Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: A Book Review

11.04.19 | Book Reviews | by Rev. Mark Harmon

    Charlie Brown once lamented that “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” Like Charlie Brown, when we love someone, we hope that our love will be returned and when it isn’t, the effects can be far-reaching. In most instances, unrequited love is a choice made by the object of our love. However, in the case of persons with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), it’s a consequence of the cognitive impairment associated with the disease. Much has been written about the clinical effects of this disease and to some extent the impact it has on those who care for them, but little attention has been given to the ways in which the loss of cognitive ability impacts loving relationships. In this book, Deborah Barr, Gary Chapman and Edward Shaw share how the five love languages can be used to communicate love to the victims of AD and how they can maintain or revive the emotional intimacy the disease has taken from their caregivers.

    Each of the three authors brings their own unique perspective to the subject. Deborah Barr contributes a healthcare educator’s perspective and she has firsthand experience with AD and dementia through her work with the Memory Counseling Program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Gary Chapman is recognized as an expert in relationships and is the author of the original The 5 Love Languages®: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Edward Shaw is both a medical doctor and certified mental health counselor who founded the Memory Counseling Program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. In addition to his work with this program, Shaw is also the husband of Rebecca – his wife of more than 33 years who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 53.

    The book opens with Shaw’s poignant account of the moment Rebecca no longer recognized him the man she had been married to for 33 years. He then provides a description of the emotional damage AD inflicted as it progressed from the mild cognitive impairment stage to the late-stage AD she is now in. This account is followed by a lexicon of terms used in discussing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One of the terms used in this book is a replacement for the word “caregiver.” The authors feel that a better term is “care partner” because it helps to preserve the dignity and value of the AD patient – “allowing the person with the disease to feel emotionally equal to the person providing care” (p. 30).

    As the book progresses, the authors deal with the paradigm shift care partners must accept as AD diminishes their loved one’s ability to return the love they receive. For the care partner love must become a choice – a conscious decision “to expend energy in an effort to benefit the other person” and where satisfaction is found in nothing more than “having genuinely loved another” (p. 36). According to the authors, this form of love is best expressed by the Hebrew word hesed which merges a sense of love and loyalty that manifests itself in action rather than being merely a feeling. While a person with AD may lose their ability to express love, the authors contend that they still have the ability to receive it and the five love languages are believed to be essential channels of communication.

    It is important to note that the authors do not avoid discussing the real difficulties that AD and other forms of dementia pose to loving relationships. They provide a frank explanation of the emotional and behavioral changes associated with AD and the burden this places on the care partner. In recognition of this burden, attention is given to the need for social support of the care partner. While the majority of the book focuses on the use of the five love languages as a way to communicate love to the person with AD, the authors also discuss how family and friends can support the care partner through the use of the five love languages. When the care partner’s love language is known and used, it ““speaks love” to them most clearly” (p. 85). As Shaw notes, this support is critical because caring for a person with AD can be a lonely experience and that loneliness can cause the care partner to abandon the person they are caring for. Experiencing love can be a remedy for this feeling of loneliness. What the authors failed to address in this discussion was the risks associated in expressing love to someone who is experiencing loneliness. In this situation, healthy boundaries must be established and maintained to avoid the formation of inappropriate relationships.

    For anyone who is caring for a person with AD or dementia, this book is a valuable resource. It describes the nature of the disease and both how and why it affects a person’s ability to express love. The explanations are given in terms that can be easily understood by a wide range of readers. In addition, the real life stories included in this book assure readers they are not alone in this struggle. More importantly, this book provides ways in which care partners can more effectively communicate love to those affected by AD and dementia.

    Chapman, Gary D., Deborah Barr, and Edward G. Shaw. Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer's Journey. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2016. 230 pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-8024-1450-2