There are diseases in this world that rob us of our loved ones without taking them away. Alzheimer’s disease is one of these monstrous diseases. It does not only rob us of the ones we care for, but it robs people of themselves, making them forget who they are, who those around them are and even establishing new identities, new lives that limit them and wound family and friends.
But Alzheimer’s is not that merciful, if we can even call it merciful. At least if people forgot who they are and tried to settle in a new imaginary life, we might at least get accustomed to that and try to make their lives a little easier. But no, Alzheimer’s is a lot crueler than that. It targets the motor system first.
It starts slowly by affecting movement, walking in general, it impedes speaking and sometimes can affect even breathing and swallowing. Only after the patient has to learn how to deal with these difficulties does the dementia come in. They lose track of time, of fragments of their lives, people they knew and sometimes they even lose the notion of life and death.
Scientists and philosophers, in general, have agreed that memory is a key factor to self-establishment. It is a very rational argument. Who could better store our self than our cognitive apparatus that gathers and remembers all the information? But the discoveries that we made throughout the years might lead us to a more insightful approach.
Neurodegenerative diseases affect many cognitive features: emotion, personality, intelligence, language, the way we process information visually and even our morality. All these features imply that we know things and how to do them: we know how to speak, feel, how to think and make decisions. SO if the disease affects these features, do we even remember them?
This knowledge helps the question with a snowball effect: what cognitive features does the disease affect? Do we forget these features? Does this have an impact on our memory about our self? Does this make us forget the very fabric of our existence?
These are some of the questions that have been tackled by a group of scientists and published in Psychological Science and the result was a fascinating one: the reason Alzheimer’s cripples our mind is not because of the loss of memory, but because of the loss of morality.
After having their moral mechanism affected, patients feel as though their identity is exposed, thus they developed personality changes, intelligence loss, amnesia and emotional disturbances.
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