Respecting the Person With Alzheimer’s Disease

Thank you for the recent articles on Alzheimer’s. Well done.

My father zol gezunt zein has had this disease for over 10 years, may Hashem have rachmanus on him.

First, I recommend a book by Michael Krauthamer called Walking in Their Shoes. We have read many books on Alzheimer’s; this was the most helpful. Michael (who is now our personal friend and has visited my father) headed an Alzheimer’s ward for several years, which gave him the many valuable insights he shares in his book.

Second, a word to those who pass a person with Alzheimer’s in shul or in the street.

You are not special. You are just one more person in the person’s life whose name and history he or she cannot remember. It is ignorant and cruel to keep insisting, “Oh, he will remember ME, why, he gave me a ride from yeshivah every day for a year!”

Listen: Sometimes he doesn’t remember his own wife. He does not remember you. And when you badger him, insisting that he does, testing him, you cause him real anguish.

Would you stop a person in a wheelchair who used to be an athlete, and say, “Come on, of course you can run! Why, you used to win every race”? Then don’t harass a person with Alzheimer’s. You make that person’s life harder and the family and caregivers now have the job of calming the person down, distracting him, and trying to make him feel better following his public humiliation.

To prove that people with Alzheimer’s do feel humiliated when they can’t remember, my father used to say to my son, “Hey, Tatteleh, let’s see if you can do the combination all by yourself,” when my father could no longer remember the combination (or my son’s name, though he is named after my father’s brother).

Hamodia, thank you for your sensitivity to people suffering from this disease and their families.

Rishe Deitsch, Crown Heights