Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness. There is presently no cure for it (of course we hope there can be one before long). But we can treat it, not necessarily with medicine, but by the way in which we relate and help to improve the quality of a person’s life. This was one of the key truths we learned from the book: I’m Still Here by John Zeisel (London: Piatkus, 2011). Reading it was a revelation.
His basic point was that the person with Alzheimer’s is still a person with whom we can relate, though it is a different relationship. It’s the same person, but it’s not the same person. We need to understand this change: we can’t go back to the old relationship. But we can build a new relationship.
An important part of the brain connected with experiencing emotions, known as the amygdala (because it is shaped like an almond), remains strong. Shoko’s ability to show affection and express her love was as strong as ever.
Reading the book gave us this challenge. We can choose to build a new kind of relationship, or we can choose not to.
There is both sadness and joy in this transition. We were experiencing the sadness. It was hard to let go of the characteristics we had treasured. But now we could enter into a new relationship. She was not the same, yet she was still the same: still loving, still hospitable, still smiling, despite the uncertainty and confusion that she must be experiencing each day.
As we cared for her with love and attention, we were treating her illness.
Living with Alzheimer's – a Love Story is available online or through your local bookshop