As the Brain Goes—So Goes the Heart


You've heard of the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Well, this week our family has experienced three funerals and a fire.

The first e-mail came from my close cousin, informing us that her brother's son had committed suicide. The next day, word came that her sister's son had died of a brain tumor. Yesterday, she e-mailed that her husband, who had been in a nursing home for several months, had passed away unexpectedly.

In the midst of these upsetting messages, my daughter's home was totally destroyed by fire.

Now, one would think that everyone would be affected to some degree by the horrendous news of the week. When I went sobbing to Charlie, who was still in bed the morning I got the news of the fire, he said "Ooohh," rather sadly, then rolled over and went back to sleep. The news of the three deaths didn't even affect him to that degree. I must admit, he only knew one of the three who died, but any normal person would react somewhat to such tragic news.

I don't know if all people with dementia lose their empathy, but I suspect this is the case. Perhaps the part of the brain that controls memory also controls emotion.

Charlie's lack of compassion for me and my family have been very disturbing as I've tried to cope with this miserable scenario. I find it hard to understand how he can't react to the loss of a home where he has spent many happy hours and nearly every holiday for the past ten years.

I first noticed the phenomena when his sister died, three years ago. He was quite close to her and her husband, but he refused to travel out of town for the funeral and showed absolutely no emotion over her loss.

I have to believe that as the brain goes, so goes the heart. He has nothing left with which to respond, as others do, to a crisis. Maybe this is a good thing, but it is difficult to comprehend for those of us who are grieving.

Now that a week has passed, he at least seems aware that the home where we spent most of our holidays is gone. But he still seems unable to express any sympathy for the circumstances.

I would like to know if others have experienced something similar from family members with moderate dementia.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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Thank you for sharing your difficult family story. I, and I know many others on this site, are so sorry to hear that you have had to deal with all of these losses in such a short time span largely without the support of your spouse. I, too, have seen this type of behavior exhibited by my 91 year old mother, who is in the moderate stage of dementia, and I have found it to be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the way that she is not left reeling from the emotions that would typically accompany the constant barrage of family and friends passing, and all the additional burden that would place on both myself and my husband, who are Mom's primary local caregivers. And also a curse, as she seems devoid of the ability to empathize, as you say, with the pain that you and the other family members are experiencing. In truth, my mother has always been fairly narcissistic and even in her younger years the level of compassion for others was relatively minimal. So, this now just seems to be exacerbated but not totally unlike her. Hugs for comfort as you deal with both your husband's continued decline and life challenges without the support of your partner in life. This site is a blessing in very many ways, as you well know.
I hear all that you are saying. I have noticed that my husband (who has dementia) also seems not to have what I would call proper emotions. He will cry at something that would never have made him cry. Yet, as you say, something that would normally bring deep emotions just seem to pass him by. Of course, each time I remind him of the incident, he is surprised again. I guess it's because he can't remember it for even a few minutes. Likewise, he has NO idea the amount of stress, energy and work I am dealing with. He never says "thank you", "I'm sorry", etc. It's as though he doesn't care. I know he, no doubt, cannot help it, but it doesn't make it easier to take. It bothers me that he doesn't seem the least bit interested in visiting his children, grandchildren, etc. any more. I show him things from Facebook that are posted, but wonder if he really cares or appreciates them. Just this morning, when I went to give him his usual protein drink with his AM meds, I found that he had already taken ALL of the daily meds. He never, ever gets his own medicine - he's known that I do that. NOW, I suppose I will have to find a place to hide those. Caretaking really sucks and there's not a lot you can do about it, I find.
Wow!! Big thanks to all of you who commented. Mom has always been less than understanding about other people's hurts or tragedies, (Borderline Personality), but I strongly identified with those of you, who are still expecting a normal response, and are surprised when they don't get it. Mom is at the stage where still acts normal most of the time, but it's diminishing. I often make the mistake of believing what she says, only to find out that she's got it all wrong. Each time I think, why didn't I consider the source. She believes what she perceives really did happen, and you can't try to tell her otherwise, or she gets very belligerent and asks why I always take "other people's sides". I have learned not to argue, contradict, etc. but when she tells me something that "could" have happened that way, and later I found out it didn't, I feel like slapping my forehead ala the "coulda had a V-8" commercial.