Ch.238. Pat’s Lewy Body Brain

Ch.238. Pat’s Lewy Body Brain


I have been watching a series of lectures on the relationship between science and religion with a wonderful couple named Lou and Ann. They are scientists who are deeply religious while I am scientifically oriented and agnostic. We’ve had stimulating conversations during and after each lecture as we try to better grasp each other’s worlds.

That’s background. What’s foreground is that in the last class the lecturer, a neuroscientist, showed photos displaying the electrical patterns of two brains, one of a baby or very young child and the other of someone with advanced dementia. They looked identical. As compared with a nonaffected adult, their brains showed little differentiation and little activity in the frontal lobes, where conceptual thinking occurs. I was stunned. Those photos indisputably revealed what happened to my wife’s brain over the course of her last five years. And then an image came to me: Pat smiling, holding her favorite doll. And then another image, this time of a resident at Azura, my wife’s memory care facility, contentedly cradling a doll just as if it were her baby, this image from just last week when I visited there.

I didn’t like it when people brought dolls to Pat. I didn’t want to admit her brain was child-like. I even told myself, against the evidence before me, that Pat was just holding the dolls to pacify her guests. Because, if Pat really liked hanging onto that doll, then she was no longer an adult, no longer my wife. That was a big mistake on my part. It would have been better to accept that right then Pat was indeed holding the doll, smiling, and content. Holding her baby. Still my wife. Still Pat.

One question I’ve asked myself is this: did Pat understand what was happening to her? I think the answer is yes, to the cognitive level she could think at any time during the progression of her disease. As her brain simplified perhaps her sense of her disease did as well. Certainly, our talks simplified over time. Pat didn’t discuss her losses much at the beginning of her illness and never later. She didn’t complain or bewail her fate.

          So now I have two images. First, that awful photo of a brain after dementia strikes and the other of Pat smiling contentedly while holding her favorite doll. I want to focus on the latter. I hope I can.