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When Alzheimer's Patients Make Perfect Sense: Those Stunning Moments of Total Lucidity

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Many people who have cared for a person with Alzheimer's can tell you shocking stories about their loved ones having moments of total lucidity. I haven't been able to find any explanation for why or how these moments occur, but these precious events can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours or even most of a day. I have a friend whose mother actually had an entire week of clarity. Her mind was clear as a bell for seven days, then suddenly she returned to her former state of dementia.

As a person's illness progresses, these episodes tend to occur less often, and so when they do occur, it's all the more striking and precious. Here are a few surprising examples I describe in more detail in my book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy.

"Wearing it for Death"

When my mother died I was devastated. I was also sad because I knew my soul mate, Ed, wouldn't understand it and wouldn't be able to console me as he would have before he developed Alzheimer's. When I told him about it he was thoroughly confused and thought I was talking about his mother. I mentioned it again a few days later and his only response was, "That lady on the television is the Pope."

I had decided to wear a black blouse or shirt every day for a month to honor my mother's passing. One day two weeks later when I visited Ed, he looked me right in the eye and said in a clear and strong voice, "You look so beautiful in that black shirt even though I know you're wearing it for death." I was speechless.

"You'll Get the Job"

Near the end of Ed's life I had an interview for a marvelous new job. It went well and I was invited to have a second interview. It was some of the best news of my life and I was sad I wouldn't be able to share it with Ed. I knew he wouldn't comprehend the situation.

I had told him about the job possibility a few weeks earlier and he didn't understand a word of what I told him. Nonetheless, I decided to tell him about the second interview. I was simply amazed by his response. He sat right up and told me, "Wonderful! Marvelous! They will certainly hire you with all of your experience and success. You will get the job. I'm one hundred percent certain. Congratulations!" I was stunned and delighted to have my "old Ed" back, if only for that visit.

"Dogs Are Very Selective"

I once took my little Shih Tzu, Peter, to visit Ed at the nursing home. A young man I encountered in the lobby asked me to take Peter to see his mother. He said she loved dogs. This particular woman's illness was quite advanced and she spent most of her time sleeping.

When I entered her room she was lying quietly with her eyes closed, but she opened them when I softly called her name. I put Peter down next to her on her bed and he started licking her face. I told her that he didn't usually 'kiss' people he didn't know. She looked up at me and said, "Dogs are very selective." That was the first lucid comment she'd made for months.

These moments aren't always happy, however. People have noted with great sadness that sometimes the lucidity allows the person to become aware that they have dementia. I have heard several stories about this very situation.

It happened to Ed once, too. As I describe in Come Back Early Today, he was showing me the newspaper one day and telling me how mixed up he was and that he couldn't understand all the stories. Suddenly he looked at me with a forlorn expression and said, "I'm so confused. Maybe I should go to a facility for people with mental problems." It was an eternally sad moment.

But by and large these moments of lucidity are positive and uplifting. We need to treasure them. I always wrote down in great detail the incidents that occurred to be sure I'd remember them forever.

And that's what all caregivers need to do -- treasure and remember those wonderful times forever.

Can any of you readers share your own experiences with a loved one's moments of total lucidity?