True Love and Courage in the Face of Alzheimer’s

  • Joan Biskupic, writing for USA TODAY, gives us a fascinating look into Alzhiemer's, as well as a look at the courage of Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In "A new Page in O'Connors' Love Story," Biskupic writes about Justice O'Connor's husband, who has found "new" love in the home where he now resides because of his Alzheimer's disease.


    Few women would be so public and so accepting of the fact that their husband, though he no longer recognizes her as his wife - or as anyone he knows - has fallen in love, like a teenager, with another woman. Yet, why would this not happen? As Alzheimer's disease progresses, most people go back in time. Their brain no longer processes new material, but the long-term memories are still there. That is why they don't recognize themselves in the mirror. Their brain tells them they are "who" their mind says they are. If they are a young adult or teenager in their mind, why would this old person in the mirror be them?

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    I've read that most Alzheimer's patients "end up," mentally, in their teen years. That explains to me a situation that I've been asked about several times, by my column readers. A confused and frustrated husband will write to me and say that his wife and his dad were once really good friends. However, she can no longer visit the father, because, as his Alzheimer's has progressed, he has forgotten this woman is his daughter-in-law and he sees her only as an attractive younger woman. He also sees himself as a young man, as that is where his mind has settled. So, why wouldn't he "hit on her?"


    This man's wife doesn't want to humiliate the father-in-law, embarrass her husband or go through the uncomfortable emotions herself of being the love object in her father-in-law's demented mind, so she doesn't want to visit. Yet, she feels horrible just dropping him. It's a tough situation.


    A friend of mine told me his dad had a habit of taking off his clothes and going to the room of another woman in the nursing home where they both lived. He seemed to have fallen for this woman and thought this was appropriate. This man had been happily married for decades, but he no longer knew his wife.


    What is most surprising to me about the O'Connor love story is the acceptance of this new love by not only Justice O'Connor, but by the whole family. What remarkable people they are. They are glad to see their father happy. She is glad to see her husband happy.


    The O'Connor love story is one of support and heart-break, but it's also heartwarming. They love the man beneath the disease. I applaud these people's compassion and their understanding of dementia. They are helping untold numbers of families with their brave step forward as they make this information public.


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Published On: November 16, 2007