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Home Coping Perspectives Retrogenesis
Coping Perspectives for Caregiving
Coping perspectives for care giving


Retrogenesis is a relatively new term coined by Dr. Barry Reisburg after many years of observing and investigating Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. The technical definition is: “the process by which degenerative mechanisms reverse in the order of acquisition in normal development.”1With retrogenesis
the last skills that one learned, generally will be the first to go. The person with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia is going backward in time in a pattern of retrogenesis – reverse development. Those who have dealt with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia for any length of time will intuitively recognize this to
be the truth, and it sets the stage for improved problem-solving strategies. Most of us are ingrained to accept adult behavior from adult-looking persons, but persons with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia present a special dilemma. A person is prone to react in anger when an adult suddenly does something childlike.

Reisberg has set the stage for a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. As a caregiver, you need to examine the difficult behaviors and problems you are trying to handle in this new light. What is the mental age (retro-age) of your person? How old is s/he acting? Is this a behavior you might see in a two-year-old? Does this emotional reaction seem like a temper tantrum? The answers to all these questions and others like them should be considered before developing an attitude toward your person and his/her disease. Without this knowledge, many caregivers have reacted as if all the erratic behaviors of your person with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia were directed at them personally (getting back, revenge or torture). It is best if you try to seek to understand what is motivating your person’s behavior (i.e. a temper tantrum for a snack or confusion over what to do next—with faint remembrances floating around in his/her head). Caregivers have a large task. They have to keep the person they are caring for safe, fed, and clothed in a shifting world that they have to make some sense of or play along with. As a caregiver, I often felt that I was Alice in Wonderland trying to catch up with the red queen.