A lot of our conversations about memory loss include phrases like “fight against this terrible disease” and “loss of sense of self.” When I talk with people who have mild to moderate memory loss, though, many are more positive about their lives. They mention how much they enjoy gardening, the arts, animals, family and friends. Some say the “silver lining” of their memory loss is that they’ve become more appreciative, more spiritual and more able to live in the moment.
This less fearful view is starting to be reflected in the media. Last year, Newsweek published a piece about “pleasant dementia.” A recent Speaking of Faith interview and a new book by Dr. John Ziesel also present some positive aspects of memory loss.
In the Speaking of Faith interview, New York psychologist Alan Dienstag talks about what he’s learned from people in the support groups and early stage Alzheimer’s writers’ groups he moderates. He tells about their flashes of wisdom, and how their basic feelings - emotions, intuition and humor – are still there. He says his experiences have made him less afraid of dementia.
In his book I'm Still Here: A Breakthrough Approach to Understanding Someone Living with Alzheimer's, John Zeisel describes which memories and abilities often remain intact, and how certain capabilities (powers of observation, creative talents) may actually be enhanced. “The way the world see Alzheimer’s today is that a person is almost totally lost once he or she receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis – lost both to themselves and to those who love them,” he writes. “But this just isn’t so.”
These articles, interviews and books don’t downplay the disabilities of people with memory loss or the burden on caregivers. They don’t question the need for more research and better care. They simply suggest an appreciation and respect for people with dementia that’s long overdue.