‘When I Get Older Losing My Mind, Many Years from Now’

The perils and challenges of getting older:

I am obviously getting older, and the younger my readers are, the less they may know what in the world I am talking about. First, apologies for the slight revision of the first line in the classic 1967 Beatles’ song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It of course was originally this:

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

Of course I am also losing my hair, and I lamented that reality when I turned 64: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/01/27/im-sixty-four/

Hopefully I am not yet losing my mind, but with age comes that real possibility. Things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are very real concerns for millions of people. While such things have not yet touched my life (as far as I can tell), there have been four recent things that have coalesced to make me think about all this – and write about it.

The first you already know about. I penned several pieces recently on the great missionary and Christian statesman, Elisabeth Elliot. As I said in those pieces, most Christians know about her early life with her husband Jim, and his martyrdom in the jungles of South America decades ago.

But many do not know much about her final years, including her own struggles with dementia and Alzheimer’s. When someone known for having such a great mind, such great thinking, writing and speaking skills, succumbs to these things, it is shocking to behold. See one of my pieces here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/09/21/three-top-books-on-elisabeth-elliot/

Two other things came in the form of what was found on television. The first is a 30-second TV commercial on the matter of dementia which I had seen two or three times of late. It is put out by Dementia Support Australia and is quite moving. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAljZ7dcS6U

The version I saw however has the closing words of the woman to her husband as “I want to go home” or something like that. If it is so very hard on the person going through it, it is also so very hard on the loved ones and family members who seek to care for such people.

The second TV item was a movie on the topic just aired. At best I only saw 12 or so minutes of it, including the concluding minutes. But it seems to be a very good and very powerful film on this topic. The 2020 film The Father stars Anthony Hopkins.

The 85-year-old Welsh actor once portrayed C. S. Lewis in a film, and he recently said no to both his atheism and alcoholism. He received high marks for his performance in this film. The movie itself received an overall rating of 98 per cent. That is very good indeed.

Obviously I will have to try to view the entire film at some point soon. But not having been aware of it until last night, I looked it up. The Focus on the Family filmsite PluggedIn has a review of the movie. Its closing paragraphs are worth sharing here:

The Father, of course, is a very sad movie, one that mercilessly marches through the realities of fading by inches.  For those who are intimately acquainted with the subtle horrors of Alzheimer’s and dementia, the film might be especially hard.


But it might be welcome, too, for the film comes with its own bleak beauty It carries with it, perhaps, the tang of grief—all the sorrow and sadness and anguish and pain that great loss brings, but moments of strange sunlight in the darkness: Because in the midst of grief, love remains. Love goes on.


I am not myself, Anthony tells us in gesture and deed. But as the movie wears on, an important but comes about. I am not myself, it says, but I am worthy of love still. I care still—and need care. I am not myself, but I am still a beautiful thing—a beloved creation.


The Father features two incredible performances by previous Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. And while it has some bursts of foul language and moments of shocking cruelty, the story is at its core a tender one, albeit sad and painful.


“I feel like I’m losing all my leaves,” Anthony confesses, “the branches in the wind in the rain.”


Even then—in his confusion and pain and helplessness, some truths still remain: The sun sometimes shines. Walks in the garden can still be pleasant. And he’s still cared for. He’s still loved. In his raging, growing darkness, there is still light. https://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/father-2021/

A fourth item that gives rise to this piece I will have to reserve discussion on for a future article. But a very sad and sobering thing happened to my wife in this regard, with cancerous lesions and tumours found in so many parts of her body, including her brain.

Image of Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia
Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by Dunlop MD MD, John (Author) Amazon logo

Dealing with dementia

I am not a counsellor nor a doctor, and can offer little practical help for those struggling in these areas. But there are so many books out now on the issues of dementia, Alzheimer’s and the like. And there are many Christian volumes on these topics as well. Here I will mention just one book which is very good indeed. I refer to Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by John Dunlop (Crossway, 2017).

Dunlop has spend decades as a geriatrician dealing with these matters, and his own parents suffered from dementia. In the book he offers a medical, scientific, practical and biblical approach to the issue. While there is plenty of medical material covered in this book, the spiritual/biblical aspects that go along with it are certainly quite helpful and essential as well. With that in mind, I offer two quotes from the volume:

I hate dementia. When I saw it developing in both of my parents, it was hard to see these beautiful, loving people incapacitated by the changes in their minds, even though their dementias were not the worst cases I have known—not by far. But even while I lament this tragedy, I am still totally convinced that God is both good and strong and that dementia was in his plan for them. One of my favorite psalms puts it like this: “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love” (Ps. 62:11–12). p. 21

One of the striking things the Bible teaches us about God is how he takes some of the most difficult circumstances of life and transforms them for his own purposes. We see that dramatically in the case of sin itself. God’s glory is certainly seen in the marvels of his beautiful creation. But we see even more of his glory in the way he dealt with sin. In spite of our turning our backs on God, he loved us to the extent that he sent his Son to suffer and die to bring us back into relationship with him. Similarly, God takes many of the most difficult challenges of life and turns them around, enabling us to appreciate how great he is. His purpose may not be our immediate comfort but our long-term ability to find our greatest joy in him. Joni Eareckson Tada, who is quadriplegic, is well known for saying of God, “Always permitting what he hates to accomplish something he loves.” Pastor Tim Keller explains it clearly: “The evils of life can be justified if we recognize that the world was primarily created to be a place where people find God and grow spiritually into all they were designed to be.” One of those things that God may hate, one of those evils of life, is dementia. Yet, as we will see, God can use dementia to allow us to know more of his goodness and to honor him. pp. 25-26


Many Christians of course struggle with things like dementia, or they have loved ones who do. One such person is Christian apologist Douglas Groothuis. Around 2012 his beloved wife Becky was struck down with a form of dementia. She passed away in 2018. In 2017 Doug released a book dealing with this huge battle to look after his wife and witness her decline. I wrote a review of it at the time. You can see it here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/12/06/review-walking-twilight-doug-groothuis/

Let me share just one important line from the book: “I am hanging by a thread, but the thread is knit by God.” I have quoted this often. Doug made it through all this, by God’s grace, and is now remarried and continues his vital ministry. As I get older – attending far more funerals than weddings – I will certainly have more friends and loved ones who head down this path.

So I may pen more pieces like this in the days ahead. And as I say, I will soon enough write about my wife’s close encounter with the scary world of memory loss and brain failure.

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10 Replies to “‘When I Get Older Losing My Mind, Many Years from Now’”

  1. Thank you for your article.
    My mother has been diagnosed with early onset dementia & it is hard watching / going through it with my dad being her spouse for over 73 years.
    But I know that God’s grace is sufficient & that God is with us & is our helper / sustainer.

  2. My mother in law has had dementia for the past several years and has been in a secure dementia facility near us for the past 4 or so years. It is a small place with only 30 or so residents, but has two lovely gardens, planned activities and crafts for those who live there, and a friendly staff. I try to visit regularly. By now my mother in law barely recognises even those closest to her, including quite often, her own son. But she welcomes visitors. I also go to interact with the others who live there, many of whom have dementia that is much less advanced (and most of whom are women). We all talk togehter. We sing — many of them still love to sing — and I intersperse “You are my sunshine” with “How great Thou art.” Despite their condition, the people living there all have distinct personalities, likes and dislikes. It is very sad to watch them gradually decline but I love to see them smile. We all needed care and nurturing when we were infants and children, and there is no need to fear needing it in the future. Those I truly mourn are not those who have dementia, but those who are unable to show love to those in need of it.

  3. Dear Bill, Thank you for your article. I am going through a hard time at the moment with my husband of 68 years who is most probably approaching the end of his life. Naturally, the exact time of when that will happen is hidden from me. However, my fervent hope is that if it is God’s will I want him to die peacefully at home with me beside him and that I will be given the strength to look after him until that happens. He has just been in hospital and is being rehabilitated at home. However, the hospital suggested I put him in a nursing home but I refused because I think there is no way a nursing home could give him the care and emotional support he needs. He would miss me too much even though his memory and understanding in some ways has gone – it hasn’t gone to the extent that he doesn’t know people. In one way that is a blessing because he is being shielded from the terrifying knowledge that he is probably dying because naturally in some ways death can be a frightening experience. When all is said and done life is all we mortals know. We hear of people who say they died and recall their experiences of death before coming back to life but most of us do not have that experience. When we die that is the end! We say our prayers and I keep reminding him that all his life he has faithfully kept his Catholic Christian faith and because of that like all of us who believe in Jesus he will meet with Him when we die. As a long time supporter of your web page and having gone through the same yourself recently could you please say a prayer that my fervent hope will be granted. I would be very grateful.

    I would also be grateful if I could remain anonymous.

  4. I’ve often wondered: if dementia is a disease of the brain/mind, and mind is spirit, and spirit is soul, what does that mean if we lose all self-awareness when we get old?

    In other words, what is it that defines the “self” that survives death if our faith is true? What makes us “us”?

  5. Thanks Rhonda. Yes many important questions there which philosophers and theologians have long dealt with. Dementia certainly impacts the brain, just as so many diseases impact the physical body. Yet we know the soul continues unabated, even when we are asleep, or in a coma, or after we die. And at the resurrection a new body will be united with the soul. That is the Christian hope.

  6. Isolation is one factor that accelerates the onset of Alzheimers and dementia. There are ways around this. I’m widowed now… and may I say, after I read Anon’s post, I certainly included her and her husband in my prayers from that point on and they will always be in them hereafter. God bless and keep you both, Anon.

    Let’s deal with some of those ways. Are you a retired professional of any sort? Community groups could do with your help, as they are always looking for volunteers. I’m quite active in Catholic street mission work as I’m a retired nurse. I know one retired lawyer who guided a homeless shelter through the legal process they needed to establish themselves. Join a management board if your skills lie in that area. One friend of mine is now treasurer for a local pro-life group, for instance. She used to be an accountant.

    And then there’s your grandchildren. They keep you connected to the younger generation and you mutually learn from each other. My granddaughter is actively involved in a university disability rights group now and they have strongly accepted the evidence she’s provided against the practice of euthanasia. With a little help from nanna!

    About the nursing home angle. My late husband Ernest and I lived together until prostate cancer took him. We are fortunate that dementia did not happen with one another, but it did when it came to my own mother. My sisters and I realised that it was beyond our skills and resources to care for her on our own and that it would be necessary to place her somewhere where she would be cared for, loved and supported by trained, professional nursing staff. All of us often visited her, but sadly, there came a time when she didn’t recognise us. She passed away nine years after she entered that home, much mourned and much loved. Although it didn’t happen with us, though, sometimes, too, dementia can lead to disorientation, which can cause aggressive behaviour as the condition advances and may end up compromising the health of one or both of the carer couple or individual. If that happens, then it is essential for the sake of your own health or that of your wife or husband that the nursing home option is prayerfully explored. Ma lived the remainder of her life in faith and happiness and never stopped going to church until her condition became too serious, having joined a Catholic senior citizens network several years beforehand. The nursing sisters there displayed excellent pastoral and medical care skills and my sisters and I will always be grateful to them for their strong commitment to their sacred vocation and trust.

  7. It is in times of difficulty that who we really are emerges. If we truly are Christ’s we will endure through the difficulty, a loved one have dementia for instance, and show the true love of Christ in our love, our patience, our compassion, and our service. If we are simply playing church it will show.

    Also it seams that even as they slip away the SIMPLE JOYS of life are still enjoyable – a walk in the garden, sitting by the fireplace, watching the sunset, listening to the birds, singing a few songs, listening to the gentle rain, reminiscing while looking at old photos. These are things taken for granted by today’s world but are very, very nice things. And when so much of what you know is slipping from your mind these simple joys can bring a smile to your face and happiness to your life. Singing songs with your spouse or family might not be the same as a concert & a walk in the garden isn’t exactly an all night dance-a-thon, but when the darkness is growing and the spotlights have gone out it’s good to have a bunch of candles people have lit around you to provide you with some light.

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