A one page essay in the TIME article of Oct. 25/10 penned by Patti Davis, the daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan, hit an emotional chord with me. Patti has written numerous books on the subject of alzheimer's and notes the different ways that men and women react to the patient's disease.
According to Patti, men tend to back away in discomfort while women "metabolize the reality of death". She suggests that they experience the full gamut of emotions that take them from the depths of extreme sorrow, to periods of tacit calm punctured by heightened anger. Patti's descriptions describe a roller coaster of emotions felt by women in contrast to men, who tend to compartmentalize the ravaging effects of the disease on their loved one. Men experience the disease on a more solitary level.
I have noticed this to be true in my personal experience. My husband, while emotionally devastated by the changes to his father who is stricken with alzheimer's, remains almost stoic about the daily landslide of physical and emotional toll on his father. I watch knowing that part of this is a paternal need to offer support and be strong for the family; to be particularly strong in support of his mother who is a primary caregiver, as she visits her husband in a full time care facility. In contrast, I see the overwhelming grief that his mother and sisters experience on a daily basis. Their lives are dedicated to supporting their mother and providing any vestige of comfort to ease both her pain and their father's.
This does not in any way suggest that the emotional impact on males is less; instead, this suggests that perhaps men deal with the disease differently because of perceived social expectations or other factors that drive this private grieving. I admit that this is a stereotyped notion - that women are able to grieve more publicly. I am sure however that my husband's mother and sisters shed many private tears too.
What then is the take-away from this exploration of how men and women deal with the reality of alzheimers? The crux of the matter is that there is no running from this disease and acceptance is done in a very personal way. Our relationship with the patient must focus on listening and comfort, but we must seek consolation and encouragement from other family members and extended mental health professionals when necessary. There is no road to recovery for the patient, until a cure is discovered, but emotional support groups can be vital in helping family members to cope.