I have lost several relatives in the past few years. Many succumbed to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The loss of one's memory and their ability to identify, those around them, family members included, is a dramatic change in life. I have been thinking about how this memory loss would impact your ability to to be happy and at peace with your existence, such that it is. Or, what it would be like if you even forgot who you were. If you lost recollection of all life's experiences and had nothing to identify with, how would this impact your ability to experience happiness and contentment? Would there still be a point to living? 

Could one find purpose in enjoying just the moment at hand? Would having an appreciation of things like the beauty of nature, music, the arts provide sufficient meaning to one's life? Or how would one cope with interacting with others on a day to day basis knowing that tomorrow their identity is lost once again and you start all over in the company of strangers? It would seem terribly frustrating to live from moment to moment. Although on the positive side there would be no recollection of all the terrible events one has had the misfortune to endure. We all have our fair share of experiences that we would love to some how forget.

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It's a really good question. Are people with Alzheimer's aware that there is something missing or do they feel complete but a bit confused? I think it's a very sad way to lose a family member, or close friend. You seem to lose them in dribs and drabs, and it must be incredibly painful for anyone caring for such a patient.

Happiness in itself seems to be very chemically based, dopamine and serotonin rather than chocolates and flowers. If the brain continues to produce these, then I don't think the memory loss would necessarily affect happiness - just the subject matter to which it seems to be attached.

As for living in the moment - it's almost impossible to function in a busy world without contemplating future appointments, plans and hopes, etc.. We live in a universe of consequences, and living in the moment doesn't seem to accommodate consequential thinking.

There's a book called "Still Alice", a novel by Lisa Genova, that you might like to get hold of. It's written in the first person, Alice, who has early onset Alzheimer's, in the form of a diary, or journal. Perhaps that might give you one perspective of what it is like for the sufferer, or at least one persons viewpoint.

I'm sorry you've lost friends and relatives this way. I imagine it is a really hard thing to cope with, and all I have to offer is sympathy - that you have, my friend.

Thanks Strega. I may get that book as my spouse and I are currently dealing with recent dementia/Alzheimer's affecting her mother, who is now 89. It would probably be a beneficial read for both of us. We do lose them in "dribs and drabs" unfortunately. When you have been around someone for a long time you remain keen to the subtle changes in their behavior- having to remind them of things that did in fact occur, for instance. I admire the Betty White's and George Burns of our world who have the good fortune to age gracefully and mentally in tact. For most of us it remains a pipe dream though.

Good timing... I recently started asking the same kind of questions. Thanks Strega, I just bought Still Alice.

At the moment, I'm realizing I never felt too curious about the real life aspects of mental aging, but now that I have to (because of a parent), I want to learn the real life part. Up to now, it's just been an interest wrt my interest in neurology. (I just learned in fact of a couple of studies wrt SSRI antidepressants delaying deposition of amyloid plaque, and delaying the onset of Alzheimer.) I've also noticed in myself more misspellings in my writings and more misreads of words than before. Age is an obvious cause to consider, but I'm trying to increase exercise as a positive endeavor. Exercise is one of those things that people should focus on their whole life, in fact.

Still Alice made me think of googling "diary of alzheimer patient" for starters, which yielded several links.

Another thought (possibly particular to my personality type) is that I'm not consciously fearful of the hard times that are likely to occur. It could be denial. In any case, now I expect to learn more about the clinical and real life aspects of it. I also have a friend who got a degree in Gerontology who I'll speak to soon. And now I'm thinking, there must be increasingly active communities on the net about this topic.

Pope,

Exercise is vital to prolonged health. They say if you lose mobility then things go downhill rather quickly. Although Stephen Hawking has been able to deal with immobility rather well. Mental exercise is also just as important to retaining clarity/sharpness of mind. My aging mother is a voracious reader and does crossword puzzles and other such tasks to try and stay on top her game. With so many living longer these days there seems to be a greater awareness about getting the most out of our golden years. Your conversation with your gerontological friend should be interesting. Let us know what they share with you.

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