What goes through the minds of Alzheimer's patients is largely a mystery.
"Very few researchers investigate Alzheimer's from the perspective of the person with dementia," says Dr. Sandra Bellantonio, a geriatrics specialist at the University of Connecticut Health Center who has applied for funding to study Alzheimer's from the perspective of the stricken. "The consensus has been they are not able to experience the world or communicate with others. I don't think that is true at all."
Alzheimer's patients process the world around them, Bellantonio says, but their minds are like tape recorders that erase information soon after it is received. They feel a warm breeze on their cheek, but forget why they are in a mountain meadow.
"They assimilate information, but they have a hard time remembering. They are not storing and retrieving the information," Bellantonio says. "They just experience things in a different way than you or I do. They experience emotion, but they may not remember what just occurred."
Alzheimer's erases more than the memories of the patient. It also can obliterate the shared experiences that connect family members.
"That robs us. We want them to say, 'Wasn't that great?' " Bellantonio says. "We want them to remember."