Humility is a great prevention

January 14, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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Alzheimer’s disease involves pride and self-esteem – and not just for the elderly. I heard of a study, perhaps not scientific, where teenagers were treated like elderly people (ignored, disrespected, you get the picture) and began showing signs of mental confusion. When you lose self-esteem, you lose more than that.

But the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can hurt your pride (pride is bad) as well as your self-esteem (self-esteem is good). Patients ask, “How could this have happened to me?” and a million other questions. Loved ones ask, “How could she say that to me?” They mean that what’s happening doesn’t fit the exalted view they have of themselves.

There is not yet any proven way to stop the progress of Alzheimer’s, but humility – not clinging to your pride – is one of the best ways to prepare for it and to make it easier to live with.

  1. Decline is inevitable for all of us. I don’t mean that memory problems are inevitable as we age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Many people feel that their memory becomes less sharp as they grow older, but determining whether there is any scientific basis for this belief is a research challenge still being addressed.” But physical problems are inevitable as we age, if we live long enough. We can prevent and fight a lot of problems, but you can’t lick them all. If your self-esteem and self-image is based on not having any problems, then you have a problem. When you were a child, your self-image was not based on being smarter than everybody else. Before you turned ten, you knew that grownups were smarter than you. After you turned thirteen, you forgot it. But you’ll be happier if you do the best you can and be cheerful about the rest.
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. When I wrote about Alzheimer’s and moral character, I said that I resolved to be humble enough to accept that other people are right and I may be wrong. I’d like to be humble enough to accept it when someone says, “Michael, that’s a delusion. That didn’t happen. You just don’t remember.
  3. Understand the symptoms and the progression, so you won’t be surprised. We did well with my grandmother. She wasn’t offended when we sometimes told her she had forgotten something. She knew she forgot things. And she wasn’t happy when she said (frequently), “Children, I’m dreaming,” but she could deal with it, perhaps better than she could deal with her painful hip. It was a similar problem for her: she had trouble both thinking and walking, so she decided to do the best she could. At least, sometimes she did.
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