As we know from classical traditions of mnemonic loci, like the memory palace, memory is often tied to place. When certain places fade from one’s imaginable and navigable universe, one’s mnemonic geography shifts, too. Your internal compass and your mental map will fail you. Even the home itself can become uncanny. “The agonizing impression of not feeling at home is one of the symptoms of the disease,” the novelist Arno Geiger says of his father’s disorientation in The Old King in His Exile. “Not even one’s bed can offer respite.” 3 And if one has been moved to a residential care facility, that home and its bed have been uprooted. As the psychologist Jan Wiener says, in an interview with Michael Bond, “You move from an environment you know well, where you may function relatively well, to an unfamiliar place at a time in your life when you have problems learning unfamiliar places. Those orientation problems just add to the anxiety you feel after moving out of a home.” 4 Bond describes his own grandmother repeatedly asking, as she succumbed to dementia: “Am I here?” It is a question simultaneously geographical, existential, and ontological.

There is, of course, a deep history of concealment in response to aging: consider the use of makeup, hair dye, and plastic surgery to hide the signs of maturation. “Before dementia became regarded as the product of disease in the twentieth century,” the minister and nursing home chaplain Lynn Casteel Harper writes, “it was … associated with insanity,” and its sufferers were commonly hidden away in asylums and state mental hospitals. 8 In earlier eras, patients were subjected to tortuous treatments intended to exorcise their demons, condemned to solitary confinement, bound with physical restraints, and, starting in the 20th century, plied with pills.

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