Cruel Time Warp

Sometimes it is our own mind that can be our worst enemy.

Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more and more prevalent. Some people say it is because people live longer now. Others say it is because of the chemicals in our food and all the unhealthy things we consume on a daily basis. The truth is that no one really knows why. The consensus is that it is horrible…

Most people, thankfully, do not know how horrible it is.

A cruel disease, Alzheimer’s leaves the body (more or less) whole and strong while stripping away everything that makes a person who they are – their memories, their connections with others, their connection with reality…

Imagine knowing that you are a grown up, knowing you should know how to do things – you should know where you are, who the people around you are and what you are supposed to be doing – but you don’t.

The house you lived in for 30 years seems like a stranger’s home and the people next to you, who may be your own children, are unfamiliar. Imagine looking at a shirt and not knowing what to do with it. Where does it go? How does one use it? Who is that person talking to me? What do they want?

All the information is locked in the mind but, for the afflicted, it is like when you put something away “for safe-keeping” so well that you later cannot find it. You know you have it but you can’t pull it out when you need it.

People with Alzheimer’s disease begin to find it easier to recall the past than the present. Ask a person where they live and they may give you their childhood address. People, places and languages used while young come back while events that happened 5 minutes, an hour, days or weeks ago are completely erased.

Slowly but surely the things that make us who we are get wiped away. Memories and experiences leave. Emotions tend to stay.

Thoughts become a trap. Often the logic is correct but the starting off point is completely wrong. “I don’t know these people, why are they telling me what to do? I shouldn’t do what they say because they are strangers and they may be trying to hurt me”. This is very reasonable logic but terribly hurtful, heart-wrenching and damaging when the “strangers” are actually the person’s children who are trying to get their mother or father to take the medicine they need in order to stay alive.

In Israel there is a unique group of Alzheimer patients – Holocaust survivors who, due to traumatic experiences in their youth combined with the onset of dementia, are currently trapped in a cruel time warp. For them the Holocaust is NOW. And they are repeating their experiences over and over and over and over in their mind.

Many of these sufferers have ended up in the insane asylum because no one could convince them that they are free and safe.

How do you explain to a woman that it is safe to take a shower when she believes that the Nazis are pouring Cyclone B through the water heating system? Why should she agree to “go to the shower?” I can only imagine the loved ones she lost “in the shower”…

I have seen the Alzheimer time-warp trap in less horrifying cases and the anguish it causes. I can only imagine the enormity of the Holocaust-Alzheimer trap. How cruel that suffering that should have been long over, suffering so terrible it never should have been in the first place – is still going on to this day…

Doctors don’t really understand Alzheimer’s disease. They don’t know what causes the disease and don’t have very much they can do to help. At the moment there is no solution. There is however a balm for both suffers and their loved ones / caregivers.

Patience. Empathy. Compassion. These are the only “weapons” we have to fight this terrible battle. We know in advance that is a losing battle but we can do our best to see that those suffering go down with dignity.

I pray that Alzheimer’s disease does not knock at your door. But it might. Statistics say that it will afflict your neighbor, someone you see in an office, someone you see on the street…

Be aware. Sometimes people that behave strangely have very good reason to do so – even if it is only because of the trap in their mind.

Have patience with others. Be kind. These are the only things we can really do to help.


8 thoughts on “Cruel Time Warp

  1. An excellent and moving article, Forest, as usual, indeed. I have more experience with this horrible disease than anyone could or would ever want. Both of my parents went through dementia issues, about 25 years apart (my dad was 21 years older than my mom). In daddy’s case, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s had not been discovered, and he, as most were then, was diagnosed with “hardening of the arteries”. When my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, about 7 years ago, I found their symptoms to be very similar. The only difference was that my mom’s recognition of me would only occasionally return, while my dad lost everyone in his conscious life except myself and my daughter. He never lost us, and doctors told me that this occasionally does happen, but he “placed” us in a time period that preceded my birth by more than 20 years. You can imagine how much confusion that brought. I found that a sense of humor went a long way toward maintaining my own sanity, as you will hear things you’d never imagine. Having experienced that with both parents, you can imagine that I’m somewhat uneasy about my own future, but we must trust G-d. In the cases you’ve described, of survivors of the Shoah, that has to be absolutely horrifying, far beyond what my parents experienced. What a shame to think that such horror would be repeated to those who suffered so much already. May G-d grant those who help them with the patience, love, and wisdom to at least lessen their suffering, and may the Holy One grant them His mercy and shalom. G-d bless you, Forest, for caring, and for sharing their story.

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    1. Thank you Robert for your kind words, comments and personal experience. I’m sorry you had such a hard time with your parents. A sense of humour and lots of patience is certainly what is needed. The doctors say that it’s not genetic so let’s hope that you will be spared. Best wishes to you and yours, Forest Rain

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  2. A truly moving article Forest -as usual? yes as usual! You found the right words to expose this terrible disease to people, who like me and others, do not know what it is in reality. You are so right when saying that what is definitely left to us is kindness, understanding, patience, compasssion, love to give!

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  3. FR…this is probably the most understandable explanation I have ever read about what happens to a person with Alzheimer’s. Will definitely pass this one on. Tim has an aunt who has slipped away from us very quickly…and she is still quite young (middle 60’s). We love her so much…her family is dealing with much… thankfully she has her husband and three children and several sisters who help out with her… still… to look at that face we love so much and know she doesn’t recognize us… it’s hard… very hard on my boys because they grew up having a special love for their Aunt Linda… Thank you for writing this article…

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    1. I’m glad I could do some good with my words Em :-). It is very hard to see someone we love “empty out” because of a disease but the truth is that we don’t really know how much is left inside. What is certain is that even when they don’t recognize us anymore, they can still feel. It’s up to us to stay kind and have patience, even when it is very frustrating and sad…

      > On Sun, Apr 28, 2013 at 3:52 PM, writings from Israel… <

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