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Church’s familiar routine may comfort Alzheimer’s patient

Dear Abby: I'm writing about a letter you published Sept. 23 from "Friend in Arizona." She wrote that after her friend "Blanche" was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Blanche had asked not to be "paraded around for others to gawk at" after she reached a certain point. You advised that continuing to take her friend to church every Sunday was going against her wishes. I disagree.

I'm an LPN and specialize in Alzheimer's. I have been doing this for more than 25 years, and have headed Alzheimer care units. One of the things we strive for is some sense of normalcy. These people lose their short-term memory at first. But many have strong, vivid memories of years ago.

Going to church every Sunday is probably one of the few things Blanche actually remembers, and it most likely brings her a sense of comfort. Most of the parishioners probably have known her for years. This isn't walking through a mall full of strangers; it is enjoying fellowship with old friends. I'm sure they are not "gawking."

Nursing homes are often frightening to Alzheimer's patients – full of strange sounds and people. Church, however, is full of beloved hymns and friends.

Unfortunately, there will come a time when her disease will progress to the point that these trips will become stressful for her, and possibly that her behavior will become too difficult for church. But until that time comes, I hope this dear friend continues to do such a wonderful thing for this woman. I only hope that I have such caring friends in my later years. – Jennifer in Carthage, Mo.

Dear Jennifer: I would like to thank you and the many readers who urged me to change my answer to that letter. Some pointed out that Blanche had elicited the promise when she was a "different person," far different from the woman she is today.

However, I am torn.

While I think it's brutal for older people who suffer from dementia to be treated as pariahs and isolated (and many are), and clearly this friend is well-meaning, I also feel strongly that a person's wishes stated in advance should be respected. Blanche may have wanted to be remembered as the person she was, and entrusted her friend to carry out her wishes "after she reached a certain point."

The writer of that letter asked me if I thought she was wrong to disregard her friend's wishes. I apologize if anyone was offended by my telling her I thought she was.

Dear Abby: My wife and I have a disagreement. No matter what we are doing, she's constantly checking her cellphone for texts or emails. Then she'll get into text conversations and talk to herself while I sit there wondering what's so funny. It happens a lot – anytime, anywhere. Her cellphone is a constant companion and usually the center of attention.

Am I too sensitive in thinking that the phone should be put away sometimes when we're together? Or is this the world in which we now live? – Like I'm Not There in Richland, Wash.

Dear Like I'm Not There: You are not being overly sensitive. Have you told your wife that you feel she's neglecting you because she pays more attention to her cellphone? If you haven't, you should. If she has any consideration for your feelings, she will turn it off for an agreed period of time so she can spend that time with you.

Marriages take work if they're going to last, and communication is crucial. If she refuses to listen to you, deliver the message via text or email, or with the help of a licensed marriage counselor.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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