As Elaine’s Alzheimer’s has progressed, her world has become smaller and smaller. Before Alzheimer’s, Elaine was a voracious reader and lively conversationalist; my Second Elaine is neither of those things. She used to enjoy going to plays and performances, and loved putting together photo albums; my Second Elaine does none of that.
When thinking about the world of a person with dementia, I often use the analogy of an inverted funnel. Someone with a healthy brain can put the narrow end of a funnel up to their eye and look up, viewing the world through the large end of the funnel. You see the blueness of the sky and the hope of tomorrow. A person with dementia, meanwhile, experiences that funnel flipping around – he or she is now looking through the wide end of the funnel and sees only what is visible through the narrow end.
Someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s does not care or understand what happened five minutes ago. They don’t care or understand what’s going to happen five minutes from now.
A fellow caregiver recently posed an interesting question during one of our presentations. Given the limited understanding of a person with dementia, he asked, is it even worthwhile to go out to dinner, listen to music, take a walk?
My answer is, yes – absolutely! What else can I give my wife besides the “right now” kind of happiness? Watch for what kinds of things bring a smile to your loved one’s face. Maybe it’s a dish of ice cream, a car ride or coloring a picture. For us, oftentimes it’s looking at the trees that shade the courtyard of her memory care assisted living facility. I don’t think Elaine could enjoy the view any more if we were looking out at the Swiss Alps. I aim to create moments of joy. It’s worth it, even when those moments are fleeting.