Sep 24, 2015

Don’t Share YOUR Memories With Me!

A Husband’s Difficult Struggle With Fading Memories

There is no question that individuals with dementia/Alzheimer’s have memory loss especially short term. They often drift farther and deeper into their past reliving scattered events from long ago as if they were happening in real time.

Don’t Share YOUR Memories With Me!

Our memories and experiences define us in part: Who we are. What we did.

Our adventures, accomplishments, disappointments. Emotional big day events like weddings, births and funerals peppered with life’s more mundane occasions like Friday night pizza or shopping.

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By Elaine C Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Every little occasion and every milestone over a span of past decades starts to blur into oblivion, unlikely to resurface as dementia advances. Understandably family members and friends try to preserve as much of the integrity and purpose for their loved ones, as time becomes the enemy.

For Some, Maybe The Word ‘Remember’ Is A Trigger

I’m as guilty as anyone trying to keep my mom alert, oriented and in the present as she drifted helplessly into the abyss of the past where I couldn't go. Unwittingly I set her up for failure every time I asked, “What’s my name, Mom?” “Do you remember…?” “Who is this?” as I pointed to a photograph of someone that was once familiar.

“Reality” for someone with Alzheimer’s is “anything but real.” But it is their reality, their present and we have to bend to and blend in with it. Family, friends and caregivers are their information lifeline. Our approach needs to be: “Hi Mrs. Jacobs; I’m Carolyn the nurse.” Not: “What’s my name?”

I speak at community groups often to help advance Alzheimer’s awareness and tell about one amazing woman’s incredible journey through dementia. I welcome the audience’s contributions, sharing their heartbreak and heartfelt experiences. And they have a lot to say.
I found this unusual personal story exquisite.
A lovely, poised, articulate senior lady shared this revelation at a recent event.

Her husband is in a Memory Care Facility due to dementia/Alzheimer’s. During her frequent visits with him, they “talk and share” within the confines of his orientation and abilities. She mentioned though that he does get frustrated – I sensed fairly agitated might be more accurate – when she brings up certain experiences, stories or events. Obviously almost anything she might initiate would be a part of the past. 
Even to her soft-spoken and relatively benign conversation starters, like “When we went on that trip to…” or “The large post office building downtown…” her husband gets hostile and stops her with…

A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey through Dementia

“Don’t Share YOUR Memories With Me!”

I asked whether photographs or other mementos also triggered negative responses but apparently less so as his outbursts are less intense and frequent.

Perhaps her well-intended efforts to keep him engaged spark a subtle awareness in him that he should know something about the event but the memory cannot be retrieved. Or possibly the very word remember is a trigger for him.

It’s also possible that her very face, a familiar one he’s seen over multiple decades of marriage, is the actual stimulus to frustration underneath as he struggles to recall an endless number of life events associated with her.

It’s speculative of course as we just don’t know exactly why certain situations at certain moments spark surprising responses, some negative, some positive in individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Tread Cautiously

With a clearer understanding or acceptance perhaps of how Alzheimer’s convolutes the brain’s access to treasured memories I, like many others thankfully, developed more meaningful techniques for dialogue. Instead of asking Mom probing and somewhat irrelevant questions, I started providing her the answers, sort of like an open book test.

Rather than expecting her to stream effortlessly through her once pristine Rolodex of information - virtually destroyed by Alzheimer’s progressive decline – I provided her someone’s name and relationship or told her I made her special chocolate chip cookies.

Elaine C. Pereira donates from each copy of I Will Never Forget to support Alzheimer’s research.

Alzheimer’s robs the individual of their very essence.

We try to give it back every meaningful way we can.


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