Years ago, I remember an elderly gentleman approaching me on the street, he was confused and didn’t know where he was, it was clear to me, he was lost. My heart went out to him, I could tell he was afraid and needed some help, I thought to myself, if he were my father, how would I want someone to treat him?
Knowing all I needed to know about him would be in his wallet, I asked him for it. He quickly obeyed my request, allowing me access to his ID, this gave me his address and apartment number, and before you could say, “Bob’s your Uncle” he was sitting at home in his favorite chair, waiting for his daughter’s arrival. Once I brought her up to speed, I said my goodbyes, not knowing that one day in the future, my father would be on that very same journey, but his would start in the neighbor’s yard at 3:00 AM banging on their windows with a stick, demanding to be let in.
Alzheimer’s, the disease that selfishly takes with no regard for its victims. Regardless of social class or education, this disease does not discriminate and will erase memories and unravel the essence of who you are. When a person suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s they are no longer able to function within this world; they forget their spouse, their children and friends. Often times they are unable to walk or talk, they unlearn everything they learned and revert back to childhood, infancy and then death.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer's disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but recent estimates indicate that the disorder may rank third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people.
This disease attacks the brain’s nerve cells slowly causing changes in the memory, thinking and language skills and behavioural Changes.
To understand more about the science behind Alzheimer’s and the Brain I have included a couple of links
Be Their Advocate: The doctor’s hands are tied with the way insurances are set up, you need to stay on top of things. Each person is unique on how their body responds to medications. Watch how your loved one responds and stay on top of their medications.
Be very patient, supportive and validate them. Rub their back, kiss their cheek, scratch their head, anything that they like. Remember they are going backwards, you are becoming their parent. If they say they are scared, ask them what they are afraid of.
Example: My father had said that there was someone in his bedroom, there was nobody in his room, but he was convinced. I took his hand and I walked with him into the bedroom, upon arrival he asked me if I heard the voices, I didn’t but I had to solution what he heard without him feeling like he was crazy. I smiled and pointed at his hearing aids and told him that it was feedback from his hearing aids, in truth, there wasn’t any feedback, BUT he had to have answers, sometimes fudging the truth is the best solution.
Avoid criticising or correcting, you will hear the same story or question or statement over and over again. The more you criticise, argue, or correct, the more unsettled they become. Try to remember that they are feeling unsettled, and know they are bugging you, but they still want to understand. Your frustration turns into their obsession, just go with it.
EXAMPLE: “Missy, what’s that elephant doing under that chair?” he saw something under the chair, it could be a bug, a shadow, or a piece of paper, and his words are gone. “What do you think he’s doing?” or “getting away from the sun.” if it sounds reasonable, s/he will move on, if not, it’s up for additional discussion. Just remember, that person is searching for ways to communicate with you, don’t shame him or her.
IN CLOSING: I loved the movie, THE NOTEBOOK, don't you? However, it romanticised Alzheimer’s, it doesn't tell you the truth, but that’s Hollywood’s spin, they left out the ugly truth, and the truth about its emotional despair and hopelessness, and it does feel hopeless. Find your joy in the middle of the storm of this illness. When my family learned that my father was ill, my brother filmed my parent’s love story, this has become a source of comfort when I need to remember my father when he was healthy and happy, I would encourage you to do the same and remember to hold onto those short moments in making memories. Please enjoy the (example) video.