Alzheimer's / Dementia

5/29/2023 | By Amy Dickinson

How does one manage a longtime and now-changing relationship that inevitably develops in a friend with Alzheimer’s? In this “Ask Amy,” advice columnist Amy Dickinson weighs in. 

Dear Amy: 

My dearest friend in the world was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

We met when we were new moms, and while my family moved far away after only a few years, we have maintained an incredibly close and meaningful relationship through all the joys and sorrows of life for over 30 years now. She is my rock. The friend who knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. And vice versa.

And now I can hear she has regressed a little every time I talk to her on the phone, and our distance is too far for me to see her regularly.

How do I handle the inevitable changes in my friend with Alzheimer’s? How do I let her know I love her when she doesn’t recognize my voice anymore? How do I maintain any kind of relationship long distance? I have no map for our last journey and it is breaking my heart.

Any advice would mean so much to me.

Thank you,

– Left Behind

Dear Left Behind: 

My first suggestion is that you should visit your friend in person as soon as possible. Book your trip today. Bring photos to look at together, take walks, listen to music, and simply be present and experience your time together with gratitude.

friend with Alzheimer's disease talking.

I think it would be a good idea to book a room nearby, stay for a few days, and keep your daily visits short – if that works best for her.

It can be mentally challenging and emotionally heartbreaking to be with someone whose memory is failing. Your friend with Alzheimer’s might have good days and tougher days – or mornings might be better for her than evenings. Don’t stress her by trying too hard to prompt memories from her, but go with her flow – wherever that takes both of you.

Down the road, you can still let your friend know that you love her, even if she doesn’t recognize your voice. If speaking by phone becomes impossible, send cards and postcards, and express your affection and gratitude.

There is no return from this heartbreak, but this is your opportunity to honor your friendship by holding her hand through this part of her journey.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from a friend with Alzheimer’s to cancer survivor struggles to being called “sweetie.” Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

Amy Dickinson