J and I are at the pool and run into an old acquaintance and her adult son, who was a friend of our daughter. The acquaintance, L, says to J, “Oh, you remember our son, E.” J looks blank. I give L the look that I think communicates: “J has Alzheimer’s disease; bad question.” (This look is related to the one the kids call “the Mom Look of Death.”) L persists. I say, “J has Alzheimer’s disease.” She says, “I know.”
I hold in, “You idiot. If you know, why are you badgering J about whether she remembers your son she hasn’t seen in nine years or so? Clearly, she doesn’t and it just makes her feel bad to push the point.” Deep breaths. L meant no harm.
I attribute her actions to Alzheimer’s discomfort. This disease has a strange effect on many people. They don’t know how to react, and so they sometimes inadvertently behave badly. There is a stigma attached to Alzheimer’s disease that I think largely results from fear. Many people view Alzheimer’s as the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, and when confronted with the disease, they sometimes become inconsiderate jerks.
The antidote, of course, is for people with Alzheimer’s and the folks who love them not to hide in the shadows, but to be direct and forthright about the challenges they face.
A few minutes after this encounter we have a lovely conversation with E and his girlfriend. It makes no difference that J has no idea she has ever met him before.