Seeing the world the Alzheimer’s way

woman walking in hallway, alzheimer'sWith Alzheimer’s, how is space and time perceived within your head?  Take walking 20 yards down a hallway, from your room to the dining room.  Halfway through, you can’t remember where you’re going.  How can you not remember what takes maybe a minute to do, even at a walker-assisted pace?

I got a clue from something my husband said when we were trying to puzzle this out.  “Well, when you’re a little kid, a hallway can seem enormously long.  Then when you see it as an adult you realize it’s not at all.”  I said “yeah, but kids are little so they walk slow.  It takes them longer to get down the hallway  so maybe it would seem really long.”  And then the penny dropped for me.

If you’re old and incapacitated, it takes you longer to walk down the hallway, just like it does when you’re a child.  Add in loss of short-term memory, and maybe you indeed are empty tv room in nursing home at dinner timeon a long and winding road.  Someone with Alzheimer’s can forget what was said or done five or 10 seconds before.  Walking those 20 yards to or from the dining room takes longer than that.  So halfway down the hall, that person may have forgotten where they’re coming from or where they’re going.  They’re likely to find their way to their immediate destination because if they keep going straight, they’re going to run into it.  But an hour or two later, trying to find their way back?  Or even that there is a “back” to which to go?

It’s frustrating, also flabbergasting: “your room is down the hall” – “what hall?”  Maybe it’s a little easier to understand if you think of it as a very long walk, like a two hour trek nursing home roadway in winterfrom point A to point B through the woods.  When you reach the end, you probably can’t remember every detail of what the starting point looked like.  You’d have to go back there to refresh your memory.  With Alzheimer’s, maybe walking that hallway is more like a trek through the woods.  The staff are the signposts along the path, pointing out to walkers the right way to go.

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