Symposium: Finding humanity in advanced dementia, April 27

WUSTL hosts a public symposium for people struggling to find balance and dignity amid the chaos of dementia

A Polaroid self-portrait hand-reworked by Rebecca L. Barnard, an artist, eerily foreshadows her oncoming illness, diagnosed 14 years later. (Credit: Rebecca L. BarNard )

The Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program of Washington University in St Louis will host a symposium “Finding Humanity in Advanced Dementia” Saturday, April 27.

In this symposium, experts in the fields of patient care, psychology, philosophy, medicine, neuroscience, and a family caregiver discuss the effect of severe cognitive loss on people with dementia and those who care for them and seek to discover ways to honor the dignity of individuals coping with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

In December 2007, Richard Rubin and his wife, Beck (pictured above), already diagnosed with early-onset dementia, attended a
lecture on “Cognitive Loss and Ethics” in Baltimore. The young speaker
asked whether a woman, faithful to her husband all her life, who started an affair in her nursing home, should be stopped. “Should you honor the wishes of a person in the early stages of dementia after she ceases to be a person,” the speaker asked.
Beck whispered to Richard, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” and left the room.
A year later, Richard was struggling to keep Beck at home despite
progressing dementia. In a moment of desperation, he tried to force her
to take anti-psychotic medication. She backed away from him and slammed
her head into the wall phone, which crashed to floor. Holding her head,
she wailed, “Oh, Sweetie. Oh, Sweetie, I’m just a person! I’m just a

Richard Rubin will be the first speaker in the symposium “Finding Humanity in Advanced Dementia.” (Credit: Greg ruffing/redux)

The symposium will begin with a personal perspective presented by Richard M. Rubin, PhD, a lecturer in philosophy in University College (see sidebar).

Peggy Szwabo, PhD, a mental health consultant, then will discuss dementia caregiving from a clinical perspective.

She will be followed by Jason Karlawish, MD, professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and by Agnieszka Jaworska, PhD, associate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Riverside.

John C. Morris, MD, the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, and Marcus E. Raichle, MD, professor of radiology, neurology, neurobiology and biomedical engineering, both at Washington University in St. Louis, will discuss biological aspects of dementia, and Raichle will present a case history from his own family.

All of the speakers, together with Rebecca Dresser, JD, the Daniel Noyes Professor of Law and professor of ethics in medicine at WUSTL, will take part in a panel discussion, and Carl Craver, PhD, professor of philosophy in Arts & Sciences at WUSTL, will deliver concluding remarks.

The symposium, which runs from 1 to 7:30 p.m. in Wilson Hall, Room 214, on the university’s Danforth Campus, is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, so pre-registration is enouraged. To register, email:
Futher details and additional resources for people struggling with dementia can be found at: