Posts Tagged ‘awareness’

10 Things People With Alzheimer’s Taught Me

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

I was a caregiver for Ed, my beloved Romanian life partner, for seven years when he had Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, I currently volunteer to make weekly visits to four women who live at Clare Bridge, a Brookdale Senior Living memory care facility in Overland Park, Kansas. (I refer to them as “my ladies.”) Here are the ten most important lessons these people have taught me.

  1. Simple pleasures can bring great joy to a person with Alzheimer’s
  1. People with Alzheimer’s usually enjoy getting gifts – no matter how small
  1. Pets, children, music and art may reach them on levels we cannot
  1. Just because they don’t talk doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly aware of what’s going on around them and what people are saying to and about them
  1. There’s usually no reason to tell them someone is dead (Tell them a white lie instead – that the person will be back soon)
  1. Correcting them about something will probably either embarrass them or else start a big argument
  1. People with Alzheimer’s usually adjust to change more quickly than we do and they soon forget unpleasant things that happen to them. We may be the ones who continue suffering
  1. They can still enjoy life, even if only for brief periods of time
  1. People with Alzheimer’s may remember past love and also experience love in the present
  1. People with Alzheimer’s can be humorous at times – Then we can laugh with them.

 

5 Things I Learned From People With Alzheimer’s

Friday, February 21st, 2014

1.    Pets, children, music and art may reach them on levels we cannot: I have experienced numerous examples of the positive effects these things can have on people with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes pets, children, music or art can bring about connections even with people who no longer talk or recognize their loved ones.

2.    Just because they don’t talk doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly aware of what’s going on around them: One of my ladies didn’t talk anymore so when I visited I just held her hand and talked to her softly. When I told her she must be very proud of her daughter she adamantly shook her head from side to side, indicating ‘no.’ That told me she understood perfectly well what I was saying.

 3.    Correcting them about something will probably either embarrass them or else start a big argument: To avoid embarrassing the person or, even worse, to avoid a major argument, try agreeing with whatever they say, even if it’s wrong. It takes some time to master this approach, but it is usually successful.

4.    They can still enjoy life: Many people assume that people with Alzheimer’s can’t enjoy life. However, several experts I interviewed unanimously agreed that although Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, people who have it can and do still have the capacity to enjoy life.

5.    People with Alzheimer’s may remember past love and also experience love in the present: Once I showed Ed an old picture of us together. He said, “Ah . . . She loved me.” He didn’t realize I was the woman in the picture but he remembered that she had loved him.

 

People With Alzheimer’s May Still “Be There”

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

There was a lady with Alzheimer’s whom I volunteered to visit once a week at a local memory care facility. I’m going to call her Carolyn. Before my first visit the administration told me she loved Elvis. So I bought an Elvis CD and took it, along with my portable CD player, to the visit.

After introducing myself I said, “I understand you love Elvis.”

“Elvis?” she asked with disbelief. “Where’d they get that?”

“Well, what kind of music do you like?” I asked her.

She tried very hard to pronounce Tchaikovsky. She never did get it right but I understood what she meant.

So the next time I took Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and played several selections for her. She was ecstatic. She smiled and tapped out the rhythms on her lap using both hands. She clapped enthusiastically at the end of each piece. It was a true joy to see her so happy.

Then Carolyn declined significantly. She was receiving hospice care and was always in bed when I arrived. Her eyes were usually closed, even though she was often awake. I talked to her but she never said anything back.

Nonetheless I kept playing the Nutcracker Suite for her every time. She showed no reaction whatsoever. I was frustrated but kept it up anyway.

Then one day I asked, “Do you like it?”

Her response was shocking to say the least.

She immediately opened her eyes widely and said in a loud, clear voice, “Very much.”

It was proof that she was still “there” – still aware of her surroundings even though she rarely acknowledged it and even though she was literally on her death bed. She died a week later.

People with Alzheimer’s – especially those in the later stages of the disease – may stop talking or making other clear attempts to communicate. Too often we assume they don’t know what’s going on around them. We think they don’t understand what people are saying to them or about them. My experience with Carolyn shows that’s not always the case.