Do they hear? Do they understand?
As we care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, we’re desperate for them to feel our love, to be steadied by it, to feel safer because of it. But do they hear? Do they understand?
Sometimes we find it almost as difficult to get through to relatives and friends. Their understanding of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s can offer us both emotional comfort and practical help. But as they try to protect themselves from the pain that comes with a close-up view of Alzheimer’s, do they really hear and understand?
Keeping our fear and frustration and pain bottled up inside can damage our own health, both mental and physical.
The first step is knowing we need to speak up. Then it’s up to us to make certain someone is listening—someone we trust, someone who will make the effort to understand. If we can’t find such a person in our circle of friends or family, we can go to an Alzheimer’s support group.
Ever felt like yelling “Is anybody out there?”
Yes, I see people, I talk to them, but are they listening?
Dad, for instance. He hears only what he wants to hear. If I say “Mom took her pills just fine! No problem,” I’ll usually get a grin from him. That smile tells me he got the message. But a few days ago, I told him “Dad, we must get disposable underwear for Mom. The regular ones won’t work anymore.” No response. I waited, but nothing. He neither agreed nor disagreed. It’s like his brain just refused to take in my words. Why? He knows Mom will resist the change. So it doesn’t matter how necessary the underwear is. Dad won’t hear of anything that will upset Mom.
Mom’s doctor, it would seem, is also deaf to my voice. I’ve spoken to him about Mom’s black moods. I backed up that conversation with written descriptions of her behavior. “She tries to hit other shoppers with her cart at the grocery store,” I wrote. “She growls at little children and smiles when they cry. At home, she slams her fist against the wall or the furniture. What if she starts hitting my father instead?”
I expected the doctor to address our concerns when we brought Mom in for her appointment. But nothing. No talk of depression or extreme moodiness, no questions to Mom about symptoms, no discussion with me and Dad about possible causes. Nothing at all until the very end of the appointment, when the doctor finally asked, “Mrs. Bailey, are you depressed?”
Mom smiled. “Oh, no, Doctor.”
He smiled back at her, said he’d see us in four months, and left the room.
Easiest to explain but hardest to bear is Mom’s faulty hearing. If I tell her “I love you” and she hears, and she knows what that means, wouldn’t she say “I love you” back? Or smile? Wouldn’t I at least see some warmth in her eyes? No. Alzheimer’s has robbed her of understanding and trust. And robbed me of the ability to erase the anger on her face or the fear I see in her eyes.
So I talk to You, Father. I listen for Your answers.
I pray as I buy the new disposables. You suggest I take all the old underwear out of Mom’s drawer and put these in their place. Yes! Having only the new kind to wear, and finding them just where she’s always found her underwear, might keep her from fighting us so hard.
I ask You for patience and make another appointment with the doctor. You tell me I’ll have to speak up, make myself heard. Yes, I should have done that last time. I pray for courage for myself and enlightenment for the doctor. You remind me You’ll be there, with the doctor, with Mom, with all of us.
I confide in You, confess my pain that Mom can’t understand me. I ask for a miracle, and follow Your prompting to continue talking to her. On the good days, I remind her of happy times we had when I was a little girl–the funny expressions I used and the silly games we played. I tell her I love her and I’ll be right here for her, like she was there for me. I expect no response, so her sometimes-smile is always a surprise, a delight I can carry forward to other days. I know the smiles are Your gift, to Mom and to me.
Thank You, Father, for always hearing my prayers. Whether I’m complaining or praising, whining or rejoicing, You listen. When I can’t find the words to pray, You supply them. Your answer is always help and strength. May my words carry those gifts to others.
“But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me.” Ps. 66: 19-20 (NKJV)