Friday, April 15, 2016

Alzheimer's is not Amnesia

Today, I want to talk about one of my biggest pet peeves in literature. Movies, books, tv shows, all around the board, I’ve seen this, and it needs to stop.

There’s a perpetuated misconception about Alzheimer’s, and it actually harms the treatment and the attitude toward the disease.

Alzheimer’s is not just memory loss. It’s not some kind of selective amnesia, or amnesia where the person just forgets everything about their lives. Alzheimer’s affects every single aspect of the brain. Think about it. What do we do that isn’t affected by the brain?

Right now, I think that Alzheimer’s has become romanticized to some extent through media, showing us this disease where someone just forgets their loved ones. It’s beautifully tragic, and sad. But what they don’t show is that half of the time, other memories are lost as well.

When I worked in a facility specifically for Alzheimer’s and dementia, every single one of my patients were affected differently. Some of them forgot how to walk. Some of them forgot how to use silverware, and some forgot how to talk. It’s a disease of regression, where they slowly lose all of the memories they’ve gained over time. The short term goes first, but soon, all of the rest of their memories go with it.

Which memories go last? The ones that are affected by emotions. There’s a reason why a patient may not know where they are, what they ate for dinner, but they still remember the name of their husband, their wife, their mother, and their children. There’s a reason why one of my patients, who couldn’t feed herself, who couldn’t remember how to speak, or how to use the toilet, still got a huge smile on her face whenever her husband of thirty years walked through the door.

It’s not amnesia. It’s a disease of regression, and the last thing to go is the things that are most important to them. Which is why, when I read a book or see a movie where an Alzheimer’s patient can play the piano perfectly, eat perfectly and never has an accident can’t remember the name of their spouse.

Alzheimer’s is messy, and it’s not romantic, not at all.