“Mom can’t even remember I visited. What’s the point in going?”
I know that this won’t directly apply to everyone in our community, but I’d like to discuss it anyway. Feeling like your visits, conversations, and actions mean nothing to your loved one is a horrible experience. Thankfully, it’s not the whole story.
If you’d like some background information about progressive dementia, keep reading. If you’re pretty knowledgeable already then you can just skip the next 3 paragraphs.
The most common form of progressive dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. If the dementia is caused by something else (Vascular, Lewy Bodies, etc.) then these “stages” may occur in a different order or may happen in a different order than they do with AD. That said, discussing the progression of AD is a good place to start.
There are 7 clinical stages of Alzheimer’s, ranging from Stage 1 (Normal) to Stage 7 (Most Impaired). The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation does an excellent job defining the stages in “Clinical Stages of Alzheimer’s.”
Sometime around Stage 5 (Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s) or Stage 6 (Severe Alzheimer’s), cognitive deficits reach a point where close friends and family members get misidentified. Shortly before this, a lot of people stop being able to recall recent events, like if they ate lunch or took their medication. That’s where we’re jumping in.
Many caregivers have a really hard time with mid- to -later stages of dementia. Their loved one might forget who, exactly, they are. Short-term memory degrades, too. Caregiving can get tough(er) now because your mom’s no longer critical of your cooking; instead, she accuses you of not feeding her.
“Why do I bother? She doesn’t even remember I was there!”
As it turns out, even if a person forgets an event (a great visit, for example), the emotional impact lingers. No surprise to professional caregivers; many of them observed this their whole careers. But now there’s a study to support it.
In 2010, PNAS published the paper “Sustained experience of emotion after loss of memory in patients with amnesia.” The study examined people with severe amnesia and found that emotions can outlast the memory of an experience.
So your mom doesn’t have to remember what all you’ve done for her; the reason that you did it (presumably, to make her feel better) still exists. You make a positive impact with your actions even if your loved one recalls none of them. So keep it up; all of those things you do make a huge impact.
Even if your mom doesn’t ‘remember,’ you can help make the day better.
Have you ever experienced this? Share your story in the comments below!
“The results of this investigation reveal a striking dissociation between the sustained experience of emotion in the face of impaired declarative memory for that emotion’s origin. Moreover, the dissociation was found for both happiness and sadness, supporting the conclusion that feelings of different valence can persist independent of explicit memory for the inducing event.”
Feinstein, Justin S; Duff, Melissa C.; and Tranel, Daniel. Sustained experience of emotion after loss of memory in patients with amnesia.
Published online before print April 12, 2010.
doi:10.1073/pnas.0914054107PNAS April 12, 2010
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