Alzheimer’s Myths: They’re Already Gone

The greatest impediment to communicating with people with Alzheimer’s disease is the illusion of knowledge that the person is already gone. – Michael Verde, founder of Memory Bridge.Alzheimer's Myths: They're Already Gone

There seems to be this notion that people with advanced Alzheimer’s are nothing, but a shell of the person they once were. Even more tragic is the fact that this belief can lead friends and family members to think there’s no reason to visit since they won’t remember, or they don’t know what’s going on around them.

The Miracle of Human Connection

I can’t stress enough the importance of debunking that myth. While it’s true that a loved one with Alzheimer’s is not the same person you knew before the disease took hold, they never cease to be human or have human needs. Like all of us, they crave connection and without it, they slowly, silently wither away and die.

Naomi Feil shows us a powerful example through her poignant interaction with Gladys Wilson in the 2007 documentary, There is a Bridge. Alzheimer’s patients may appear devoid of cognition and emotion, but nothing could be farther from the truth. At the beginning of the clip, we see a completely non-verbal woman who seems to be fully detached from the world. And then, a gradual transformation until by the end of the video, she is finishing a verse of a popular traditional American spiritual. It’s a stunning illustration of the very point I’m trying to make.

Crushing the Myths About Alzheimer’s

It might take some creativity, patience, and effort to reach them, but when that happens there is no greater reward than seeing the joy and love in their eyes. It breaks my heart to think of the millions of people who are essentially alone without these connections. The fear and loneliness must be overwhelming; to have the majority of the world act as though you’re already gone when you’re still very much alive is heartbreaking.

Reread the quote from Michael Verde at the top of this post. Illusion. We convince ourselves that they’re gone, but this is an Alzheimer’s myth that must be crushed…

Have you found any particularly helpful ways to connect with your loved one? Please share your experience by leaving a comment below.

Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • bsaafir

    thank you

  • Sandra-Carehome Entertainer-Cu

    I’m a care home entertainer specialising in residents with dementia. So often, residents who are long-term non-verbal, seemingly not accessing their surroundings at all, will sing or sometimes just mouth the words to well known songs. “You are my sunshine” is a favourite for this.

  • Martha Stettinius

    Thank you, Ann, for writing this. As you know, when I started caring for my mother, who had vascular dementia and probable Alzheimer’s disease, I believed all of the myths about how a person with dementia is no longer themselves and no longer truly “in there”–especially when Mom started to lose her language. Fortunately I lived next door to a woman who works for the Eden Alternative, an international movement to bring person-centered care to nursing homes, and she helped me realize that, even when Mom had advanced dementia, we could still communicate through touch, body language, and our facial expressions. Mom still experienced a full range of emotion, and we could still enjoy many simple things together, such as sitting in the garden, holding hands, listening to music, and petting my miniature Schnauzer. I feel blessed to have had that time with her.
    –author, “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir”

  • Martha Stettinius

    Thank you, Ann, for writing this. As you know, when I started caring for my mother, who had vascular dementia and probable Alzheimer’s disease, I believed all of the myths about how a person with dementia is no longer themselves and no longer truly “in there”–especially when Mom started to lose her language. Fortunately I lived next door to a woman who works for the Eden Alternative, an international movement to bring person-centered care to nursing homes, and she helped me realize that, even when Mom had advanced dementia, we could still communicate through touch, body language, and our facial expressions. Mom still experienced a full range of emotion, and we could still enjoy many simple things together, such as sitting in the garden, holding hands, listening to music, and petting my miniature Schnauzer. I feel blessed to have had that time with her.
    –author, “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir”

  • Martha Stettinius

    Yes, it took me several years of caring for my mother to realize that the stereotype was wrong, that she was not “gone” as soon as she started to lose her language, for example. As I describe in my book “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir,” I learned to enjoy my time with her, even in the late stages of dementia when we could communicate only through holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. Thank you for this post, Ann.

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