Alzheimer’s Benefit–Exposing A Goodness Quotient

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I am prone to cynicism in general. And like a lot of people, I have been more demoralized by the state of the world than usual lately. So I am a bit surprised to find myself celebrating what, for lack of better phrase, I’ll call the goodness quotient in human beings.

Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Saint Francis—their lives are awe-inspiring and intimidating in equal measure. They have had their human imperfections here and there, but few of us aspire to their level of goodness. At least I never have. (In fact, I admit to spending MLK Day sitting around the house when I should have been out volunteering.)

But after reading the recent spate of articles surrounding Reverend King and John Lewis as well as a post entitled Gratitude in the Land of Dementia on the blog One of Life’s Little Surprises, I am struck by a reality that I seldom consider, the capacity of so many “normal” people to help others.

In particular, how do so many people find themselves able to accept challenges and responsibilities they never imagined they would face when their loved ones became increasing cognitively impaired. Why don’t they walk away (as I am often tempted to do from a so far less difficult situation)?

Individuals may answer, “I love my husband/ wife/ mother/ father/ sibling/ friend/ partner;” but that’s not it, not in any conventional sense. Of course I can’t speak for anyone else when I acknowledge that whatever emotional chemistry existed between Ralph and me before his diagnosis—whether the early passion or deep marital affinity—has definitely altered since his mind and identity have altered along the Alzheimer’s spectrum. I suspect the same kind of alteration has occurred between other caregivers and caregivees.

So, what specifically is the mix of loyalty, generosity, duty and sympathy/empathy that makes so many of the caregivers I’ve run across (who know who you are, Mary, Nancy, and all you others) tick?

I certainly don’t have an answer, but it is heartening to realize that when faced with the challenge, a large number of flawed, normal people are capable of being kinder and more caring than we expected of ourselves

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8 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s Benefit–Exposing A Goodness Quotient

  1. I’ve been pondering your question for the last couple of days and haven’t been able to come up with any better answers than those who have already replied. I guess it’s a mixture of all sorts of things, especially empathy. For my part, I’d have to include a big dose of pig-headedness. So many people told me my life would be easier if I put dad into residential care and that I was stupid to care for him at home. Now, I’m very glad I was so pig-headed!

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  2. I bet all caregivers get terribly discouraged and cynical at times, or even a lot of times, but those moments don’t make it into the blogs so often. No one could stand to read them, and part of the point of blogging is the connections with people – so…a somewhat edited reality is presented. I often wonder about this, how to write realistically but not turn people off – there are days when boredom, loneliness and simmering rage just dominate, alas.
    Thanks for writing!

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    1. Thanks so much for this. You speak a real truth about the conundrum of how to be truthful and positive at the same time. I try not to pull my punches but it is inevitable, so it was fun to write with genuine positive energy for a change….

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  3. Thanks for the mention Alice!

    Early in the journey when I first noticed changes ( personality and behavior changes) I certainly thought about the possibility that we were no longer compatible. This was way before I realized that they were early symptoms of dementia. I couldn’t explain the changes, and they scared me.

    When the cognitive changes started, this is when I realized it was dementia.

    You ask a good question: how do we find ourselves able to accept the dementia challenges and take responsibility for our spouse? I think it is all of what you mention; loyalty, love, compassion, empathy. And it is also that I know if the situation were reversed, Jim would absolutely be doing for me, what I do for him. And for that I love him.

    It’s a strange journey we caregivers are on. I’m grateful for these blogosphere connections that we have that allow for commiseration and sharing.

    Great post; thanks Alice!

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    1. Thanks Carole. As negative as social media can be as a force, I also see in this particular blog world how it can bring out the best in people. Take care. I obviously enjoy and gain much from your posts….

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