A neighbor of ours is suffering from progressive dementia. What a cruel condition it is. His wife is suffering, too, for a number of reasons. We see this struggle daily and, because they are friends and they live right next door, we really can't avoid it. In saying that, I realize I imply that we would rather be able to avoid it.
I have a good memory (so far). I remember lots of things from my very early childhood. Darling Husband is always surprised at how much I remember and in what detail. He has a pretty good memory, but needs a bit of prodding to remember stuff from when he was a kid. These days he's alarmed when he forgets anything; afraid that it could be the onset of dementia. I reassure him that everyone forgets stuff, even young people. Sure. I forget stuff, too. But eventually whatever it is surfaces into consciousness and I purposefully vow to myself that I won't forget THAT again. And I don't. Then, it's something else. Oh well.
But with dementia, when it's gone it's really gone. Whole big chunks are gone. Not just early memories, but important stuff like "Where am I? What's your name again?" It seems to be unending confusion. For our neighbor's wife, not only has her partner forgotten most of their life together, but he's in constant danger to one degree or another. Will he wander off while she's taking a bath? Will he turn on the stove and then walk away?
It's unfortunate. He has always had a sunny disposition, but even the sunniest among us get frustrated and angry about the inability to perceive any context for the here-and-now.
Our amazing brains construct a lifelong chronology of our experiences that's unique to each individual and it isn't always a reliably factual record. My mother and I both had a very clear memory of a little stray dog that turned up at our house when I was about 6 years old. Her recollection is of a black dog, but mine is taffy-colored. I have always argued that it must have been taffy-colored and that she must have called it that, because I wouldn't have called it taffy-colored at that age. What color is taffy? I probably would have said it was tan. She didn't buy my story. Her memory said the dog was black.
Our neighbor remembers the Korean War … only the Korean War. Sometimes he seems perfectly lucid; two minutes later he's back in the '50s. He doesn't just forget the name of someone he used to know, he walks around with no idea where he is or how he got there.
His wife protects him and grieves for him at the same time. She loves and cares for a life partner who isn't there. The trouble is, he isn't really anywhere.