By Shawn McMullen
Editor’s note: Recently I interviewed an Alzheimer’s caregiver who helped establish a local Alzheimer’s Association and now leads monthly Alzheimer’s support groups. For personal reasons, the caregiver has asked to remain unnamed.
Tell us about your personal experience with Alzheimer’s.
Mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s was gradual. We didn’t recognize the early signs, but we began to notice when she couldn’t do housework or perform other routine tasks. Dad began to cover for her, doing the cooking, laundry, and so on.
How did you and your family care for your mother in the early years of her disease?
Mother was ill for eight years. She spent the first seven years at home, then about 10 months in a nursing home. At home, Dad did everything he could to care for her. My sisters and I came by every night after work to do what we could. We helped out on the weekends too.
Talk about the decision your family made to provide long-term, resident care for your mother.
Our father made the final decision. When it got to where he couldn’t manage her day-to-day care, she was admitted to a hospital for evaluation. After three weeks, she was transferred to a nursing home. Dad couldn’t drive, so we picked him up each evening and took him with us to visit. We visited her on the weekends as well.
Did you experience grief and loss while your mother was alive and dealing with Alzheimer’s disease?
I think so. While Mother was ill, we came to accept the fact that she was going to be gone. Because of that, the grieving wasn’t as hard when she passed away, because we had been preparing ourselves for that day for nearly eight years. Everyone reacts differently to this, though.
What surprised you during the time of caring for her?
This didn’t happen often, maybe three or four times during Mother’s illness, but a few times she suddenly panicked and asked, “What’s happening to me?” or “What did you do to me?” It was hard to see her so frightened, even though it passed in just a few moments. When this happened, we simply did our best to console her.
Did your experience with Alzheimer’s disease affect your faith?
Mother’s condition didn’t really impact my faith at all. I never doubted, never questioned God. We always accepted life as it came. One thing Mother could always do, even as her disease progressed, was sing hymns. That brought her peace. It was something we shared together, and it showed us that she was still able to experience her faith.
What did this experience teach you about the Christian life?
It reaffirmed my understanding of the dignity of life. Even though Mother couldn’t carry on the life she had lived, her life was still important. She still meant a great deal to everyone who knew her. Her family and friends stayed right with her the whole time because of the person she was.
If I could say anything to families of Alzheimer’s patients, it would be to love them and treat them like you always have. They may seem different now, but don’t let that scare you away. Love them.