July 09, 2009

Living in the Moment with Alzheimer's

In "Living in the Moment" on today's New York Times Happy Days blog, Elizabeth Kadetsky describes the ways in which she has been coping with her mother's increasing dementia after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the spring of 2008. Observing her mother's growing detachment from memory, Kadetsky discovers an aspect of the illness that is central to Buddhist practice: to live with Alzheimer's is to be continuously in the present moment. The disease has caused her mother's mind to gradually let go of the pleasure and pain of the past, eventually forcing her to exist only in the present. Kadetsky writes:

Today, at 69, she has less of that charisma — she has been diagnosed with the disease in its early to middle stages. But she has at least as much of a quality that I, earlier, modeled myself on, and later came to admire in her: a quirky, rather peculiar nature that could be summarized as an insistence on living in the moment. By concentrated meditation on the moment and each moment that follows, the yogi gains sacred knowledge. So these days, I sometimes believe I am not so much losing my mother as communicating, more and more so exclusively, with that side of her that exists only in the present.

While the pain of watching her mother's decline is evident, Kadetsky discovers aspects of flexibility and mindfulness in her mom's memory loss, qualities that she herself hopes to incorporate into her own life. "Alzheimer’s is about living in the present," Kadetsky writes, "To exist outside of memory is to occupy the moment wholly."

To read more of Elizabeth Kadetsky's blog entry click here.

For a fuller consideration of dementia and mindfulness, take a look at Noelle Oxenhandler's "Awake and Demented," and an excerpt from Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle's The Majesty of Your Loving: A Couple's Journey Through Alzheimer's, both in the Fall 2008 issue of Tricycle.

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