A Personal Fight with Dementia

Jim McLarty turns his dementia diagnosis into a powerful tool for advocacy.

Illustration by Getty Images

A Personal Fight with Dementia

Jim McLarty turns his dementia diagnosis into a powerful tool for advocacy.

When Jim McLarty was in his late 50s, he noticed something was wrong. The health care consultant was having trouble giving presentations. He struggled to organize his thoughts. He took notes that later made no sense.

After what he describes as “six to nine months of poking and prodding,” McLarty received a diagnosis of dementia. He has a rare type called Binswanger’s disease, which causes damage to executive function — goal-directed behavior such as making plans, keeping track of tasks and focusing. The disease also affects short-term memory.

Armed with an expertise he never asked for, McLarty is now a dementia educator. As a repeat guest speaker in Michelle Kimzey’s Dementia Care course, he delivers presentations about dementia and his own experiences with it.

Kimzey, assistant professor of nursing, “is a phenomenal asset for TCU, [and for] nursing overall, as well as for the growth and focus on dementia care,” McLarty said. “When she asked me to speak, I was so impressed that they had a specific class on dementia.”

The area of the brain that controls speech is the most resistant to Binswanger’s disease, and currently McLarty remains a powerful and eloquent speaker. But the progressive disease spares no functions, and, he told TCU Magazine matter-of-factly, “I continue to decline.”

He imparts several key points to the students:

  • Don’t talk down to dementia patients. Include them in the conversation.
  • Know that an unfamiliar hospital environment can fluster a dementia patient. “I’m going to be even more disorganized and even more befuddled because it’s a different environment from what I’m used to,” McLarty said, adding that familiar objects can help ease anxiety.
  • Check on how the caregiver or close family are doing. “Many times, this is harder on family members than it is on the person [with dementia],” McLarty said. “You need to assess, ‘Where is the caregiver and how are they doing? Do they have any kind of support system?’ ”

“As someone living with dementia, he brings so much insight,” said Chelsea Martin ’20. “Having someone who is actually living it as a part of our program has been so huge.”

Nancy McLarty, Jim’s wife, calls the TCU dementia class “cutting-edge … you don’t see it anywhere else.”

“I believe there’s a reason for it and a purpose behind it. … In that sense, I have peace about it.”
Jim McLarty

“The fact that they are trying to make the campus dementia-friendly is an awesome thing,” she said. “With the graying of America, we’re going to see this more and more.”

The McLartys, both registered nurses, believe that nurses should advocate for governments to devote more resources to dementia. Jim McLarty has testified to Texas lawmakers about the need to increase spending in this realm of health care.

In the meantime, the couple shares a strong faith.

“I don’t like my diagnosis, but I’ve never been angry about it,” McLarty said. “I believe there’s a reason for it and a purpose behind it. … In that sense, I have peace about it.”

Part of that purpose, he said, is his work at TCU.

“I was the one in class who got the marks for talking too much,” he said. “It was just natural that I would still be talking.”

Your comments are welcome


  1. Jim is an inspiration and role model. Thank you, Jim, for your support of the TCU and the Dementia elective!

  2. I know and love and respect Jim so much for being secure enough to offer to educate others, on his increasing frustrating progressive decline, with his Biswanger dementia. He and his wife, Nancy, had been my deceased brother’s best friend for years; both sometimes simultaneously employed in the same Health Care System.

    As I understand it, unlike most forms of dementia, Jim is actually aware of and experiences his cognitive decline in terms of memory. He was and still is one smart dude. Having met him right before he diagnosis; I can attest to his sharp and quick mind, and keen intellect prior.

    For those that didn’t know him before his diagnosis, many would be unaware of his dementia after he gives his educational “talk” to your nursing class. But he has had to work his butt off to organize his notes and thoughts, hours on end, to prepare to speak to you cohesively; otherwise he would unfortunately “ramble”. What a remarkable individual being willing to share the most difficult phase if his life with you, hopefully to the benefit of those future dementia patients you students will eventually treat and care for.
    what a blessing he is;God bless him.

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