My dad has Alzheimer’s Disease, but he still manages fairly well under the circumstances. My dad and I are close; we talk on the phone every day but I only see him about once a week. My mom is the one who is really living with his disease. I know it’s hard for her. They have been married for 62 years and now; the man who always had the answers has vanished. I cannot imagine how that must feel. Until you’ve lived with the repeated questions and daily searches for things misplaced, I’m sure you can’t really understand. I remind myself of this a lot.
There are days that are easier than others when someone you love has Alzheimer’s Disease. The bad days for us are generally when Mom doesn’t feel well and her patience with Dad runs out. Those days leave me feeling a bit helpless. There is little I can do to alter the day-to-day affects of Alzheimer’s on my family. On the bad days, Mom complains about the constant questions and rarely having a minute alone. Like many with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, Dad follows my mother from room to room. Without thinking, she will snap at him and then complain to me as if I can fix it. My usual response is to remind her that she is lucky to still have him and so blessed that he shows her so much love. Dad worships her and always has. She knows this but some days the blessings are overshadowed by the monster – Alzheimer’s Disease.
The internet provides some very valuable information about living with a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. I read a lot, looking for tips on how to keep life as normal as possible for my parents. But once you have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, nothing is ever really normal anymore. You just learn to cope. Dad has many symptoms of the disease but thankfully none are severe – yet. Four years after being diagnosed, he has developed the following symptoms.
- Total loss of his short term memory
- Difficulty finding words
- Lack of interest in television, reading, and food (all things he once enjoyed fully)
- Difficulty at meal time when selecting condiments and using them appropriately
- Less confidence in his social skills, and he is no longer interested in leaving home
- No longer initiates; he waits for others to give him direction
These are all typical symptoms and part of the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s Disease. The difficulty for me is finding ways to help since I do not live there. We do talk about Dad’s disease, and we talk about it with him. The worst thing we can do is treat him as if he no longer matters. It is so important to keep him involved in his own life, to the extent that he can do so safely. As a family, we are forced to adapt to life with the monster because the monster will never adapt to us. There are some tips we have learned and I share them hoping that others will find them useful.
Short term memory loss:
Just answer the question, as many times as it takes or change the subject. I find that if I change the subject, Dad shifts gears with me. I try to never express my frustration or yell at him to remind him he has already asked the same question six times. Change the subject. It makes a difference.
Lost interest in eating:
If nutrition is a concern, try some of the supplements available. Ensure and Boost work well. They are loaded with protein and vitamins and have no fat. They can even be used in recipes.
Another trick is for creating interest in food is to purchase bright red serving dishes. Red is stimulating and has shown some success in stimulating interest at meal time. Buy a red plate, bowl, or even utensils with bright red handles. If your loved one is sensitive to being treated differently, buy them for the whole family.
Other meal time challenges:
If your loved one seems lost when a meal requires some preparation such as adding condiments, peeling shrimp, or cutting meat – take the lead. Our meal time is so much easier if someone will just offer the appropriate condiment or prepare the food item for Dad. Since he has learned to trust that we will do this for him, he no longer sits there bewildered and feeling lost. Meal time is a much happier time for us.
When you notice your loved one sitting alone or looking lost, involve them in some activity. Invite them to take a walk or go for a drive. Invite them to help you perform some simple task. They can stir a pot or hold a tool while you repair something. Most of us want to feel useful and needed. Find those simple tasks and invite your loved one to help. Keep them involved, even if it is in the smallest of ways.
Jigsaw puzzles have become a staple for us. We moved some furniture around to allow for a table in the living room, just under the picture window. The window allows Dad to watch what is happening in the neighborhood and the window provides bright light for his diminished eyesight as well as the added benefit of a little sunlight exposure every day. Word-search puzzles and easy crossword puzzles also provide alternative entertainment.
Remind your loved one frequently of how much they mean to you and compliment them on things they have done, no matter how minor. We all need praise from time to time and a person with Alzheimer’s needs it desperately. Give it freely.
This is not an easy road to travel. For the sake of sanity, we must maintain a sense of humor and keep the channels of communication open. So far, we are able to do this in our family. Even though it is sometimes difficult to talk about this disease and it’s progression in front of my Dad, it is just as important to do so. The person living with Alzheimer’s disease needs to maintain as much knowledge and control of their day-to-day living as they can. Allow them to make decisions provided they can do so safely and with good judgment. If there is any sanctuary for families trying to cope, it is that things that may hurt your loved ones feelings in the moment, will be erased from their memory in the next. Be honest, patient, and loving. Don’t live with regret.