Recently I read an article on artificial intelligence and the ability to program computers to have a conversation with a human without the human knowing he or she is talking to a machine. The described interaction between the computer and the person reminded me of the conversations I witnessed between Dan and others after Alzheimer’s had manifested.  I was often amazed at the fact Dan could carry on conversations with people and that they would not realize he had Alzheimer’s.  It also made me realize how much of our conversation can be classified is really a means to interact rather than communicate content.

Both the computer and Dan used strategies of association/feedback: ”Yes, I agree the climate is getting warmer”or noncommittal replies: “I really can’t say,” “That’s interesting,” or replying with a question: “What do you think?”  Before the Alzheimer’s manifested, Ted was such a precise and detailed person in conversations, that I was puzzled when he began responding in such a generalized way. I did not know this was a clue that he had the disease.

In the caregivers group I mentor, I see and hear the pain this is causing.  To admit your partner is no longer a full partner in  decision making or even a discussion of daily matters is tough.  If you have to deal with it on a daily basis, it can be damn frustrating.  Here is a person you can turn to for advice, comfort, insight, and companionship.  Now all you get is evasive answers.  The beginning of disconnect. I fought it.  I didn’t accept it as fact, wondered why Dan was so indifferent.  Oh, sure, I knew the diagnosis, but as he struggled with or ignored it, I denied it and was angry at the looming loneliness. Eventually my anger turned to grief; part of the emotional complexity that aggravated my days.