What is truth? Should we look at the world through rose colored glasses and be positive or to be more precise and realistic? Or is it more important to view the world as right or wrong; “black and white” or are the shades of gray where we need to be?
Perspective is critical. If you watch a questionable call during an NCAA basketball game, you will have the referees’ decision, but depending on where you are sitting, part of the crowd will agree with the call and part of the crowd will disagree. This concept applies to so much of what happens in our daily life. Five people can see the same event and there will be five similar, but slightly different responses to what they saw.
Understanding perspective is an integral part of living through the Alzheimer’s journey. As a family or professional caregiver, we view the world as it really plays out before us. However, if your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease what he (she) is seeing… his perspective… is very different from our perspective.
Mom can’t find her favorite necklace, so obviously someone has stolen it. Grandpa is up at 2am every morning and is furious with you because breakfast is not ready. Dad thinks your boss is unreasonable because when he calls you at work (5 times a day) you get in trouble. Mom continues to leave the front door unlocked at night but blames you for being so irresponsible.
Alzheimer’s truth is not untrue….it’s just different than what we are accustomed to. Your loved one’s short term memory bank has malfunctioned and is empty. You can’t run a car on an empty fuel tank, just as you can’t expect a loved one to have a normal life if their short term memory bank is empty. The brain is no longer able to record what was said 10 minutes ago or an hour ago. There is nothing there for Mom to draw from, consequently she continues to ask the same question over and over. Dad continues to read the newspaper, but after 20 minutes he is still looking at the same article because his memory can’t record that he has already read the article. Mom becomes fixated on her money and accuses the family, over and over, of stealing it because she is no longer capable of remembering that her son is now doing her financial planning.
What we hear from our loved one is their truth. They truly believe what they are saying is new, accurate and honest. What they don’t understand and makes them suspicious is the response they get from us. They don’t understand why we get frustrated or angry…why we yell at them and appear to treat them with disrespect. From their perspective, every statement and question is new.
As caregivers we have to live in a world that is no longer “black and white,” but filled with days, hours, weeks and months of gray. Grey in the sense that things are no longer definitive, no longer clear and precise. Things change from minute to minute. Our loved ones are not capable of seeing life through our perspective, and have no choice but to live it as they see it. We have a choice and it is to jump into their world when we are interacting with them. We have the ability to be flexible and creative. We need to communicate with them where they are in their world since they are no longer able to communicate in our world. This is the goal and the challenge