Alzheimer's blog

Alzheimer's individual living in the moment — in happiness

By Angela Lunde April 16, 2013

Last weekend I attended the Gala of the Alzheimer's Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter. It's an annual event to remember and honor those affected by Alzheimer's and related dementias and to support the mission of the association.

In attendance were persons affected by the disease, families, scientists and so many others who are dedicated to the cause. I talked with many, but one conversation in particular was very special. It was with a gentleman named John.

I'm pretty sure John didn't remember me, but that didn't seem to bother him. He spoke eloquently about participating in research at Mayo Clinic and about how he works to exercise his brain.

He spoke with gratitude about his wife and how she supports him. We laughed about his fashion forward attire, including his purple tie. And when John began talking about his grandchildren, this often-reserved man was alive with passion.

For quite some time during our conversation, there was no sign of the disease that fully entered John's life several years ago. That was, until the stories began to recycle. Yet each time John repeated his story he told it with the same delight. For John, he was telling me for the first time.

What I witnessed was an outpouring of pure and infectious joy. I loved being in his presence. I thought about how so many of us get caught up in what's going wrong in our lives, and yet John, diagnosed with Alzheimer's earlier than most, seemed almost stuck in a wonderful place of joy.

Sometimes I hear people say they'd rather die than get Alzheimer's. In part, maybe this is because they believe the disease will force them to abandon themselves and succumb to uncharacteristic, adverse behaviors.

Yet, many of those living with dementia never have these sorts of behaviors, and in fact sometimes Alzheimer's can lead to what I've heard coined as "pleasant dementia."

One woman I know said that although she feels grief around the loss of her husband as he once was, she describes this formerly hard-driven, often brash-tempered man as now an easy-going, funny, loveable man living with Alzheimer's.

Undoubtedly, changes in personality, for better or worse, can occur in a disease that affects the brain. Yet, I believe pleasant dementia is influenced by external factors such as being in a supportive environment and having positive personal interactions.

What intrigues me most are the similarities I see between those who live with pleasant dementia and the qualities that my spiritual mentors encourage me to cultivate — qualities that include acceptance, letting go, being fully present, gratitude and forgiveness.

The thing about Alzheimer's is that individuals are generally living in the moment and it's fascinating to consider what that means — the departure of grudges, hurt feelings, worries, regrets and expectations. The possibility to be happy and at peace endures.

I don't wish to romanticize dementia or suggest that anyone should wish for it. Yet, John and others living with it are more than the sum of their memories.

They teach us the vital lesson behind forgetting — sometimes it's only our attachment to remembering that prevents us from opening up to the love and contentment that resides within each of us.

This week I'm grateful for the time I spent with John.

"What day is it?"
"It's today," squeaked Piglet.
"My favorite day," said Pooh.
— A.A. Milne

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April 16, 2013