Sunday, January 09, 2011


There is some groundbreaking news from the world of alzheimer's research: if you are nice to people with dementia, their behavior improves. If you let them have their way, they act better.


This new buzz is being touted as "emotional memory." I have it. You have it. They have it--only a little bit differently. While you and I can refer to the specific insults of any given shitty day and report, ad nauseum, who did us wrong (often leaving out any fault of our own), people with Alzhiemer's no longer have the ability to recall specifics, or to cope with the residual negative feelings that bounce untended in the growing white space of shrinking brains. This inablity to process and compartmentalize negative emotion results in "sundowning" or late-day agitation.

So they act out: Busy. Destructive. They wander. They pillage. They prowl.

But here's the thing: I shoulda written this book twenty years ago, this book about being nice. But like so many afterthoughts, I didn't. I was busy. Yet another story for yet another day.

But don't you think its apropos, on this day after another mass shooting, that being nice is a lesson lost on most Americans?

We have thrown billions of dollars at Alzheimer's research to find a medication that will cure what I think is pretty much just brain failure -- like heart failure. I am over simplifying, I know. (Alzheimer's disease is its own monkey, unlike some of the vascular dementias, etc. and could possibly benefit from these curative efforts.) But most, if not all of those resources, are being scooped up by and for the pharmacological arena, lobbied for by the health insurance monster, which, in my lengthy experience does not operate on such diffuse concepts as niceness. We have never paid more than peanuts for the front line work of caring for people who can no longer care for themselves. Old people. The future us.

Personally, I'm all for letting the inmates run the asylum. Its so much easier. So much. If they think its breakfast time, cook eggs for heaven's sake. Who cares? If they think its Christmas, sing Silent Night. If the diabetics want chocolate, let them have it. Christ. We want them to live forever but don't want to take care of them. What? The trick is to find the right people to do the simple work of caring. And, oh yeah, pay them peanuts. Simple. David Troxel coined the concept of "knack: the art of doing difficult things with ease," referring to caregiving for dementia patients. I thought of it first, but like I said, I was busy. Even Patrick Swayze said it in Road House: "If somebody calls you a son of a bitch, be nice."

So, now that Gabby what's-her-name is head-shot and the boy, who pulled the trigger on the gun that Palin aimed directly at her, is in custody-- if we don't take this time to review simple manners at the congressional level, I think we are missing an educational opportunity.

Be nice.

1 comment:

asha said...

Holy shit, I was ready to sign up as a NICE caregiver until I got to the part about peanuts. I've got my pride. Love ain't cheap. In any case, I'm with you. I will be nice. Well I will practice being nice. Thank you.