Dementia: When “Living in the Moment” is Not A Good Thing

MichaelDevelopment, Learning/Memory5 Comments

Tomorrow my mother turns 94 and her physical health is amazing. I have spoken about my mother and her husband Roy (who turns 99 next Spring) on this podcast several times including this episode where I interview him since he is in the final stage of Erikson’s Eight Stages of PsychoSocial Development. Like many people her age my mother suffers from dementia which means that while her long term memory is good, her short term memory is not good at all.

When she meets a new person you have to tell her that person’s name many, many times. Eventually she will get it, but she does not remember that she has asked you what the person’s name is over and over again. Living with someone who has dementia requires a great deal of patience.

Living in the Moment

There are some advantages to living in the moment, which in many ways is what people with dementia do all the time because they cannot remember (or cannot remember very well anyway) what happened a few minutes ago.

One advantage of living in the moment is that when something annoying occurs – such as your elderly husband becoming ornery over something and is a real pain in the ass – you forget it within minutes. You quickly forget that he is in fact, a pain in the ass.

But here’s a disadvantage of this phrase we have come to associate only positive things. Recently we had to hire an live-in home health care aid to help her and her husband manage their lives (he needs help moving about the house without falling and she needs to be watched to make sure she doesn’t leave the stove on and start a fire). The aid spends most of her time sitting and waiting for either one of them to need help so she is a new presence right there in their lives. I can understand how it’s uncomfortable to have a stranger in your house. On the other hand, now I can take my mother out for day trips without having to worry about her husband.

So I took my mother out for an afternoon so we could celebrate her birthday. She was out with friends and relatives for about 5 hours and she had a great time. A great time.

She forgot almost all of it soon after I returned her home. Her focus returned to this “stranger” and how she can’t understand/remember why this person is living in their house. The recent good times – made possible only because we now have this home health aid – are lost and her focus returns to how unhappy she is to have this person in her home.

It’s sad. And more and more of us “sandwich generation” children/adults are having to deal with it.

Our memories – so essential to our happiness – are delicate. Take care of yours. Get exercise, be active, eat well.

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5 Comments on “Dementia: When “Living in the Moment” is Not A Good Thing”

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  4. Grace,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I’m going to remember two things you said especially: that while my mother’s memories probably won’t last, at least I am building memories for myself, and that I should take photos of whatever we’re doing to show her later. I’ll definitely do that. Thank you so much!


  5. I fully understand how it makes you feel when your mother quickly forgets a great experience. I can relate to your feelings, and it has often saddened and frustrated me with regard to my own mother. It’s almost as if I feel all the time and energy I spent creating that good experience for her was a waste. But what I’ve come to realize is that I am not making memories for my mother; I am making memories for myself (of my mother). When we share a moment or laugh about something or discuss artwork as we view it or take long walks I know that she, most likely, will not retain the memory. I usually take photographs of her when we are out somewhere; sometimes I’ll show them to her later to remind her that we spent time together. Mostly, though, I know I am making her happy in the moment we are experiencing whatever it is we are doing, and that is so important. She may not remember every single movie or play I take her to, or each long and relaxing walk we take, but I hope she will have a general sense of me and of our relationship. She can still experience joy even when she cannot hold onto the memory some time later. Finally, when I get really frustrated at having to answer the same question multiple times, I allow myself to experience that frustration and anger without guilt, knowing that I am not a bad person.

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