August 24, 2014
NOTE: I have been caring for my mother-in-law in our home for about a year now. She has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer Disease. If she could tell us about herself, I believe this is what she might say.
I have not always been old. I have not always been sick. I have not always been dependent on others. This is a new and puzzling season of my life and most of the time I don’t like it very much. It is hard for me to find my way through this season, just as it is hard for you. Pray for me.
I want to take care of my own needs. Allow me to do what I am able to for myself. Even though I can’t remember where you store everything, I can still make cinnamon toast if everything is set out for me.
I like knowing what to expect each day. Routines help me feel secure and allow me to care for myself more easily.
I want to be productive. Support my efforts to set and achieve goals, whether scrapbooking or cleaning out a drawer. I may not be able to complete my goal, but working toward it feels good.
I like to be useful. Allow me to help you. Seek out things that I am still able to do, even if I cannot do them the way you would like them to be done.
I still have much to teach you. Be open to learning from me.
I enjoy getting out in the fresh air. Take walks with me. Have a glass of iced tea with me on the deck.
I enjoy companionship. I understand that you cannot spend every waking moment with me, but do check in with me throughout the day to share a snack or tell me something funny the children did.
I like to be touched. Give me warm, spontaneous hugs. Hold my hand when we’re visiting sometimes. Rub my shoulders or my feet. Reach out and touch me—Alzheimer’s isn’t contagious, you know.
I like to laugh. Don’t be surprised if I sneak up on you or tease you. A merry heart is the best medicine.
I still enjoy beauty. Enjoy sunsets and beautiful things with me, even when I collect rocks from the side of the road that seem very ordinary to you. I like to leaf through magazines with beautiful photographs. Buy me subscriptions or get beauty-filled books at used book sales.
I like to go places, but not too often. Plan outings for the morning when I am well-rested so I can enjoy them.
If we will be going someplace, begin talking about it ahead of time so I can get used to the idea. Give me plenty of time to get ready—I don’t like to be rushed. I will need to choose what clothes to wear. I will need to remember which clothes to put on first and to be sure I haven’t forgotten any of them. Eventually you will need to dress me, but for right now, let me choose what to wear and get myself ready. Let me do what I can for as long as I can.
I like to shop sometimes. I can get over-stimulated by too many choices, so take me to smaller, quieter stores. Go on weekdays when they are not so crowded. Don’t try to do lots of errands in one day; take me home when I am tired.
I enjoy talking about familiar things that have happened in the past. Be patient while I retell my stories, just as you were patient when your children wanted to hear favorite stories every night before bed.
I want to be included in conversations when we have company. Draw me in—don’t ignore me. Ask me about something that happened in the past, like how I met my husband. I usually can find the words to tell my well-rehearsed stories. When I struggle to find the right word, fill it in for me so I can continue my story.
I like a variety of foods. Please serve them in a way that I can eat them. I may have trouble cutting my meat. I may not remember how to make a sandwich or how to serve myself at the table. Serving my food already on a plate can be helpful, but if I’m sensitive about it be sure to pre-plate everyone else’s food, too.
I enjoy eating at a restaurant now and then, but it is hard for me to make decisions. While we’re driving to the restaurant you might say, “Let’s go out for a chicken sandwich,” or whatever you plan to order. This makes it easier for me and speeds up the ordering process.
I like to pay for my own purchases, but I don’t really understand how to use cash anymore and writing a check is difficult. Offer to fill in my check and let me sign it. Or you could offer to pay the bill and tell me that we can settle it when we get home.
I appreciate what you do for me, but I will not always remember to say “thanks.” It is hard for me to be dependent on others for my care; saying “thanks” forces me to recognize my dependence. I would rather think of myself as an equal in the family than as a burden.
I am an adult even though I sometimes act in childish ways. Honor me as your parent even though it feels like our roles are reversed.
I care about what others think of me. Protect my dignity by not broadcasting my failings far and wide. No one likes to be made fun of.
Sometimes I get frustrated and I get angry. I don’t understand why everyone is taking over my life—why I can’t live in my own home, drive my own car, and take care of my own money. Empathize with me (“This is really hard for you, isn’t it?”) and then redirect the conversation to more pleasant things.
Sometimes I get over-stimulated or over-tired. That is when I am most likely to become angry. Let me have some quiet time to rest. When I wake up, I will have forgotten all about my tantrum. You should try to forget about it, too—love keeps no record of wrongs. Regardless what I say, don’t take it personally—it is the disease talking, not me.
I did not choose this disease; don’t let it define who I am. I am still a person inside, even though it is difficult for me to express myself sometimes.
I am created in God’s image. I still have a spiritual life even if I cannot always express it in words. Pray with me throughout the day. Invite me to pray aloud at meals or other times. Ask me to join you in praying for the needs of people we both know.
I still need Christian fellowship. Share things you have learned in your devotions that day with me. Talk with me about the joys of heaven.
And most of all, love me. Every day there will be something new to smile about—just look for it.
Blessings to you as you care for your loved ones.
© 2014 by Marcia K. Washburn. All rights reserved