Research has widely focused on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. Methods of providing better day-to-day care of persons living with Alzheimer’s have also a highly focused topic of Alzheimer’s research. We also know that Alzheimer’s can last as long as 20 years or more depending on age and type of diagnosis. Alzheimer’s has received a lot of attention from care to cure, and less philosophical attention.
What is the philosophical side to Alzheimer’s? What is the meaning of life with Alzheimer’s? The more my husband progresses in his Alzheimer’s, the more I appreciate the meaning of life and value of the therapeutic process. Bernstein (2005) posited that compassion and unselfish concern by one individual for the well-being of another defines the therapeutic process. Nietzsche, the philosopher, suffered long bouts of illness accompanied by pain. He wrote:
“Did you ever say yes to a pleasure? Oh my friends, then you also said yes to all pain. All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another.”
I made a few philosophical discoveries while observing the progression of my husband’s Alzheimer’s. The personality traits remain intact, perhaps even stronger than before. My husband has profiled as an Empath® and according to Seich (2000) the following would be characteristics of an Empath® personality style:
-- Thinking ~ By proximity, they can tune into the emotional state of others; they are often unaware of their own intuitive power.
-- Working ~ These gentle individuals feel successful when they encourage others to be successful; they are natural-born teachers and instructors.
-- Emoting ~ Their emotions bubble over easily and unexpectedly; they may confuse being used with being needed (p. 19).
I can attest that my husband, even in his advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, has always demonstrated this in different ways and at different times of the day. It is not true that Alzheimer’s steals the personality. I believe the personality can only be reinforced. In the absence of sound judgment and altered reality, distractions are at a minimum. The heart of personality is still very much active and clearly recognizable. As someone wrote, “…it is not my memories that make me myself…” (VIV, 2004, http://www.writework.com/essay/if-you-know-you-have-alzheimer-s-do-you-regard-person-inhe). This is in contradiction to Locke’s theory of personal identity. He defined personality in terms of consciousness and memory.
Knowing that Alzheimer’s will begin by dulling the memories and eventually erase them for good, Penelope Garner listed three tips to those individuals living with Alzheimer’s:
1. From now on please don’t worry about the future – stay with what you already know and love.
2. Appoint the person you most trust as your advocate – and ask them to read this book while you get on with your life.
3. Forget all about the diagnosis – you’re very good at forgetting now, so use this skill to forget about dementia and get on with enjoying your life once more (James, 2009, p. 77).
Perhaps we need to approach Alzheimer’s from a philosophical stance and instead of looking at the changes Alzheimer’s may bring; we can look at what hasn’t changed in the person living with Alzheimer’s. More people, including caregivers and the person living with Alzheimer’s, may begin to enjoy Alzheimer’s for what it brings instead of what it takes away. I know that my husband dreaded losing his memories, especially associating my name with my face.
Now he is content and peaceful. The time we spend together is much more philosophical than physical or mental. We are able to enjoy the small things without worry. I read to him and we listen to music together. He holds me close for long periods of time without saying a word. I hold his hand and give him a tender kiss. Touch has become more important than words because hands and lips are overly sensitive to a person living with Alzheimer’s.
Someone shared with me she was finally able to be more intimate with her mother now that her mother had Alzheimer’s. I think more intimacy can be achieved due to Alzheimer’s effect on judgment. Judgment is obsolete with Alzheimer’s. Judgment requires a statement of opinion, who wants to state an opinion without an opportunity for discussion? The person living with Alzheimer’s does not care about opinions or facts. He/she cares only about philosophical aspects of life such as emotions, living in the here and now, and death. The awareness of life and death seems even more remarkable for a person living with Alzheimer’s.
References for this article:
Bernstein, A. (2005). The practice of wisdom: A contribution to clinical philosophy. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 25(4), 540-554.
Nietzsche, Pain and Meaning. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_(philosophy)
James, O. (2009). Contented Dementia (Kindle Locations 77-81). Random House UK. Kindle Edition.
Johnson, T. (n.d.). Treating Alzheimer’s disease with Reiki. Retrieved from http://www.joyfullivingservices.com/handouts/treatingalzheimerswithreiki.pdf
Seich, S. (2000). 3 Sides of You: Unlocking the way you think, work, and love. Huntsville, AL.
About the writer:
Ethelle G. Lord, former president of the Maine Gerontological Society in the State of Maine, currently is president and professional Alzheimer’s coach offering Alzheimer’s coaching and consulting with businesses at Remembering4You.com, and is a professor of Organizational Behavior at several universities. Dr. Lord has a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership from the University of Phoenix. Her 10-year experience as a family caregiver originated with her husband who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in Jan. 2003. In that decade she has seen a daily influx of new Alzheimer’s cases. Dr. Lord realized there is an urgent need for a change in perspective with regards to providing individual and institutional care for individuals living with Alzheimer’s. She is married to Maj. Larry S. Potter, USAF retired, and lives in Mapleton, Maine. Dr. Lord is available for presentations, training, and Alzheimer’s coaching/consulting.