concentration games


Several years ago my friend Diana listened as Ken talked for a few minutes then crinkled her brow just a bit and whispered to me,  “Is he having memory problems.”  I replied that he was and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  We talked about people we knew in common who suffered from some form of dementia, the medical field’s lack of knowledge and the sadness of it all.  Reassuringly, she commented about the brain being such a wonderful organ that we should be able to educate another one of its parts: transfer the data he was losing to a healthy section so to speak.  I wanted to say, “You mean like a back-up chip for the computer,” but I didn’t.   Instead I just  smiled and thought wouldn’t that be wonderful.   She spoke with such certainty that I didn’t want to pop her bubble by saying that a diseased brain doesn’t have a good section.  With Alzheimer’s the brain wasn’t injured and there was no part that had any immunity from the tangles and plaque. Also, research has found that whatever it is that causes the brain to “die” is contagious. It spreads from one section to another.

Diana isn’t alone in her thinking.  When my friend Jayne stays with Ken during those times when I have to be away longer than I like, she tells me that she “taught” Ken during the afternoon, using repetition.  Over and over she would tell him that he is married.  (Something Ken often denies.)  Then she would continue to repeat my name to him as if teaching a toddler how to say please and thank you.  At the end of her stay and my return home Jayne was convinced that Ken had learned something.  And I’m not one to say he hadn’t.  It’s like asking someone with no memory, “What did you forget?”  If you can’t remember, how do you know what has been forgotten?  It would be the same thing with knowledge.   When he does recognize that he is, indeed, married then something has happened  to allow that bit of memory to return, if only momentarily.  Is that restored memory or taught memory?

When his disease began and I noticed his forgetting, I too found myself teaching him.  Perhaps it wasn’t teaching, but more of preserving what he still had.  At least making an effort to keep some of the fundamentals.   I would spread playing cards out on the table and challenge him to a game of concentration: turn over a card and remember where the match is.  He did all right.  Was he learning or was that part of his still-functioning brain?  Our granddaughter, Jessica, often brought her game of “Go Fish” when she came to visit and we three would play.  Again, he did okay, but then that was a few years back.  All of his responses were better before.

I’m one who likes to read in bed and I asked Ken one night if he would like me to read to him.    He was agreeable, listening for a while before dropping off to sleep.  Did he absorb anything? Did he even listen?  Did I plant information or thoughts in his subconscious?  Did he subliminally learn while sleeping?  I don’t know.   It’s interesting, even though I smiled a bit at Diana and Jayne for believing he could be “taught,” I’ve seen too many demonstrations and videos showing the steps of destruction occurring to his brain.  Nevertheless, deep in my heart I too have felt if I tried hard enough and talked long enough I could change not only what was taking place, but I could restore bits and pieces of his memory.  Did any of our efforts do any good?  Did I extend his memory for any length of time?  I don’t really know.

So what does he remember? Career skills must be deeply planted in memory because he likes to add numbers.  I doubt if he could design much of a building nor could he make any sense from a set of plans, but he can still read the printed word, add  a simple column of figures and can think about how much he should set aside to pay his bills (which are requests for money presented in “bill form” from our deluge of junk mail).  But on the other hand I see him forgetting that he lives in our house asking me, “When are you going to drive me home?”   In the real world I know that he won’t get better and with each day he will get worse, but it’s nice to hear encouraging words from people who care like Diana and Jayne — and so many others.  Thank you friends.

Originally posted 2009-05-02 05:42:54.

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