Imagine a World

Imagine a world where savory memories had no place to be shared. At the ripe age of 53, in the middle of the night—half awake. half asleep my mind meanders through memories. Random sensory moments. I try to envision walking the beach with a gentle tide lapping at my feet—I’m alone or walking quietly with another. I can only envision this because I pleasantly remember many times doing this. I drift a bit. Then somehow I wake, connect to the present, it’s too late to talk to my partner. But I am assured that I will be able to sometime. There will be a time I will share this sleep technique or even better the walk on the beach with him. Flash to another sensory memory—slightly hungry. Breakfast as next meal. Strawberry preserves, a whole chain of memory. The magic of Sunshine Strawberry preserves, the creation process of it, the whole berries, the sharing. The commitment of dragging the preserves into the sun, thwarting the ants and the flying insects . . . in humid Maryland. The years later revelation that few of my gifted preserves were eaten. This memory chain begs to be shared, perhaps many times. It’s ancient history. It’s from my early twenties. One of so rich a tapestry of memories. So I get out of bed and I blog. Or I share it with my daughter on the phone tomorrow. As my mom and her mom before her did about other sensory memories.

Now imagine I have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I am trapped inside my head and it is like a labyrinth with dead ends and unfamiliar turns. I am not the person I remember–or anyone else remembers for that matter. I cannot communicate well, I can’t find the word that says “no” to things I used to do with ease. I can’t tell you why I resist getting out of bed, how my sleep is often a haven from the labyrinth.

I can’t remember yesterday’s breakfast or tell you what I want for breakfast today. But I do have something to savor when you give me strawberry jam on my toast. I may not have the judgmental thought, “this is not preserves–where are the berries”. I may not be able to share the whole memory chain of making this in my twenties, the sunshine, the gifting. But I may have a pleasant smile, I may have a nicer start to the day. The strawberry jam may be happenstance, on the menu today. Or how much more valuable would it be if the strawberry jam or preserves were chosen solely for me based on a loving caregiver’s desire to make a connection with me? That would be a comfort note in the labyrinth. A connection made to a small part of Cate McCarty’s memory.

I work with individuals with Alzheimer’s everyday. I have for years. Knowing a small piece of the person’s life, of their preferences gives me the pieces to provide quality connection. The more pieces of the person’s puzzle I have, the more connections I can make. Saluting the captain every time I see him bridges the gap of cognitive loss. Acknowledges who he is and who he has been.

Imagine a world where memories are validated and shared without blogs or even verbal communication. And the labyrinth of Alzheimer’s is lined with comfort notes.

About Cate

Passionate about dementia care and quality of life throughout the last days of life----sums up Cate McCarty, Dr. Cate, Dementia Coach. With close to forty years of long-term care experience in nursing and recreation, a Master's in Thanatology and a PhD in Aging Studies, Dr. Cate seizes every opportunity to translate research into quality of life for individuals with dementia and all of us who have the honor to "rub elbows" with them.
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