Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
But how aware are we?
How aware are we? The focus in the UK this month has been on awareness of the vulnerable members of our society who are at or nearing the end-of-life. Events included: Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Dying Matters Awareness Week and Dementia Awareness Week. But how aware are we? And what does awareness mean? Can we sustain or even increase our awareness? After the fan-fair of this month is over are we going to unconsciously slip back into a state of lesser awareness? I am now going to ask a number of questions to focus our attention on this.
What is awareness?
To be aware implies having knowledge gained through one’s own perceptions or by means of information. Some synonyms are: cognizant, conscious, awake, watchful, vigilant etc. Let us now apply some of these to the context of Alzheimer’s.
Questions for us all:
What have we gained as a result of the focus on awareness this month?
What have others gained as a result of the focus on awareness this month?
What information have we acquired that we didn’t have before?
What have we seen that we hadn’t seen before?
What have we heard that we hadn’t heard before?
What have we felt that we hadn’t felt before?
In what way has this new information and have these new experiences changed how we perceive people with Alzheimer’s?
In what way has this changed how we feel when we are with someone with Alzheimer’s?
What are we going to do differently as a result?
How are we going to do things differently as a result?
Who is aware?
So far my questions have been directed at us, people who do not have Alzheimer’s. What about people who have Alzheimer’s? What about their awareness? It is easy to assume when someone can’t remember what he or she has just said that they are unaware. However nothing could be further from the truth. It might surprise you to learn that when people have Alzheimer’s they become more aware in some respects than they were before the onset of the disease. Neuroscientsts have discovered that as cognitive skills decline, the capacity for empathy increases. That means people with Alzheimer’s become very sensitive to nuances in the facial expressions, voice tones, gestures etc. of others. They may even be more aware of subtle changes that are occurring in us than we are ourselves. Not only that, research has shown that their capacity for empathy and their awareness increase as the disease progresses. Furthermore they respond instantly to changes they notice in us and reflect them straight back to us. This is called ’emotional contagion’. Knowing these facts places a responsibility on us to be more aware of what we are feeling and how we are expressing ourselves, verbally and non-verbally.
In the context of Alzheimer’s, awareness is a two-way process in which a symbiotic relationship develops, the outcome of which is determined primarily by us. By bringing awareness to this process we can choose to let go of any negative feelings we have from the past and use this as an opportunity to engage in a positive way to generate new, more loving relationships. When we do this we discover deep, unconditional love that often had not been possible before the onset of the disease.
Although I have focused on awareness in relation to Alzheimer’s, the same principles can apply to relationships with people at the end-of-life. So let us engage with people with Alzheimer’s and others with conscious awareness, embrace the loving connections that they bring and appreciate the precious gifts that are there for us and in particular, The Gift of Alzheimer’s.
Looking forward to the next stage of our journey together.
Maggie La Tourelle