Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Emotional Memories


I've been binge watching the first season of Transparent this week and one of the characters is an elderly man with aphasia, a tendency to wander and decreasing abilities to care to his most basic needs such as waste elimination.  While it is never stated in the show that the character has Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, much of what I've watched strongly reminds me of the disease.

There are some very uncomfortable moments in the show, including one where the man's wife describes her desperation and need to be "done" with his care.  She talks sobs about cleaning him up each day and about people not visiting or helping.  When one of her kids comments "I call all the time," she expresses such frustration that she doesn't want him to call, she wants help.

There's an earlier scene in which one of her daughters asks if he's OK and then goes to visit with him, trying to connect with him on his terms.  The character of the elderly man and these exchanges made me think about an article published by BBC News earlier this week which indicates that dementia patients continue to feel pleasure at visits even when they are beyond the ability to communicate that pleasure.

One of the sentiments about Alzheimer's that I frequently encounter is that "love is remembered."  This is not the same as "love is a memory."  If love were a memory, then it is a past experience which may be recalled in a nostalgic way but not currently experienced.  Think of your first crush or your first love.  Hopefully, that memory brings you a smile but it also may be tinged with a sense of saudade, a longing melancholy.  When love is remembered, that is an active experience.  It is current.

While the patient may not be able to communicate any longer, while they may be bed-ridden and barely breathing, there is reason to believe that a visit from someone they loved in their life brings an active pleasure, happiness or an easing to their moments.  So, the moments that the daughter spent speaking softly to her elderly step-father didn't change his aphasia or slow his decline but they brought him a brighter moment or two.

If you know of someone who is in the advanced stages of dementia, don't stop visiting them.  Don't visit them for your needs.  Visit them for their needs and bring them that time to remember the love, to brighten their day.  Even if you get nothing out of the visit, they will.

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