Alzheimer’s Disease: An Eclipse Before SunsetJune 05, 2017 — 3 mins
Reviewed by Brian Kirsh for The Journal of Bahá’í Studies.
For many years, I have been inspired by the aphorism “eclipse before sunset,” first coined by Dr. Ghadirian in his 1989 article published in the Journal of Bahá’í Studies. With this simple phrase, he captured the essence of what it means to be human—that behind appearance and behavior lies a deeper truth about our reality, something unique in each of us that cannot be diminished by infirmity. For years in my psychiatric practice, when counseling the family members of those suffering from dementia, I used a similar metaphor: if a television starts to display a distorted picture, the broadcast emanating from the station is still there, fully intact; the television set is malfunctioning, not the program itself. I would encourage my patients to connect with the essence of their loved one, who is still fully there, hidden from us by a disease of the brain. Dr. Ghadirian expresses this concept thus: “It is quite possible that although patients with Alzheimer’s disease lose their memory and intellectual faculties, they often maintain a sense of intuition and mysterious spiritual awareness. This awareness, which they are unable to articulate, transcends the barrier of their illness” (88).
After the publication of his article “Alzheimer’s Disease: An Eclipse before Sunset,” Dr. Ghadirian wrote a short book on Alzheimer’s Disease by the same name in 1999, and he has now added to and updated his work with this new book. In his concise and always thoughtful manner, he covers all the topics and issues one needs to consider when relating to this condition. He brings us current information regarding biological findings as well as the role of psychosocial factors, including common myths that still circulate. For example, there is a misconception that Alzheimer’s symptoms are part of the normal aging process; however, these symptoms result from a disease of the brain. Another false notion is that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by “flu shots, aluminum, silver dental filings, or aspartame” (29). As he asserts, “None of these have been conclusively proven to be the cause” (29).
He goes on to cover risks such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, as well as protective factors about which we all should know, such as exercise, good nutrition, mental health, and cognitive stimulation. Later on, he clearly indicates that there is no cure or completely effective treatment for this condition. Treatment options are examined, however. He devotes two chapters to the challenges that caretakers experience and gives advice to help them cope and care for themselves in the process.
Alzheimer’s Disease is unique to the literature on this condition because Dr. Ghadirian draws from spiritual writings, which shine light on the nature of illness in general. For example, in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the soul of man is likened to the sun’s rays, which can sometimes be obscured by clouds, but “[n]either the presence of the cloud nor its absence can in any way affect the inherent splendor of the sun” (155). The reader is reassured that the essence of the person remains unaffected by the disease and it is to that essence that family and friends can remain connected.
While Alzheimer’s is indeed devastating, as the sufferer realizes his or her mind is withdrawing and the family members see their loved one vanishing, being “eclipsed,” it is critically important for all involved to be able to stand back and see the bigger picture. As Dr. Ghadirian writes, “Spirituality is a process, like a journey toward eternity, which is directed by a greater force,” and in this, we are reminded of our place in the great order of life, of which we can only stand in awe and humility (85). Himself humble and mindful of this larger purpose, Dr. Ghadirian hopes to ease our suffering. In this regard, he succeeds admirably. Given that the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s is growing, mainly because we are living longer, this book should be read by all.
Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/GWB/gwb-80.html.
Ghadirian, Abdu’l-Missagh. “Alzheimer’s Disease: An Eclipse before Sunset.” Journal of Bahá’í Studies, vol. 1, no. 3, 1989. PDF, /uploads/2014/05/1.3-Ghadirian.pdf.
Dr. Kirsh lives and practices psychiatry in Toronto, Canada. He is on staff in the Department of Psychiatry, University Health Network, in Toronto.