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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.”