The past few days, I keep coming up with ways of coping with Alzheimer’s disease that depend on already having a healthy relationship with the person who has it. If you never had enough respect for that person, or if they never had much respect for you, or if that respect was based on power or abilities that they lack now, that may cause problems with your relationship now. Alzheimer’s may not cause changes in the moral character of the person with the disease. If you’re the loved one of someone with Alzheimer’s, I guess it’s up to you whether it causes changes in your character, for good or for bad.
Perhaps no quality is as important for someone with Alzheimer’s than trust. It’s hard to feel secure in a world that you can’t remember. You need to have someone or something to trust in if you can’t remember where you are, what you’re supposed to be doing, what happened to important people or things.
The problem is that trust depends on history and experience. Oh, to some extent, someone with Alzheimer’s can sense whether a new person or a situation is trustworthy. But if they can’t remember specific reasons why they were able to trust you in the past, you may not be able to get new reasons into their memory banks now. And if deep in their memory banks, they can dimly remember that you weren’t trustworthy to them, it may be hard to change those memories now. Feelings and emotions create longer lasting memories than facts and words. They may not be able to remember why they are suspicious of you, but they remember the feeling of betrayal.
Memory loss can be convenient for family members and caregivers. It sometimes means that they can delight someone with Alzheimer’s with the same gift or story every day. But memory loss shouldn’t be exploited or presumed upon. If they remember a promise, they remember it. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Even if you never made the promise. Find a way to follow through or to delay its fulfilment if necessary or possible. Let them know they can trust you, even if they can’t trust their own minds.