At a Loss for Words: Indy Woman Loses Her Career (Not Her Spirit) to Dementia

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It’s easy to imagine Becky Barton on a stage. She exudes joy as she talks about her two grandkids and her career teaching occupational therapy at the University of Indianapolis. She had a stellar career, earning emeritus status. She’s written articles for medical journals and traveled to Ukraine twice to share best practices. She’s also been professional singer, has performed opera, sang with the Indianapolis Symphony Choir, and is a vocalist for an Indy band.

That’s what makes it so hard to imagine this strong, independent, successful, talented woman forgetting to go to class one day. Or how, after giving countless talks, she suddenly could not remember a single word of her presentation in 2019 while speaking with colleagues to an audience in Ukraine.

“It was embarrassing,” she said.

More than that, it also was frightening.

The signs were all there. Having a career in the medical field, Becky, 66, knew it was dementia that was causing her to lose track of time, search for words, and be forgetful.

“It’s frustrating knowing what you want to say but not being able to find the words,” she said. “That’s been the hardest part.”

Sharing her experience with dementia to help others

Becky and Bob, her husband of 46 years, will speak during a panel discussion on April 22 at CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions as part of the kick-off to Dementia Friendly Indianapolis. The event focuses on creating a community that is safe and respectful for those living with dementia and their loved ones.

“I want people to know, if you have dementia, it doesn’t mean you are dead,” Becky said.

She isn’t shy about sharing her story or the challenges she’s faced since being diagnosed with the condition about two years ago.

She retired from the job she loved. She’s no longer able to drive. Most recently, she was fired as the lead vocalist from the band she’s been a part of for many years.

“They weren’t being mean,” she explains. “I just couldn’t get the words out. I cried….I used to sing opera.”

While there are lots of things she no longer can do, she prefers to focus on what she can do. She still cooks (something she loves), gets together with friends, and she and her husband still sing together in a band at Robin Run. This spring, she’s planning to wear her emeritus robe and join her former colleagues as part of the University of Indianapolis graduation.

She’s also a founding team member of Dementia Friendly Indianapolis, something she’d never heard of until she was out walking her dog in her northside Indianapolis neighborhood. That’s where she met a neighbor, Mary Grace Wolfla, a CICOA care manager who is on the Dementia Friendly team. When Mary Grace learned Becky retired early because of dementia, she asked her to get involved.

“I thought it was a good thing,” Becky said. “I’m very much an open book. I’m a teacher….I don’t tell people (about dementia) to make them sorry for me; I want to educate people, because people don’t understand.”

Recognizing Indianapolis as a Dementia Friendly city

CICOA wants more people to understand about dementia, too. The goal of Dementia Friendly Indianapolis is to help the city, businesses and residents be informed, safe and respectful of individuals with dementia and provide supportive options that foster better quality of life.

The Dementia Friendly Indianapolis kick-off will include a workshop about dementia, a presentation by the Alzheimer’s Association, tips for businesses, and a panel discussion where Becky and others will share their experiences and best practices.

To learn more or to register for the free event, visit the event page.

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