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Monday, March 23, 2015

Agency March 23, 2015

The word AGENCY in psychology or sociology or philosophy means the ability of a person to act in the world. Even a baby has agency when he cries to obtain help, food or relief from pain. The baby is using its capacity for agency when he or she smiles at the caregiver. Very young children often learn to bat their eyelashes and seem to "flirt" to obtain  their wishes from adults.

Babies and young children can do very little for themselves. They depend on parents and teachers to guide them and to protect them from harm. But already by age two, they learn to say "no" and exert their influence on their caregivers. Parents and teachers need to use logic and reason to convince a child to act appropriately. Sometimes rewards and punishments are used to mold a child to the adult's way of being.

By the time a child becomes an adolescent-whenever the change occurs from young adolescent to responsible adolescent, the adults are resource people to whom the young people come for advice, before making their own decisions on how to act in the world.

When the balance in a relationship of adults shifts, we say the husband is "henpecked" or the wife is "submissive" and one or the other exerts more or less control over the relationship. Even in those rellationships, a balance is achieved, with each person deciding to accept or reject what is being offered.

Then if Alzheimer's disease enters their lives, the balance shifts again and one person becomes dominant in the relationship. For a previously submissive partner to be in charge is, at the beginning both a challenge and a power trip. It feels good to be able to care for a previously very independent person. Of course as the disease progresses and the personality of the loved person begins to change, the actual care work is more difficult and the rewards are fewer and fewer.

And now it seems as if my Alzheimer diseased spouse loses all agency, no longer smiles or speaks or demands to have his needs met. He just accepts whatever life offers, passively. He permits himself to be led, he sits, he walks. He recognizes no one. I am grateful his caregivers are kind and anticipate his needs.

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