I recently received a copy of the new book Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Language and the Alzheimer’s Journey. This book beautifully addresses the complex physical, emotional and relational challenges of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I believe that The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman might be the best relationship book of the last 20 years, and I was thrilled to see these same principles applied directly to the complex relationship dynamics of Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones.
Memories are one of the greatest treasures of a longterm relationship, and when those begin to fade, it can feel as if the relationship has died even while your loved one still lives. This book reminded me that while the relationship will indeed look different when Alzheimer’s enters the picture, there are many unique blessings that can come alongside the many unique challenges.
I’ve seen some of these principles play out in my own community. I had a conversation with a man at church recently, and he’s been married for fifty years. His words profoundly changed my perspective on the struggle of Alzheimer’s and Dementia in marriage.
He and his wife have walked through many struggles and many seasons of life in their half-century together. Their current struggles include a move from their hometown to be closer to family and a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s in his wife. Watching her battle dementia and lose her memories has clearly been one of the greatest struggles in their marriage, but apparently, not his “biggest struggle.”
His wife was on a weekend trip with their daughter spending some “girl time” together. I asked him how he’s been doing, and he said, “Honestly, I’m not doing so well.”
I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought to myself, “Of course you’re not! You are in a new town trying to learn a new routine and you are having to watch your wife slowly lose her memories and her personality through the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s. NOBODY in your shoes would be doing well.”
What he said next left me speechless. When he was talking about why he was having such a hard time, his struggles had nothing to do with the factors I thought he meant.
He said, “I’m having such a hard time, because I LOVE being with my wife. I can’t stand being apart from her. It has been years since I’ve had to go two days in a row without seeing her. I can’t wait until she gets home tomorrow!”
While so many couples seem to try and invent ways to escape from each other, this man and his wife and created a relationship that neither spouse ever wanted to “escape.” In fact, even the thought of being apart left him feeling sick. After half a century together, even while battling through the unique challenges of his wife’s condition, he wanted to be by her side every minute. The connection of their souls wasn’t defined by the current limitations of her memories.
Their story is a beautiful reminder that love is more powerful than Alzheimer’s, but to be practical, there are still some huge hurdles that must be overcome when caring for a loved one with this disease. The caregiver can face feelings of isolation, exhaustion, frustration, guilt, anger, sadness and countless other emotions along the journey.
If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, please don’t lose hope. You are not alone. You can find real support and practical solutions. This book is a great place to begin. For additional resources, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at ALZ.org.