Before Alzheimer’s, my mother was a strong-willed and very competitive woman, although she was very compassionate and willing to compromise. As Alzheimer’s began to run its course, the first two traits became more pronounced, while the willingness to compromise often seemed to recede. And on occasion, paranoia and a blinding anger seemed to take over Mom, who often directed her rage at my father.
I have heard about others who suffer from Alzheimer’s having similar mood swings and toxic outbursts. But I hadn’t heard about “pleasant dementia” until Dad handed me the September 22, 2008 issue of Newsweek. Author Sara Davidson recounted how her mother (who “had always been strong-willed, opinionated and demanding”) experienced “the radical personality change that accompanied her dementia-a condition, I learned later, known as ‘pleasantly demented.’”
Davidson’s article notes that, thus far, no academic paper has been written about those who are “pleasantly demented.” Yet Davidson also reported that she received numerous e-mails from people who knew someone who fell into the “pleasantly demented” category.
The Newsweek article describes several theories of what causes “pleasant dementia,” including deterioration of the brain’s frontal lobes (which control self-evaluation and anxiety) and damage to the brain’s left hemisphere (which controls logic and analysis). Thus, with the right hemisphere still functioning, a person would perceive only unity and connection (and, thus, “might feel expansive joy,” Davidson explained).
My personal knowledge and experience of Alzheimer’s hasn’t led me to know of anyone who is “pleasantly demented.” Thus, I’d really be interested in hearing from members of this online community as to whether their loved one is exhibiting this type of behavior.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.