Are we truly forgotten when our loved ones with dementia don’t recognize us anymore? The answer is a definitive no!
You are still inside their hearts and minds and always will be. Their memory of you just can’t be retrieved at certain times.
Granted, these moments will become more frequent as their dementia progresses, but we must be encouraged; we always will remain in their hearts.
While caring for my dad, he reached a point where he didn’t recognize any of his friends. To further complicate things, every time my mother (his ex-wife) would visit, he would look at her and call her “mom.” Trust me, that didn’t go over very well with her, but in his mind he was seeing an elderly, gray-haired lady that reminded him of his mother.
Next on the hurt feelings list was my sister. He seldom recognized her, which led to a great deal of sadness on her part. Then it was my turn... We were sitting at the kitchen table and he kept staring at me. Suddenly he asked, “Who are you?” I remember it like it was yesterday because it felt like someone had stuck a knife right through my heart.
As we now know, dementia is unpredictable. When least expected, the opposite scenario would happen. For example, I could step out of the room for half a minute. Upon my re-entry Dad would say, “Gary! Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all day!” You see, I was still somewhere deep inside him. It just took a little while to locate me.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease creates a lot of damage inside the brain. So thought patterns have to make detours to get themselves to where they need to be. I know that’s not a very technical description, but that’s basically what’s going on inside their heads.
If you hold onto the thought that you’re still deep within their hearts if not their minds, it will take away some of the pain we experience as caregivers.
For the last two years of Dad’s life, I became “Dad.” He almost always looked at me and thought I was his father. At first it was a little upsetting, but then I learned to use this to my advantage. He would glance up at me with a pleading look and ask, “Dad, do I have to take these pills?” I would respond, “Son, you must take them all.” Problem solved.
If you become “Bob,” be Bob. If you become “Sue,” then Sue it is. Learn to play the role as if you are trying to win an Academy Award!
Put your arms around the moments that they know exactly who you are and cherish them. They are priceless!
For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.