For the purpose of context, I posted this article last year on NewsBreak: “Why My Grandmother Won Her Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease.”
I was compelled to write that piece as my grandmother, as well as a close uncle, were physically and mentally devastated by the illness and yet, in the case of the former, she seemed happier than she had in years when she was closest to the end.
Statistically, Alzheimer’s tends to attack newer memories first. What ultimately remains is a semblance of long-term, or early-life, recall. In the case of my grandmother, she was happiest in her lifetime when she was a young dancer. Just months before she passed away, she repeated her then-familiar refrain with a disarming grin and a laugh: “I love to dance.“
During end-stage prior to her passing, she lost her ability to talk and became immobile. However, she did not lose her relatively recent broad smile nor her ability to sway her feet to the music in her head.
Between her youthful dancing and the onset of her disease, she suffered through a painful marriage and divorce with my grandfather, and only tended to smile when she spent time with family.
We had never seen her grin before, which became an ongoing expression.
“What Remains is the Dream Life.”
In early-2020, my wife and I had dinner with a friend and her daughter. Both had read my article, and the daughter, then-13, shared a theory: “Alzheimer’s Disease happens when the barrier between a person’s real life and dream life is worn away. What remains is the dream life.“
We were taken aback. Her mother then asked, “What do you think?”
Neither my wife nor I knew how to respond, but we both agreed the thought was interesting. “I think your idea is fascinating,” she said, “and you should explore it a little more.”
Our friend’s daughter, who for now will remain anonymous, accepted the advice and further delved into her theory. We met them again. When asked, the daughter simply said, “I did some research. I’m right.” I asked her how she researched, exactly. “Online,” she said.
The daughter told us to google “Do Alzheimer’s patients dream?”
My wife and I discussed this further on the drive home. My wife had relatives who had passed of the disease, and the conversation turned surprisingly heavy. Surely our friend’s daughter had no scientific evidence on her side, we assumed, and what she was sharing was little more than childhood whimsy.
We were going to leave it at that, but once my wife and I returned home I sat at the computer. What I saw were pages upon pages of research from medical doctors and others linking both Alzheimer’s and dementia to dreaming.
As expressed in a recent AgingCare.com article, dementia specialist and neurologist Dr. Rodman Shankle, MS, MD, stated the following: “What happens is that as the short-term and long-term memories start to disappear, the memories that remain are perceived as the patient's current reality. So, say you are 75 years old, but dealing with delusions where you think it is 1959—you would perceive yourself to be only 25 years old.“
The article, written by Jacqueline Marcell, elaborates that dreams are stored in our long-term memory: If a person with dementia and short-term memory loss sees something that reminds them of something from a dream, they can think they have experienced it in real life and have that eerie feeling of déjà vu.
A cursory read of a selection of the aforementioned Google links further explores the reasons why contemporary medical thinking correlates memory-related illness and dreaming.
Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in their article entitled “Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference?” the former is defined as a general term for a decline in mental capacity severe enough to interfere with one’s life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, the article states. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease. Dementia is not.
If as a result of reading this piece, motivated by my friend’s daughter, you are inspired to pursue your own research in the matter, it would be helpful if you understand that difference.
Words to Readers From My Friend’s Daughter
I mentioned I was moved to write a piece based on the words of my friend’s daughter, and asked her mother for permission. She agreed, as long as I maintained her anonymity due to both her age and the admission they have consulted several associations and doctors with her thoughts.
I know of at least one doctor, a family member, who believes there is substance behind the daughter’s words.
I asked the daughter for an additional quote. She said: “I’m convinced of a barrier of some sort between a real life and a dream life, which brings the dream life front and center. I think doctors need to specifically study our subconscious and dreams to find a real cure. Many doctors talk about plaque on the brain and neurofibrillary tangles, but the Alzheimer’s Association says we don’t know the cause for sure yet or we’d be able to better fight it.”
She‘s right. See this section called “Research and Progress” on the Alzheimer’s Association website.
It goes without saying, but the words of an untrained 13-year-old are not to be taken as scientific proof when it comes to this or any other science-based matter. However, medical professionals in the Los Angeles area have listened, and some are now actively studying the theory.
Consult a professional if you suspect a memory-related illness. If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and would rather speak from the security of your phone, please contact the following helpline for support: 24/7 HELPLINE800.272.3900.
Thank you for reading. I hope the words of my friend’s daughter have at the very least inspired you in some small way.
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