One of the hardest things for a caregiver to do immediately after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is concentrate on today’s challenges.
Most people discover slowly that a relative has Alzheimer’s . Symptoms begin to emerge, and we wonder; then they’re gone and we think maybe we imagined them. Symptoms show up more often, and we’re afraid it really is Alzheimer’s; but some days are still normal, so we tell ourselves it’s just signs of aging. Eventually, however, our worry becomes real fear. Symptoms come and stay longer. New ones appear. We try not to panic. And whatever emotions we’re experiencing as we watch our loved ones change, we can be pretty sure they’re feeling the same things, but with an intensity far beyond ours.
If we’re lucky, the person we’re concerned about decides on her own to see the doctor. If not, we may have to do some persuading—even persuade ourselves, because no one wants to hear the doctor say “Alzheimer’s.” Sooner or later, the doctor is consulted. Please note: Sooner is always better, because maybe the symptoms aren’t caused by Alzheimer’s. Maybe the doctor will find evidence of a different illness, one that’s treatable, and we’ll wish we had investigated earlier.
But if the doctor does say Alzheimer’s, we feel the shock of a death sentence for our loved one. And, though we probably don’t acknowledge it, it feels like a ton of bricks has fallen on us. We’re broken; we can’t breathe; we think we’ll die if we can’t get out from under all the ways life is going to change now that a loved one has Alzheimer’s.
Fix it! we tell ourselves. Stack up all these bricks again, maybe in a new pattern, but stack them, every single one. Now! Fix this now!
So many decisions: can she live alone a while longer? When she can’t be alone, who will take her in and care for her? Or will someone move in with her? If it’s a family member, what will happen to that person’s job? How can someone work 40 hours a week and still be available to give Mom all the help she’ll need? How soon will she need care in an Alzheimer’s facility? How much will it cost?Whoa! Not all the questions need immediate answers. Yes, it’s true that we must acknowledge the big picture, face the reality of what will come and even begin to plan for it. But in most cases the truth is that, so far, only one brick has fallen. Or maybe a couple, even three. Yes, we’re hurt when they land on us, but we’re not buried. We can still think and plan and make wise decisions, beginning with the issues our loved ones are struggling with right now.
That means maybe only the first question is of critical importance: if our loved one lives alone, is she safe to continue on her own for a while longer or does she need help, at least during the day? Other immediate considerations: Are there neighbors who can check on her? Is she eating well? Does she need help with cooking or cleaning or bathing? If another adult lives in the same house, how is his/her health? Is that person capable of helping?
We and, in most cases, our loved ones know the symptoms will increase in number and severity. Our loved ones may struggle to understand what’s happening to their minds, while we struggle to find a way to handle their worsening dementia.We try to plan, but it’s hard to see far into a future that grows dimmer, not brighter.
Even so:The things that matter first are today’s needs. If caregivers can stabilize the current situation—do what is necessary to manage the current symptoms and monitor or manage their loved ones’ overall well-being—everyone will benefit from taking the time to accept and adjust to the diagnosis.
I remember my affliction and my wandering…I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.They are new every morning;great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:19-23 NIV).
Father, we trust You, even when all seems hopeless. Even as panic roars in our ears, You let us hear You. You tell us of Your compassion and Your love for us. Thank You, Father. “Great is Your faithfulness.”