Finally, I realized that David was answering the question that I’d asked three hours before.  He was able to answer the question.  However, his processing time was limited.  I learned that I needed to allow him a couple of hours before I’d get an answer to any questions I asked. 

Therefore, our routine became pretty set.  I would ask him questions when I picked him up on the way to Special Gathering; and he would answer them on the way home.  He was completely able to answer the questions; he just needed process time to do the task required. 

Each of us learn differently and process differently.  It is the same with people who are mentally challenged.  They are individuals with hope, dreams and aspirations.  They want a job, a meaningful relationship with the opposite sex.  They want to able to pay their bills and engage in meaningful hobbies.  Most of all they desire a relationship with the Lord Jesus.  Open to the Gospel, these men and women are able to know God and to embrace the marvelous claims of Christ.