Of all the ills that beset mankind in the 21st century, the cruelest must be Alzheimer’s disease. It robs its victims of the most precious gift of advancing age – the companionship of family and friends – by taking away the ability to have meaningful conversations.
Modern research is focused on finding the causes and perhaps a cure for or at least a way to lessen or postpone the advancement of Alzheimer’s, but it has been with us for a very long time. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes our return to “second childishness and mere oblivion” as we age.
Amid the challenges and frustrations of daily caregiving for spouses or parents or grandparents suffering from dementia, it is important to take the time to follow them on their conversational journeys. The first step is to let go of your own need to keep them connected to the real world or grounded in the present.
Does it really matter that your mom thinks you are your sister, and talks like you’re not in the room? Depending on family dynamics, it might be hurtful, but what is there to be gained from an argument? Nothing but resentment on your part, since she won’t understand – or remember.
Instead, take a deep breath and think back to the patience she had when you were just learning to talk, listening to you tell the same story over and over until you got it right (for you). Maybe she even held conversations with your imaginary friends, because she knew they were real and important to you.
It may be time to return the favor, and use your active listening skills, your empathy and understanding, to let her know you’re there, no matter when or where she thinks that is. She may not appreciate it, but in the long run, you will.