Why do people with Alzheimer’s blame other people?

February 21, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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When you discover that something is missing from the place where you left it, what do you assume? Most people assume that somebody else moved it. That’s not my first response. My first response is to ask myself if I’m sure that’s where I really left it. I forget things. I know that. I’m not the only one who does it. Time management experts will smile knowingly. Enough people routinely find things by systematically looking in all the usual places that the time management experts can refer me to their handout on the subject.

But what if you discover that nothing is where you left? What if everything has been moved, including yourself? What if you don’t remember how you got where you are, but nobody will let you leave? That’s the common plight of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

What makes it complicated is that all sorts of people get Alzheimer’s, even time management experts, and not just forgetful people like me. What if a time management expert or an efficiency consultant can’t find what he or she is looking for? Years of experience would convince them that it had to be somebody else’s fault. They can’t lose things. They teach other people how not to lose things.

So Alzheimer’s is harder on efficient people, I imagine. When you’re accustomed to making few mistakes and having few lapses of memory, it’s hard to live a life where the answer to every question is, “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I forgot.” That’s why humility becomes so important in the end.

Many people assume that Alzheimer’s disease itself causes people to become suspicious. I’m not sure that’s true. I think that suspicion is a way of dealing with the disease. That’s not my own original idea. People need some explanation to make sense of their world. It never made sense before to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong, so why should they start now?

Consider the following situation: your favorite coat is no longer on your favorite coat hook, where you have always kept it since 1983. Which is the most likely explanation?

  1. It was borrowed by elves for a remake of Lord of the Rings.
  2. It passed into a post-Einsteinian singularity and has reappeared in an alternate universe, where it will be displayed at UFO conventions.
  3. After 25 years, you changed your mind about which coat hook was your favorite, but you forgot to tell yourself which one.
  4. Your home health worker, who seems untrustworthy anyway, stole it.

Answer: Choice A and B are fantastical. Choice C is unlikely. You’ve known yourself all your life. You just met that home health worker, and she has a history of telling you things you know aren’t true. That leaves Choice D as the most plausible. Doesn’t it?

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2 Responses to “Why do people with Alzheimer’s blame other people?”
  1. Mary says:

    How scarry this disease is to those effected by it. Mom was diagnosed about 16 years ago. She is still living at home with Dad and I and my siblings provide some respite. It is hard knowing that this sweet, giving person watches her children to be sure they are not taking her things. As you say, something is missing what else could have happened to it? We know it is the Alzheimer’s causing this suspicion in her mind but the first time it happened it was still hurtful.

    Our family has had six loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Five have early onset Alzheimer’s. My sisters and I started a company to help raise Alzheimer’s awareness. We make and sell awareness items and gifts. 100% of our website profits are give to Alzheimer’s research. We also sell our products at Memory Walks and donate that profit to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. To see our products go to www.alzawareness.com.

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