Emotional Memory and Alzheimer’s

I had an aunt, Aunt Ruth who developed Alzheimer’s in the last few years of her life. She lived at Amica Retirement home before she died about 8 years ago in her 85th year. I used to visit her regularly and take her for tea where we would have great conversations but of course because of her short term memory difficulties, she would often initiate a conversation about something that we had just talked about. We would also often go to the sing-along at Amica. She loved those and would sing with such joy and happiness as she enthusiastically and confidently sang out the words; she was retrieving them from her long term memory which was still intact at that time, so she could remember every word.

On one occasion, I spoke to my aunts’ daughter in-law, Joanne on the evening after one of my visits with Aunt Ruth. Joanne told me that when she had asked Ruth if I had visited that day, Ruth had said “NO”. Even though I understood that she did not remember my visit due to her Alzheimer’s, I felt a little saddened.

A little later, I was speaking to my friend Kathleen, whose mother had suffered from Alzheimer’s. Kathleen told me something that has stayed with me all these years and really changed my way of thinking. Kathleen said that my “aunt may not have the cognitive memory to remember our time together but she will have the EMOTIONAL MEMORY of our time together.” She will feel happier, more joyful and be filled with more contentment and peace because of our time together.

That made so much sense to me. We can truly make a difference in the lives of our loved ones even if they cognitively cannot remember that we are there for them; to help and support them, to love and care for them. The most important thing is that they know it in their hearts.

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