Amid all the challenges presented by Alzheimer’s, some things stand out as particularly difficult. They usually demonstrate that something else has been lost or some new indignity has moved onto the scene, meaning that we caregivers must help our loved ones live without the one and in spite of the other.
But if we can do that—if we can help our loved ones live, really live, even through the hardest things—we can defeat the hopelessness of Alzheimer’s.
Listed below are some of the biggest challenges I had to deal with as a caregiver. For now, we can simply name them. Starting next week, we’ll look at each one individually. We’ll see how we and our loved ones can survive each of them, and even all of them together. What is required is our determination to expect joy. And miracles.
- The beginning/acceptance/adjustment
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be the end of living. Though at first it seems we must prepare for the worst, caregivers can learn to think and act differently. We can learn to focus on the positive, on capabilities instead of losses. We can learn to expect help and miracles from the Lord. We can learn that life with Alzheimer’s is still lived one day at a time, so the challenges of this day are all we have to deal with.
- Mood changes
Mood and personality changes often accompany Alzheimer’s. Some can be explained logically: irritability, frustration, and anger are natural reactions to the many kinds of confusion Alzheimer’s thrusts on our loved ones. If depression is also present, it can bring on sadness, hopelessness, and even more anger. We caregivers will come upon ways to help our loved ones navigate the sea of mood swings, but we must be looking for them, expecting to find them. Emotional help comes in many forms, unique to each individual. In addition, you’ll find that keeping your doctor fully informed is necessary and helpful.
Someone with Alzheimer’s is likely to withdraw into silence in social settings and even at home with family. Difficulty recognizing people, inability to follow or contribute to a conversation, noise, a crowded room—many aspects of being with a group of people may make someone with Alzheimer’s uncomfortable. But again, if we look for them, we’ll find ways to help those we care for continue to participate in family life. These will be some of the most satisfying strategies we’ll bring to our loved ones.
Loss of the ability to exercise good judgment and control impulses leads some, not all, Alzheimer’s patients to become verbally and even physically hostile. But you can keep yourself and your loved one safe; your local Alzheimer’s Association, your doctor, and your local senior center can help you get the assistance you need to resolve this problem.
When we don’t know exactly what is going on in the moment and have no idea what to expect in the future, it’s no wonder we feel anxious. Anxiety, though understandable, can be overpowering, mentally and physically. Both caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s are subject to it. The miracle is that we don’t have to surrender to it. Weapons are available to fight anxiety. We can learn to use them for ourselves and for our loved ones.
Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to control their bodily functions. Having to tend to loved ones in this situation is a painful reminder for caregivers that roles have changed. But if we act out of love in addition to simple necessity, we elevate the task and we honor our loved ones. And the miracle is that in the midst of that, our love grows.
Alzheimer’s complicates hygiene. Tasks as simple as washing hands become demanding and exhausting. But we learn to do what we can. And we learn to ask for the help we need.
At-home caregivers and their loved ones usually don’t have much company. Friends and neighbors are hesitant to visit; they don’t know when to come, what to expect, what to talk about. So caregivers get lonely. But we can tell others how we feel. We can learn to ask for what we need. When we do, we have more control over our situation.
- Lack of Recognition
For many people with Alzheimer’s, the day comes when they no longer recognize friends and family members. Even those closest to them may become strangers. Perhaps they simply cannot call them by name, or perhaps they have no recognition or knowledge of them at all. Painful? Yes. But it doesn’t have to be tragic. The miracle is that even strangers may become friends.
The hardest things—your list may differ from mine. But the point isn’t that certain things are so much more difficult than others, but that in a disease filled with so much pain, for the patient and everyone close to them, even the hardest things can be borne. Even the hardest things will succumb to miracles. And if we look we’ll see miracles every day.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1Thessolonians 5:16-18 NIV).
Faith in You, Lord, is our surest resource. Even in the hardest times, we trust you will show us Your wisdom. We know you are always with us, and where You are, miracles abound.