Unlikely Weapons

Inside a home where Alzheimer’s lives, any victory over the disease is cause for celebration.

Caregivers, therefore, are not shy about choosing our weapons for the battle. We use what we need.

China cups, for example. Invented memories. Straws.

My mother grew up in an English household where tea was consumed like water. As a child, I learned that tea was the ultimate antidote for worry. It dispelled fear and nourished courage. Tea and cookies celebrated an A in math or a date for the prom. A cup of tea could soothe the pain of a scraped knee; a pot of it could see you through the night when your heart, not your knee, was hurting.

Though Mom learned to love coffee after she and Dad married, Alzheimer’s took her back to a time when only tea would do. Since neither her judgment nor her motor skills could be depended on to keep her safe, I let the tea sit out of her reach until it had cooled to lukewarm. If she lost patience waiting, I added milk to cool it faster.

The small china teacup came on the battleground when Mom’s hands became too unsteady to hold the heavy brown mug she loved. I found the pretty little weapon behind the candlesticks in the china cabinet. Though its handle was small, Mom had grown accustomed to holding her mug with two hands; she could hold the teacup the same way. But before I could deploy the new weapon, Alzheimer’s attacked with one of the most powerful tools in its arsenal: resistance to change. Though we admired the purple pansies on the sides, the scalloped base, and the gold rim around the lip, Mom refused to drink from the teacup, insisting she must use her mug.

We retreated only momentarily before the solution presented itself to me. It came in the form of a seemingly random thought, but I knew right away it would work. I had experienced such miracles before: flashes of insight that, if I trusted them and used them, almost always led to success.

This time, as I stood beside Mom with the china cup in my hand, I “remembered” something.

“Mama,” I said with my eyes on the pansies and a hint of surprise in my voice, “I just thought of something! This is the purple pansy cup! Remember? The one Granny loved so much? The one she was hoping you would use? Oh, we finally found it! Thank You, Lord!”

When I looked back to Mom, she was staring at the cup. Slowly, her lips widened into an uncertain smile. I seized the opportunity: poured her tea, stirred in some milk, and set the cup into her two hands. Still smiling, she held it with ease.

While she sipped, I reflected on what I’d told her. No, I had never heard Granny say this was her favorite cup. But I believed Granny could see us, and I was certain she would love any piece of china or pottery or wood or stone that could bring comfort to her daughter, my mother.

The purple pansies brought Mom comfort for many weeks, until her hands grew too unsteady even for the little cup. Thankfully, I was prepared for this eventuality. My weapon in this battle? Straws. On the days when Mom was in the mood for tea, I held a neon purple straw—to match the pansies, of course—upright in her cup and she sipped. Another victory! A miraculous victory that I know Granny, too, was celebrating, with tea that was simply divine.

Like miracles, weapons against Alzheimer’s don’t always come with labels. Often they arrive disguised as small everyday objects or even random thoughts. It takes hope, the biggest miracle, to remove the disguises. Then we need faith to use the tools we’re given. Things like china cups, purple straws, a new idea.

Sharing information and help with other caregivers gives everyone more hope and faith and strength. If you’ve had success with unlikely weapons against Alzheimer’s, please consider sharing with us here. You can do that by means of a comment in the space below or send me an email at kbrown.writer @gmail.com and I’ll post your success.

Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.   (Jeremiah 1:18-19  NIV)

Give us hope, Father, so that we watch for You and the help You have promised us. Give us faith to help and protect our loved ones, and to stand with other caregivers in the fight against Alzheimer’s. May our efforts always glorify You.