This amazing guest post was written by Jeriann Watkins Ireland, a writer and wellness enthusiast. We encourage you to check out more from Jeriann at her website.
Dementia is a harrowing disease, both for those who have it and their loved ones. Alzheimer’s sufferers often lose parts of themselves, their memories, and the ability to partake in activities that used to define them. Their family members have to watch this happen, which can be heartbreaking. Luckily, more people are speaking up about the realities of Alzheimer’s, coming together for support and hopefully ultimately research to treat and cure Alzheimer’s. One such story simply yet graphically illustrates the effects of Alzheimer’s by showing the deterioration of a woman’s crocheting, a hobby she had participated in her whole life.
34-year-old Reddit user from Camden, New Jersey, whose username is Wuillermania, shared tear-jerking photos of her mother’s handiwork over the years:
I first took this photo after re-finding the bag of all the odds and end she had crocheted after she got sick. It has been years since she was able to do this, and while I knew how her ability declined, it was really the first time I looked at it all together. I was compelled to lay them out in a way that tracked the progression and take the photo.
Seeing her go through all this has taught me to really embrace living. There are a lot of big changes and leaps I’ve made that I most likely would no thave if I hadn’t lost her so early on in my life (I was 22 when she first got diagnosed, just graduated college). I only get one chance, I don’t know how much time I have, and damn if I’m not going to try to make the best of it.
My time dealing with the ongoing loss of my mother has also made me better appreciate the grieving and death process, ad makes me feel that we as people need to be more willing to embrace that hose things are a part of life, too, and that one of the most beautiful and selfless things is help a person along as they transition into this phase.
Loving Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease
Since Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects a person’s mind, personality, and essentially who they are, it is easy to see how hard it is on an Alzheimer’s patient’s loved ones. They often feel a sense of loss even while their loved one is still physically alive, as they feel the person they once were is gone. Alzheimer’s is physically and emotionally draining for all affected.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, 1 in 4 people with Alzheimer’s are not diagnosed. This makes it important to recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s and how it progresses.
Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
We, of course, associate Alzheimer’s with memory loss, but that can present itself in many different ways. Below are specific scenarios that, if they happen frequently, could be signs of the progression of Alzheimer’s:
- Being unable to remember important dates, events, and names
- Having trouble making plans and sticking to them
- Experiencing difficulty following recipes and outlines even if you’ve used them many times
- Struggling with tracking your budget and finances
- Forgetting how to perform daily tasks
- Getting lost easily
- Becoming easily disoriented
- Forgetting where you are and how you got there
- Experiencing difficulty reading words on a page, judging distance, and telling colors apart
- Frequently calling things by the wrong name/struggling to find the right words
- Misplacing items on a regular basis
- Withdrawing from hobbies and social situations
- Experiencing mood swings involving anxiety, depression, and fear
Coping Methods for Loved Ones
Experiencing Alzheimer’s is scary, as you feel like you’re losing parts of your identity. Loved ones often feel the same way, like the person they once loved is fading away. It’s important for people experiencing Alzheimer’s to get the mental and emotional support they need. Here are some coping methods for people who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
Often, we don’t allow ourselves to share our vulnerability with others. When you share your story though, other people often relate. Sharing your story with people with similar experiences can help you realize you’re not alone. Being met with empathy and support is empowering and helps give perspective. Look into local Alzheimer’s support groups in your area and online.
If you’re not sure how to find a support group, the Internet is a great place to start. Local senior homes, hospitals, and Alzheimer’s awareness organizations may also be able to help you find resources. If nothing already exists in your area, express the desire for a support group to be started. Social workers, homecare staff, and healthcare professionals are in the position of hearing people’s desires and needs, so they can likely point you in the direction of people to work with.
If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you may need to accept that you can’t take full responsibility for both their life and your own. Look at where you need help. Perhaps this means hiring a caretaker or looking into hospice. Maybe it means getting help with the housework or hiring an assistant. If you’re emotionally spent, seeing a therapist could help you move forward. It’s important to look at the stress points in your life and invite help where you need it.
Developing Daily Strategies
When Alzheimer’s is caught early, patients can be trained to develop coping strategies. Caregivers can benefit from the same thing. Common Alzheimer’s coping strategies include:
- Setting realistic goals
- Recognizing triggers that cause stress
- Approaching one task at a time
- Developing a daily routine
Caregivers can benefit from all of these strategies. By having realistic expectations of a situation, you eliminate a lot of pressure. When you recognize stress triggers, you can address them head-on or learn to avoid them if they’re not necessary functions of life. By focusing on one task at a time, you’re allowed to live fully in the successes of each moment. Developing a daily routine minimizes stress triggers and provides comfort, structure, and realistic expectations.
Accepting and Living in the Present
One of the most devastating parts of Alzheimer’s is the loss of what used to be. By accepting and living in the present, you choose to focus on the here and now. Judge situations by how they are, not how you wish them to be. This allows you to see the good and bad in the present perspective, rather than judge by past standards and expectations. Your loved one may not be able to remember great things from the past, but if you can make them comfortable in the present, you can be content in knowing you’re doing your best.
Many people with Alzheimer’s maintain physical fitness and the ability to socialize far into the progression of the illness. So even if you can’t enjoy all the same activities, you can still find new things to do together. Perhaps you can make a weekly outing to a local park, or walk shelter animals. Think about what your loved one has always enjoyed and ways they can enjoy the same things now. Things may not be the same, but that doesn’t mean they have to change completely.
Allow for Imperfections
When a loved one has Alzheimer’s, there are going to be hard days. Maybe they won’t always remember who you are. Maybe you’ll forget something on their schedule and they’ll miss an appointment. Maybe the house won’t always be clean. You have to allow for imperfections. Focus on your main goals. Is your loved one safe? Are they cared for? Is there pleasure in their life? If a walk in the park ends in tears because of physical struggle or mental confusion, accept it and make a nice cup of tea to calm down. Life is never perfect, and Alzheimer’s makes things even more difficult. But you’ll get through, and there will still be good moments along with the bad.
Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s? We would leave to hear about your experience!
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