The technique has also been utilized to measurable success with low-functioning autistic children and adults.
It is imperative for anyone who suffers from a brain or memory disorder of any type, suspected or otherwise, to visit their doctor. Though I had worked as a mental health professional for several years, I no longer practice. Therefore, no medical advice will be offered herein on my part.
All listed theories and facts within this article are fully-attributed to several medical experts and scientists as listed within the following outlets: National Library of Medicine, Google.com, AgingCare.com, Scie.org.uk, and UpsidetoAging.com.
In October of 2021, NewsBreak published “My Friend’s 13-Year-Old Daughter Offered an Explanation of Alzheimer’s Disease That is Now Being Studied By Doctors,” my article that touched upon a philosophy now being regularly practiced by physicians treating Alzheimer’s Disease and non-Alzheimer’s dementia.
As excerpted from the article, which referenced the case of my own grandmother who passed of Alzheimer’s: Statistically, according to the National Library of Medicine, 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, for example, 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.
As to the 13-year-old referenced in the article’s title, she stated the following: “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.“
Doctors and other medical experts largely tend to agree, and they further believe such patients continue to dream, as a targeted Google search will verify.
But if they dream, what are they dreaming about?
As expressed in a 2021 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.“
In other words, the Alzheimer’s or dementia patient indeed may well live in a “current reality,” but a reality that is current for them. Meeting the patient in their reality within treatment protocols is the key.
Let us explore further.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Wikipedia features a comprehensive, medically-attributed overview of symptomatic dementia: Dementia is a disorder which manifests as a set of related symptoms, which usually surfaces when the brain is damaged by injury or disease. The symptoms involve progressive impairments in memory, thinking, and behavior, which negatively impact a person's ability to function and carry out everyday activities. Aside from memory impairment and a disruption in thought patterns, the most common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and decreased motivation. The symptoms may be described as occurring in a continuum over several stages.
The Wikipedia page further ties-in the diagnosis with Alzheimer’s: A diagnosis of dementia requires the observation of a change from a person's usual mental functioning, and a greater cognitive decline than what is caused by normal aging. Several diseases and injuries to the brain, such as a stroke, can give rise to dementia. However, the most common cause is Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder.
When I was a special education teacher early in my mental health career, I worked with severely low-functioning children and adults. Most were non-verbal and regularly engaged in self-stimulatory behaviors. However, when they were frustrated, they lashed out — as do some of us. When they were angry, they expressed anger. Happiness was met with smiles. It appeared their inner realities were largely identifiable, if only we knew the triggers.
The philosophy of the school is we would mimic the moves and sounds of the autistic individual… until they realized there was either a reality outside their bubble, or a way to reach us. When they in turn began to mimic us, we had found the common ground upon which to communicate.
Dementia patients, depending on severity, in this regard are similar. They are conscious, and are said to dream even when they appear “far gone.” Additionally, most professionals seem to agree attempting to nudge or force a dementia patient to forego their reality can be dangerous.
According to Scie.org.uk, in its piece titled “When People With Dementia Experience a Different Reality,” thoughts on that matter are broken down further: It is important to recognise that the person’s beliefs about reality are usually just as real to them as our reality is to us. So it is often unhelpful to confront a person with the truth when they believe something different. Insisting on the truth can cause unnecessary distress – for example, if we remind a person that his wife, who he has been asking to see, is dead. But problems can also be caused by lying. For example, if we raise the person’s expectations that his wife will be coming home soon, he will feel even more upset when she doesn’t arrive. Instead, it’s often better to respond sensitively to the person’s feelings.
Finally, in TheUpsidetoAging.com’s “Dementia Care: The Benefits of Staying in Their Reality,” the following is stated: Arguing with someone who has dementia is futile and will often exasperate the situation. Whether we think they are making up these stories or not when we attempt to correct them we are essentially calling them a liar and taking away any sense of control they may have in telling these stories. The Alzheimers Association also stresses the importance of communication with those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s and notes that communication requires patience, understanding, and good listening skills.
Many of us have or have had relatives or friends with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.
Empathy is of immense importance on this journey, for all involved parties.
Thank you for reading.