The Tell Me More Gesture and Alzheimer’s Disease

Recently a friend of a friend agreed to read my manuscript of The Tell Me More Gesture. He is a retired teacher who spent his career working with marginalized students – some had a specific special education label, some were in a psychiatric setting, some in alternative settings, and some in mainstream settings. I was pleased to receive his feedback and gratified to learn of his wholehearted support for the Gesture. This is the story he shared with me.

“My best friend since the ’70s is currently my next door neighbor. We have been through thick and thin together and are like foxhole buddies. We have gotten in and out of trouble together for 40 plus years. Five years ago he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and has been struggling more and more as the disease gets worse. I try to spend a couple of hours with him most days, usually hiking. He has about 30 stories he repeats over and over. I love my buddy, but I’m sick to death of the stories that are in high rotation. I feel guilty about this, but I feel how I feel.

I have a hard time trying to figure out how to deal with this. One of the stories has to do with today’s weather. It is either perfect and has never been this nice, or it is terrible and has never been this bad. So out of the blue, I tried looking him in the eye and saying, ‘Tell me more.’ He responded with a story that was desultory and didn’t make much sense, but he seemed more engaged and really happy to talk about it. When he slowed down again, I stayed with the Gesture, made a reflection and I asked him if he could tell me more.

My buddy’s relief at being able to continue on and talk to someone who wanted to hear more was apparent. His affect and enthusiasm for telling the story had increased and he shifted to expressing more positive feelings. He was less focused on his illness and sounded less depressed. This shit really works.

In addition to changing his response (which was more palatable to me), my concentrating on staying connected to him kept me engaged and feeling like I could live to my values and be the good friend I would like to be.”

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