Thursday, December 23, 2010

Does love slow Alzheimer's disease?

This is my response.
Does caregiver love slow Alzheimer’s?  Interesting question.

I suppose indirectly it does because when you love someone you want the best for them.  You want to treat them like you would like to be treated.  You want to make them happy and you want to see them smile.  You want to hear their laughter and see that sparkle in their eye.  

To do that you must interact with them, stimulate them, touch them, encourage them, and support them.  

So is it the love or is it the stimulation that actually slows Alzheimer disease?  Probably both. 

Looking at infants it has been proven that without touch infants do not thrive.  Even with animals a mother’s licking of her cubs is vitally important to their growth.

Not only is touch good for the body, it appears good for the mind. Studies show that newborns receiving extra touch display greater neurological development. Researchers believe that touch promotes the growth of myelin, the insulating material around nerves that makes nerve impulses move faster.

Perhaps with the Alzheimer’s patient touch does much more than we realize.

And I suppose without love and affection there would be little touch and stimulation.

Comments welcome.


  1. Oh my gosh, this sparks thoughts in me that I didn't know I had. Reading the question and your thoughts, Kerry, I realize that I TOTALLY think that love must have a positive effect on Alzheimer's. I'm thinking not only of love "toward" the Alzheimer's person, but also of love that the Alzheimer's person has for others. Whether love actually slows disease progression or not, I guess only scientific studies could tell us. But for some anecdotal events from my experience with my mom:

    She functioned at an amazingly higher-than-she-was-really-at level while my dad was still alive, because she was his primary care-giver. She was WAY over-achieving. Cooking, organizing and keeping track of his meds, etc....She did things those last two years at home with him that astonish me now when I think back to how advanced in her disease she really was. She accomplished miraculous things because she knew that she HAD to --- because she loved my dad.

    Even when she was quite advanced, she would still be able to hold in her mind an awareness when one of us (four adult children) was out of town on a trip, even though none of us lived in her city. She couldn't remember what she'd just swallowed for lunch, but when I'd talk to her, she'd remember when my sister was out of town on a trip. (I think of your story, Kerry, of your mom being able to count the days until Ryan would be returning from that trip, back when Lily was living with you all.)

    One year ago yesterday, on the day before my mom started to actively die, I happened to be visiting her. At some point, I asked her one of my usual questions --- if she knew who I was. She said (as she always would): "I sure do!" When I followed with my usual: "Who am I?" (the part where her answers would always get interesting), this was her response: "I love you."

    As she'd increasingly lost the ability to name connections, identify relationships, etc., what stuck the longest for her was the fact that she loved us. One week after she said that, she was gone.

    That is actually one of the things that I hold on to, and get great comfort from. I think that somewhere in there in Alzheimer's patients, way down deep --- there's some awareness of love, both outgoing and incoming. I think it can lead to increased abilities (like drinking an emotional Red Bull), and increased enjoyment. I think it can, as you said, increase stimulation, which must do something positive for keeping the mind in some sort of working order.

    And I think it matters.

    Thanks for the great question, Kerry. (Sorry so long a response.)

  2. Touch is always beneficial (for anyone) Hugs, kisses, verbal affirmations. They are the stuff of any love, any time. Yes, it matters. My 84 year old husband with Alz still has social skills intact. He knows me and the entire family. Children are drawn to him, and the caregivers in Assisted Living love him. He makes them laugh.
    I had been thinking that the abilities he has (or has not) were dependent on which parts of the brain were dying.
    Your post now makes me wonder if its the love he receives (and gives) which enable him to retain his functionality.
    Yes I do believe in touch.
    Thanks for asking the question

  3. Dear Maryellen:

    Thanks for your comments on my blog. Reading your comments makes me want to write again. I haven't for some time now. Perhaps I will start again. Thank you,