Living in the Moment with Alzheimer’s

Living in the Moment with Alzheimer’s
Recently I met an acquaintance, Maria, in the gym. She looked distracted and tense. Also, she had lost a few pounds, unintentionally. After the usual chit chat, I directly said, “There is something different about you. I can’t put my finger on it. Are you feeling well?” With that Maria said as her eyes welled up with tears, “My mother is driving me crazy. She has Alzheimer’s and isn’t giving me a minute of peace. She calls my name all the time demanding I do this and that. I can’t concentrate. She is so agitated and merciless when it comes to me. I am so tired.” To this I replied, “At least she knows your name.” By the way Maria lives with her mother since her divorce ten years ago. Maria and her mother are more like sisters, exceptionally close. Therefore Maria is not only upset about feeling depleted; she misses her mother – their past relationship. Alzheimer’s teaches you to let go of the past and live in the present.

I gave Maria some coping strategies for caregivers. The stress which caregivers experience can be the tipping point in their own health both physical and mental:
  • Stress is contagious. When you feel stressed, the Alzheimer’s patient absorbs your stress. It is important to keep yourself in balance by eating properly and exercising. As you see from this narrative Maria was in the gym trying to burn off her stress hormones which cause inflammation in the body. She was trying to elevate her mood by increasing endorphin levels.
  • Don’t absorb the demands, the strange images or harsh words of an Alzheimer’s patient. Put up your invisible shield to put strange or inconsiderate, angry remarks into the context of the disease. One moment is bad; the next is better.
  • Play the patient’s favorite music. Music is sound therapy and a great persuader to feel upbeat.
  • Touch the patient. The power of touch is healing. Disease makes a person feel alienated. It is important to convey love through touching and caressing.
  • Show the patient photos from the family album. This often sparks interest and recognition.
  • Flex your funny bone. Act silly, make faces and laugh a lot. Humor will de-stress the two of you. Good moods are contagious and boost the immune system.
Maria’s response was: “I never thought of the music or the photos. Thank you.” I cracked a few jokes about life reminding her, “We all come in the middle of the movie and we all leave in the middle of the movie. What kind of movie do you want? As for me, I prefer a romantic comedy.” We both laughed and parted company.

Alzheimer’s is a disease about letting go of resentment and anger. You get a fresh start every moment. We can all learn to live in the moment.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show

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