Everyone with Alzheimer’s has it a different way. The range of symptoms is wide. Not everyone develops all of them. And there’s no timetable for how fast or slowly the disease develops.
In addition, there’s no way to predict at what point the disease will reveal itself to outsiders. Depending on how much time we spend with them, how open they are about their daily activities, and whether they or a spouse or friends try to hide the symptoms, we may discover in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s that our loved ones need care, or we may not find out until far enough along that we wonder why we didn’t notice sooner.
Given all the variables, how do we begin? Where do we start?
I discovered Mom had Alzheimer’s on a car trip I made with her and my father. Dad had been hiding her symptoms for a long time, but as we were together 24 hours a day, I witnessed the issues firsthand. Mom was absolutely incapable of deciding what to wear. Ordering from a restaurant menu made her so nervous, she wouldn’t eat. She had major problems with incontinence. Some things I tried to pass off as the eccentricities of getting older. But when Dad and I told her she couldn’t go out for a walk alone–and barefoot–the severity of the symptoms couldn’t be ignored any longer. Mom screamed and kicked and hit us. It took both of us to get her to a sofa where she thrashed and fumed until exhaustion overtook her and she fell asleep.
Mom was still at the point where she had good days and bad days. The next day of our trip was miraculously good. Still, the introduction had been made. I looked Alzheimer’s straight in the eye—and panicked.
At home, as I talked to my husband about the shocking events, he said, “You’re talking like this is a crisis.”
I’m sure I shrieked my reply. “Of course I am! If this isn’t a crisis, what is?” A few minutes passed before I could take in his words. When I did, I realized he was right.
What he was trying to tell me is that, no matter how hard I tried, Alzheimer’s isn’t a crisis that, even with great expense of effort, can be dealt with and resolved. Instead, Alzheimer’s is a condition of life. It affects every facet of every day, for the patient and also for those who care for him or her. It can’t be fixed and left behind like a bad memory. It moves in to stay.
Once I had taken time to let that reality sink in, reason and common sense made the next steps easier to find. I escaped the panic and sense of helplessness I felt in those first days, and began to, as the saying goes, just do the next right thing.
Here’s what I learned:
- I could not possibly do everything at once.
- But I could see the priorities; I could tackle them first. For example: Mom often wore the same clothes day after day, but what she wore was far less important than her health. So one of my first actions was to make an appointment for a complete check-up. Mom saw the doctor in clothes that were less than fresh, but I found out it was ok. The clothes-police didn’t even give us a warning ticket.
- I couldn’t do it all.
- I couldn’t do it alone, and I didn’t have to. I had a Helper with me every minute. And earthly assistance was abundant if I would search it out and ask for it.
In other words, what I learned is that I could trust myself.
Did I do everything the best way? Heavens no! In particular, I never learned to insist on having help. But everything that had to be done got done. And Mom lived as fully and happily as Dad and I could help her live…which made Dad and me feel happier than I ever imagined we could back in those first desperate days.
So, wherever you are in the caregiving journey, I urge you to trust yourself. You can do this. And ask questions. Ask for help. You don’t have to do it alone. You have more resources than you can imagine. One of them is right here in this blog. I’m praying for you.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear,
even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea… (Ps. 46:1-2 NKJ).
Father, we know You are always with us. Help us trust in Your guidance and love and care, for ourselves and for our loved ones.. Trusting in You takes away our fear. Thank You, Father.