If people understood this one simple fact it might help change the way they think about and view a person living with Alzheimer’s.
Read these words closely – good memories. Not good short term memory.
Most people living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia have good long term memories.
All you have to do is tap into them.
Because persons living with dementia can’t remember anything right now, or from
today, or even from a couple of minutes ago we have a tendency to think they are
incapable of remembering.
An often obscure truth is that people living with Alzheimer’s have all those memories
from long ago stored in their brain.
They have these memories because they were able to remember them, and store them,
in the brain at the time.
In other words, they stored these memories before Alzheimer’s started to destroy their
ability to store new information. Before Alzheimer’s started to attack the part of the
brain that is essential to remembering – the hippocampus.
Here is an example. There is a woman alive right now that suffers from vascular
She is 101 years old and can still play nearly 400 songs on the piano by ear. On the
other hand, she rarely knows where she is, and doesn’t recognize people she met in
the last few decades.“Everybody in the room was totally startled,” says Eleanor
Selfridge-Field, who researches music and symbols at Stanford University. “She looked
so frail. Once she sat down at the piano, she just wasn’t frail at all. She was full of
The woman is tapping into the memories of previously stored musical imprints – and
continues to learn new songs just by listening to them.
Take my mom, Dotty. One night we were sitting at the table after eating and out of the
clear blue sky she started telling me a story about her father. The story ended with my
mom telling me – “she was afraid of the horse”. What horse I asked, “the horse that
pulled the truck dummy”.
That was the mom of old. She sounded just like her old self. I should mention this
happened in 2010 when my mother was already into the moderate to severe stages of
dementia. The story she told me was from 1922. She remembered it clearly.
How did she do it? First, the story was still there in her long term memory.
Second, she jumped into the waybac machine while we were talking. Two words
triggered her long term memory – Dietz and Watson. That is where her father worked.
So those two words sent her into the past, and into her long term memory.
I would also like to add. With her empty plate sitting right in front of her my mother
asked “are we ever going to eat today?” She had just finished eating her hot roast
beef sandwich, mashed potatoes, and broccoli.
Alzheimer’s patients can play musical instruments, paint, color and sing because all of
this information and how to do it are stored in their long term memory.
Go ahead take a shot. Ask your loved one where they went to first grade? If it doesn’t
work try something else. What was your first job? Did you and aunt Peggy work
together? After you ask, give them a chance to tell you a story.
Once you learn that people living with dementia do in fact have long term memories you
will be on the path to Joy. Guide them to do things. What did they like to do? Where did
they like to go?
You can go to the dog run if they like dogs. Or, you can go get a hot dog if they like hot
dogs. A hot dog or hamburger might remind them of family outings or the fourth of July.
Don’t be afraid or lazy. Go get into the WayBac machine. Try it out for a bit.
I hope you come to the same conclusion I came to.
People Living with Alzheimer’s Are Capable of More Than We Can Image.
We are the problem – don’t be the problem.