A provocative article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room a couple of weeks ago raised the propriety of advance health care directives to allow withholding food and drink to someone who develops dementia. (See link below.) The issue is whether a person should be able to choose, before onset, to end her life rather than suffer with Alzheimer’s disease or similar ailments.
As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, honoring such directives would make me extremely uncomfortable. I approach the question from the point of view of what is best for the person with dementia at the time.
My wife, J, was diagnosed with dementia in January 2011 and, in retrospect, was exhibiting symptoms well before that. Her ability to care for herself, understand and communicate continue to diminish.
Yet, as I have written before, she very much enjoys life. Indeed, in some ways, she enjoys it more than ever because she has little to no stress. Gone are prior concerns about her job or caring for children or dogs. Now that she lives in a memory care unit, she doesn’t even have to worry about finding her way around her continuing care retirement community. At her last doctor’s appointment, her pulse and blood pressure were those of a healthy 20-year-old.
Go to visit and she’ll give you a big hug (even if she never met you before.) Take her for a walk and she’ll delight in all she sees. Turn on some music and she’ll bop and sway.
True, her old self might be horrified if she could see her current condition. But she can’t.
Would it be fair to the current J to allow the former J to determine the value of her life now? I think not.