Alzheimer's is "a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells, causing one to lose their memory, forget how to speak, their thoughts become scrambled, and they experience a drastic change in their behavior."
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, meaning that it does not happen overnight. It starts out with phrases like “where did I put…” or “I can’t seem to remember how to…”. These are phrases that some of us say every day and think nothing of it because it is natural to be forgetful from time to time, but for others this is only the beginning of a long journey ahead.
It is a frightening thing to hear someone you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At first, you may be angry and wonder why something like this happened, but then you are sad. You are sad because you know that the person you love is going to be battling something beyond their control and there is nothing you can do to prevent it except for just simply being there.
It won’t be easy, I know this from personal experience. There are going to be times when he or she is no longer acting like the person you love. They may become violent, screaming at you for only trying to help, or running out the door trying to “escape” while they throw nasty curse words in your direction. You will get frustrated. You will wonder when it will all stop, but soon the frustration will diminish and you will be sad again. But this time you will be sad because you will know that this is no longer that same person who used to parent you, nurture you, protect you. Now it is your turn to be the parent, to be the one doing all of the nurturing and protecting.
There will be times when the disease will have what I will refer to as, “lighter moments”. These moments are when there is peace restored, when laughter comes easily, and you find yourself smiling again. There is nothing wrong with finding humor in some of the less sever, but amusing things your loved one may do, like my great grandmother who once wrapped someone’s toothbrush in tissues and hide it in a shoe, or when she put orange juice in the dogs water bowl. Of course the truth of the matter is she is doing these things because of this awful disease that is impacting her memory and the logic to her thoughts. But despite the severity of the disease, you must always find time to laugh when you can. That is something my great grandmother was always keen on, laughter and making sure we laughed and we danced and we were happy.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a full-time job. In doing so, you begin to realize how much you take for granted, like the ability to take care of your own hygiene or feed yourself. It is the little things like that that will make you realize how grateful you should be for your health. But it also makes you fearful of whether or not this could be you in the future.
Despite what Alzheimer’s may or may not do to your loved one, there is one thing that it cannot do, and that is stop you from loving them. In the moments when you are your most angry and ready to give up, your loved one comes back to you, even if it is for a split second. It could be something they say that reminds you that they are still the person you love, or a small gesture that makes being there for them during their battle with this disease worth it. It is in the moments like those when my great grandmother would give me some of the best pieces of advice that to this day I find myself reflecting back upon.
Loving someone who is battling Alzheimer’s is exhausting, depressing, and frustrating. It challenges your love for that person and makes you appreciative of all of the memories you made before the disease took course. One thing I have learned when it comes to loving and caring for someone with this disease is that being there is the best thing you can do. Holding them up when they are down, caring for them when they can no longer care for themselves, and loving them when they are at their worst. It is not easy by any means, but it is worth it for those brief moments of happiness, laughter, and peace you will experience with them once more.