Posted on Jan 06, 2015
Is it just us or did 2014 fly by? The New Year provides us with not only a day off from work (if we’re lucky!), but the chance to start fresh. We are driven to reflect on the past 12 months, encouraged to regroup, and inspired to embrace what lies ahead. Out with the old, in with the new, right?
As great as this all sounds, it’s sometimes easier said than done. What if the future is daunting? What if we don’t like the changes we’re experiencing? As caregivers for ill or aging loved ones, we’re often inclined to hold onto the past rather than eagerly embrace the future, and understandably so: the impact of an illness like dementia on relatives and caregivers can be crippling. The thought alone of the possibility that a loved one may be showing signs is so terrifying, in fact, that a recent survey revealed that people fear being responsible for someone with Alzheimer’s more than they fear actually having the disease themselves. No wonder we’re not all counting down the seconds to 2015!
We at Senior Helpers have learned from experience and observation, though, that the relationships family members have with their ill loved ones can be some of the most beautiful and heartwarming ones to witness; we promise that it doesn’t have to be frightening, and there’s hope for 2015! What determines where these relationships fall on the scary scale is simple: the approach.
Though we as caregivers may be painfully aware of the change in our loved one’s condition, they are not. Lucky for them, patients themselves lack this kind of insight; anosogosia is a condition that accompanies dementia and refers to reduced awareness of symptoms. Even in earlier stages, when one may recognize that something isn’t right, they aren’t entirely sure of what’s actually wrong. More important to keep in mind is the fact that they likely don’t care. Anosodiaphoria is also present with dementia, and it refers to a lack of concern about the consequences of these cloudy symptoms. As Dr. Richard Taylor writes in the midst of his own battle with Alzheimer’s:
“Caregivers have pointed out to me a number of incidents during which I was unaware of what I was doing. Even more amazing to me, when told what I did, I didn’t seem to care! And, as a matter of fact, I really don’t feel like I should care right now… It is simply amazing to be aware of what you don’t want to do, and when you do it, not to care one way or the other… I have wandered away and didn’t care, and I don’t care, although it sure upset a lot of other people. I didn’t get upset about it. I was not and am still not afraid. Others are upset and afraid for me.”
While we understand facets of our loved one’s condition, it’s important that we recognize that they do not and that we treat them accordingly. In 2015, when your mom asks you for the fourth time that day if you’ll be eating lunch together, try to keep your patience; don’t allow aggravation to overcome your emotions. Instead of answering frustratingly and asserting that she knows you always eat together, keep in mind that, unfortunately, she may not. Not anymore, at least. When your grandpa insists on wearing a button down and nice slacks every day, refrain from trying to convince him it’s unnecessary; allow him to be comfortable. Compliment him. Ask for his opinion of your own outfit. Whatever you do, respect his harmless decision and thank him for passing his sense of style down to you. Remember that he isn’t able to change but you are. Tap into your awareness of his condition and patiently approach the situation in true 2015 fashion: positively! Above all, for your own health and sanity, try to remember that the difficulties you’re facing are part of the disease process, not part of the person. Please, for the sake of New Year’s resolutions, approach your interactions accordingly.