I encounter them from time to time in my work at the clinic. They are convinced that something is drastically wrong.
The thing that is drastically wrong is their spouse’s memory. And they are certain that these "memory problems" signal an impending case of full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease!
After investigating the phenomenon a bit, and reviewing the anecdotal evidence, I have identified a distinct, here-to-fore unknown clinical entity: I call it S.A.A.S. for short, which stands for "Spousal Accusations of Alzheimer’s Syndrome."
Like many medical conditions described in pathophysiology textbooks, the syndrome has an insidious on-set. It begins when one member of a couple, (usually the more neurotic and obsessive-compulsive of the two), becomes preoccupied with every little memory misstep she notices in her beloved.
The accusing spouse begins to point out every deficiency, no matter how small, seeing the early warning signs of dementia in every spacey action and brain hiccup. As far as I can tell, the syndrome affects men and women equally.
Usually within the first 10 to 15 minutes of meeting with a couple, I recognize the telltale signs. The spouse who ends up "under the microscope" starts getting fidgety and paranoid. And why wouldn’t they?
As a rule, he performs very well on cognitive testing, and he doesn’t report any difficulty with day to day function. His paranoia increases his stress, though, and stress, alas, does affect memory.
The allegedly demented person ends up (oh horrors!) doing more and more spaced-out things, and he himself starts worrying.
He starts to worry that his mate will witness these embarrassing lapses, like when he tore the room apart looking for a pair of glasses he was already wearing.
It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So it’s a relief when the controlling spouse has her hawk eyes focused elsewhere, say, on the two dog hairs that somehow escaped the reach of the industrial-sized vacuum cleaner.
It is usually a big relief (and a great opportunity for the spouse in the hot seat to indulge in a well-deserved, self-satisfied and self-righteous, "Told you so!"), when my evaluation reflects that he still appears capable of making his own decisions.
On the other hand, it can be a bummer for the accusing spouse, who, in her preference for control, would prefer to make decisions for him!
* Disclaimer: Per the author’s request, the above article is not meant to detract in any way from the very serious implications of true Alzheimer’s-Type Dementia and related conditions.