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Columnist Bob Elmer | ( Jill Connor / The Westerly Sun )

Alzheimer patients’ moments of lucidity are fleeting

For some reason, I recently decided to watch the movie “The Notebook” ... again.

Just like the first time I watched it, I bristled at the end. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m very much in touch with my feminine side and the story is indeed sweet, but I couldn’t help but look at the license that Hollywood took with a critical eye.

I understand and appreciate creative license, but not when it can be confused for reality.

My goal here is not to “trash” the movie, but to help those of you who have seen it to better understand what you saw in a very literal sense. Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen this movie and you don’t want to know what happens, stop here. For the rest of you, let me ask you if you remember the scene where, as they dance, Allie, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has wonderful moments of lucidity? In real life that actually does happen, but don’t be fooled. The experts will tell you to enjoy those moments because they will be fleeting and they are not a sign that the progression of the disease has stopped or reversed itself.

I know of a family that had reserved a place for their father in a dedicated community until they came to visit him one weekend. He was really “on his game” that entire weekend, and the family decided that they may have been too premature in deciding to “place” him.

Unfortunately, they called the community on Monday and told them they weren’t going to place him after all. When I heard this story, I shook my head because I knew that in two days, two weeks or two months, they were going to find themselves in a very unfortunate situation. It turns out that three weeks later he ended up in a nursing home for rehab after he fell down some stairs while wandering. I hate it when I’m right. The community still had an opening, and when he was appropriate, he eventually did join the community.

Back to the movie. Again at the end, there is a very sad scene in which the ill wife, in the middle of the dance with her husband, suddenly doesn’t recognize him and becomes very afraid. “Who are you? Why did you call me ‘darling’? Don’t touch me! Help,” is what you hear her yell. I have been in dedicated communities from Florida to Maine and from Rhode Island to Colorado and I was the administrator of two Alzheimer’s care communities for nearly 15 years. Never have I ever witnessed a resident behave in this way.

If you haven’t already noticed this, your loved ones are very good at hiding their deficits. In a majority of situations they will always pretend they recognize you when they don’t; they’ll tell you they don’t care for politics if you ask them who the president is or tell you that they stopped keeping track of their age years ago if you ask them how old they are. Remember that their environment often dictates their behavior. If there is too much noise, too much stimulation, too many people — in short, too much to process —they then may become agitated. But rarely will you ever see someone with Alzheimer’s lose control in a one-on-one situation. This is especially true when they are with someone who understands their limitations and appreciates how important it is that they feel safe. This is why it’s so important for professional and private caregivers to understand what they’re dealing with and how to deal with it.

If you have any questions, please email me and I’ll answer them directly or in a future column. Meanwhile, remember to “Join the Journey.”

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser, lecturer and Alzheimer’s care specialist. Email him at

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