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What We Can Learn from Tony Bennett’s Dementia Journey

Artists share a personal and powerful version of themselves whenever they sing, act, paint, write or express their creativity. Tony Bennett, the legendary grammy winning singer, has shared his voice and personality with the world for decades. In February 2021, Bennett and his family announced he has Alzheimer’s disease. They’d kept the secret for four years, but decided to share his diagnosis publicly in 2021. 

On his 95th birthday, Lady Gaga announced a collaborative album with the singer, cementing their long musical relationship. The two have produced albums, won grammys and sang on world famous stages together. This week, Bennett became the second-oldest artist to be nominated for a Grammy with Gaga for “Love for Sale.” When asked by Bennett’s son if they should share his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Gaga said, “..it’s just another gift that he can give to the world.” 

It shouldn’t be radical to say that people with dementia have so much to give the world, but Gaga’s statement felt radical to me. Bennett and his family’s honesty and transparency about his illness means more people can become educated about dementia. Compassion & Choices’ mission is to help ensure people can have the end-of-life journey they want based on their values. Sometimes a conversation, or in Bennett’s case an album and concerts, can be a gift to our loved ones, our supporters, our fans and our community. 

I hope that Bennett’s resilience shows people, regardless of their age, that families and individuals can prepare for a dementia diagnosis. Preparation can alleviate some of the fear and stigma attached to this disease. 

Compassion & Choices offers the following free tools for anyone to use. Tony Bennett and his family can inspire each of us to be open and honest about the end of life, including dementia.

  • Dementia Values and Priorities Tool. Patients will be able to provide a set of clear-cut care instructions to their loved ones, outlining their intentions through a personalized care plan called a Dementia Healthcare Directive, which adds to a standard advance directive, and gives loved ones a way to implement critical, informed decisions on the patient’s behalf free of guilt.
  • Dementia Decoder. Patients indicate the current status of their dementia diagnosis, specify what they hope to learn and accomplish from an upcoming clinical appointment and customize that experience using a list of helpful questions. Responses to these questions can then be printed or emailed to a provider or family member to guide important discussions during high-stakes medical appointments.

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