Friday, January 11, 2013

Genealogy and Alzheimer's

I had an epiphany this week, with the help of my co-worker Robin.  Here it is:  Ancestry binders can be wonderful gifts for those who have the memory loss that old age dementia brings.

It makes sense, really…  It’s common knowledge that, as a person loses his/her memory, it’s the short-term memory that goes first.  I saw this with my mother—first the 1990s faded out to black, then the 1980s, then the 1970s, then the 1960s, then the 1950s… and so it goes.  But her memories of her childhood remained much more intact. 

I discussed this with Alzheimer’s expert Jo Huey via email this week.  She said this about memory loss: “It is as if one takes an eraser in 2010 and erases the information stored in the brain backwards towards 2000, then maybe even as far as 1980 or 1960 [or before]...  Because of this process, people often know a great deal about their past but know little about what happened today.  With that in mind, in order to have more enjoyable visits and to build rapport one can almost always discuss the past with them.” 
My friend Robin said that the ancestry binder I did last year for her mother-in-law has become one of that lady’s greatest joys.  When she looks at the history of her parents and her grandparents from so long ago, she remembers those people!  And when reading the research I did on her ancestors, she has a framework for that new knowledge!  And when her siblings come to visit her, they look at the binder, and they share those common memories.  It gives Robin’s mother-in-law something to talk about with visitors—particularly older visitors such as her siblings—where she is on a level playing field with them.  Her memories of those early years, and the things she heard from her parents and grandparents so long ago, are still there, waiting to be reawakened—even though current events might confuse and frustrate her.   

Wow!  What do you buy your aging parent or grandparent who sometimes doesn’t even remember who you are?  If their vision is good—you can give them the gift of their ancestry.

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