“The fact that forgotten events can continue to exert a profound influence on a patient’s emotional life highlights the need for caregivers to avoid causing negative feelings and to try to induce positive feelings.”
This quote comes from a University of Iowa study on mood retention among Alzheimer’s patients, results I heard discussed a few days ago on NPR. The interviewer was thrilled with the information. And I know I should be too. After all, Ralph is still in a great mood ten days after we hosted the wedding because he knows he had a wonderful time even if he can’t remember almost any of the details.
But what I actually thought as I listened to the earnestly enthusiastic young researcher was, “Oh great, now I have another reason to feel guilty.”
What I heard her telling me was that If feelings linger after the memory fades, I am “causing negative feelings” in Ralph more often than I want to admit. I see the way his face collapses when I am short with him after he asks me where I am going for the fifth time in half an hour. Or when I get annoyed that he has forgotten to take his pills or has not given me an important message from the electrician or has gone to bed before eight after spending the entire afternoon asleep on the couch. Less than a minute ago, he interrupted me as I was typing here at my desk with another question I had just answered, and I shouted down the stairs Not Now I’m Busy in a less than kind voice. Since Ralph’s diagnosis of MCI over a year ago, I have told myself not to feel bad about outbursts of impatience because he won’t remember. Evidently I was wrong: an essential non-cognitive part of him will remember.
Coincidentally, the blogger of “Not My Original Plan” –whom I much admire for her realistic and committed optimism–writes in her most recent post about enjoying her mother’s lingering joy after the actual memory of an experience they have shared together fades. I know I should follow her example and be glad that in some essential way his loss of memory has not robbed Ralph of his emotional life. And most of me is glad.
But to be honest, another considerable part of me liked thinking I had an escape hatch from responsibility: I could let down my guard and be selfish or mean or emotionally lazy without it counting as long as Ralph wouldn’t remember. That escape hatch is closed from now on, and I can’t help letting out a short sigh of “caregiver” fatigue.