Bushfires, photos and dementia

There have been a lot of news stories and blogs written about the impact of the current fires in Australia in the last couple of weeks. My girlfriend Robyn has written some, and they have been very poignant. The experience of fire has changed her, and it is very apparent in her writing. She now uses the image of the recent fire on her own property as her blog header, and it is startling and impactful.

Amber Petty’s recent blog about the impact of losing photos in a fire has got me thinking! She ended it by saying: ‘So yes it’s a blessing when fire doesn’t claim any physical victims, but the loss of items like all someone’s family photos can have major long term impact.’ Her own father’s experience of fire when he was a child has obviously impacted Amber in some way too.


My comment on Amber’s blog with this: ‘Your blog post today really resonates with me, and has me thinking more deeply about the impact on a person with dementia and their family of the loss of memories (photos or images in our mind)… losing all of someone’s photos vs losing all of someone’s memories… ‘


Maybe it is not fair at all to compare the loss of one’s property, and in particular family photos, to the loss of memory and function, but the impact of dementia might be more devastating, certainly in the long-term, because the person and their family has been given a life sentence of a deeply degrading terminal illness.

Neuroplasticity training and other non pharmacological and positive psychosocial interventions may provide a reprieve or slowing of the deterioration, but they will not stop it, nor provide complete ‘regrowth’. Also, we cannot go to other members of the family to find other pictures of our family history; once the memories (photos in our mind) have gone, they usually don’t come back for the person with dementia.

There is no doubting the loss of property and belongings like photographs can have a long term negative effect on family. There is definitely no doubt the diagnosis of dementia has that too, although in a different way. From my own experience, I can still feel the fear of a fire coming my way (I lived on a farm and have been through that), and would suggest the fear of what is ahead is at least as bad; it takes longer for the flames to arrive in full (end stage) and my family, friends and I are watching my and our world slowly disappear.

Kate family FinalSo the day ahead when I cannot remember my amazing husband and sons, not even with a photo like the one pictured here, will be truly devastating, eventually more for them than for me.

It is worth considering the impact of the human cost of losing the ability to recall our memories to dementia. There is currently not even one fire hose (a cure) to put out the flame, and in reality, there is no cure in near sight.

For those of you without dementia, make sure you have a back up somewhere of your photos in case of theft or fire. It is not much fun losing them.

7 thoughts on “Bushfires, photos and dementia

  1. Well done, Kate – a very honest and courageous blog and hugely thought-provoking. I went to a funeral yesterday of a friend who broke his neck eleven years ago in a freak cycling accident witnessed by my daughter. He was a wonderfully active guy and has been completely paralysed since. His love and the love of his family and friends shone through and the whole experience was incredibly moving and humbling.

    However much we try to empathise, it is impossible to imagine what life is like in other people’s circumstances and daily reality. What to say about these devastating accidents, disasters and diseases other than that love is what we have and can all share. And we do. Love you loads, dear Kate xoxox


  2. Kate, I wish I could think of something helpful or profound to say. Even to say ‘i understand’ is inadequate. Having your lovely and loving family beside you is an enviable blessing, which I know you acknowledge and appreciate. Take care.


  3. Kate, I have thought of this scenario in the past, as I live in an area prone to fires and massive tornadoes. In my mind it isn’t comparable to the loss of those very real and precious photos, but to the loss of the entire house. We have no rescue team to call to try to save even fragments, ours is only comparable to the loss of life. We may lose our memories but in the end our body forgets how to function and we stop breathing. Nothing is saved. We depend on ourselves, loved ones, friends and strangers to create that rescue team that doesn’t currently exist.


  4. you are so correct, we ‘suffered’ at that moment in time, all people suffering from terminal diseases suffer for the longest time. The loss is palpable for everyone around, we will move onwards and upwards, unlike some diseases they only way is sideways (keeping it at bay) or downwards into disappearing as you state. Love you my dearest friend.


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