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Grieving Hearts with Alzheimer’s

 REGINA D. Posvar LPN,RNA
By REGINA D. Posvar LPN,RNA

My mom stays home by herself most of the day. My brother and I check on her daily. She has Alzheimer’s and she seems to be safe for now. My mom has been my inspiration all my life. I am very grieved to lose the woman I have known all my life. My brother and I want her to have the best life she can with this disease. We know she may come to a time when she will forget us. But we still remember her and want her to be happy. What can we do to lighten our grieving hearts and still be there for her?

A: Such love and compassion in this question. Your mom will have the same emotions yours and I experience and her happiness will depend on you and your brother’s response, reactions and attitude toward her as she will not be able to control any of her emotions as the disease progresses. Therefore, learning all you can about the disease will help you and yours brother learn coping skills as things change for all of you. I will recommend a few books but you can start with enjoying some of the changes with your mom and go with the flow. A few tips to keep in mind: 1) Don’t correct or tell her if she is wrong about something – this can cause anger, confusion, fear, and embarrassment (none of it is comforting to her); 2) Of course you do not want to argue with her – her perception of what she is telling you is very real to her. Her brain cannot be trained to see it another way or the reality that you know. She has brain failure; 3) Try not to ask her or say “do you remember?” – it is so humiliating to her and very frustrating. The answer to this is “no, she does not remember” and forcing her to remember will cause unwanted feelings and emotions; 4) Don’t remind her that someone is dead – she may become sad, angry and not believe you and the forget about this topic and talk about the person again. If she asks you directly if the person is dead, then tell her the truth, otherwise allow her talk; 5) Simply do not bring up topics that will make her upset – why cause more stress for her and yourself; 6) Learn to say “I am sorry” – Those three words have really helped a lot of families.

Create new memories with your mom. You can help her by “you” remembering who she is and knowing all the things she likes and allowing her to still enjoy them even if she cannot do them or say it. Simply being around something that she used to enjoy will give a comfort to her. For example: if she used to play the piano or loved painting and now is unable to use her hands, then she would enjoy piano music, or being around others who are talking about it or showing pictures of paintings. Passive participation is till enjoyment.

Books to read: Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy; We are not ourselves; The 36-Hour Day; What’s happening to Grandpa; Jan’s Story; There’s Still a Person in There.

Laugh whenever you get the chance. Dealing with dementia is not very funny so if something happens that is even remotely funny, let it rip.

One day a police panda car pulled up to Granny’s home and Grampy got out. The constable explained that this elderly gentleman had said he was lost in the Victoria park. ‘Why, Ivor, ‘said Granny, ‘You’ve been going there for over 30 years! How on earth could you say you had got lost?’ Leaning close to Granny so the police officer couldn’t hear, he whispered, ‘Wasn’t exactly lost. I was just too tired to walk home.

Memory Tip: HelpGuide.org reported sleep is very important – “When you’re sleep deprived, your brain can’t operate at full capacity. Creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are compromised. Whether you’re studying, working, or trying to juggle life’s many demands, sleep deprivation is a recipe for disaster.

But sleep is critical to learning and memory in an even more fundamental way. Research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, with the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep.”

Send questions or funny stories
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