The Reality of This Illness

By Robert Elmer III on July 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
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My wife and I watch our youngest Grand daughter a couple of afternoons a week and it’s a labor of love. She just turned “One” in March and it’s been remarkable to see how she has developed in that time. We’ve watched her weekly as she morphed from the little “tadpole” that came home from the hospital to the toddler that has started to walk and now realizes she has a “say” in her little world.
One thing that I noticed is how well her ability to process is developing as she becomes more independent and capable. At one year old, she is learning and developing a basic understanding and skill sets that those with Alzheimer’s are losing or have lost.
At every lecture or talk I give, I point out what I believe are the three most important things that every formal or informal caregiver needs to understand. First, the number one thing they’re looking to you for is to feel safe, secondly, you cannot reason with someone that has literally lost the ability to reason and third, it’s the illness that’s defining what they can and cannot do as well as often explains what they are doing.
My focus in this weeks article is the third item or understanding, it’s the illness. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have had to explain to caregivers that it’s the illness that has taken away their loved ones filter or impulse control as well as deteriorating their ability to process and sequence. Why is she saying those things? Why can’t he be more cooperative when he gets dressed in the morning or why are they eating with their hands? Becoming frustrated and/or annoyed with them and saying “Stop that! You know better than that” is futile. As I remind my audiences and classes regularly, “If they could, they would.”
Earlier I mentioned my grand daughters development. I’ve noticed that when we put her in a car seat, she now raises her arms up automatically because she has learned that she has to accommodate the shoulder straps. When we change her outfit, she now raises her arms up when I say “arms in sleeves” to put on her blouse or jacket. Recently, when we took “Squeaks” to lunch, we handed her a fork. On her own, she stuck it into one of the many pieces of meatball that were on her plate and popped it into her mouth. I was vey impressed.
In my years in “the trenches” I have seen residents that could no longer raise their arms up to get dressed because they simply didn’t understand what they were being asked and residents that could no longer use utensils to eat as that connection was simply lost and since Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness, sadly, things are only going to get worse.
All of this leads to the fact that as a formal or informal caregiver or simply someone that occasionally enters the world of someone with Alzheimer’s dementia, you need to be patient, tolerant and understanding. Always be mindful that what they could do last week, this week, they may no longer be able to perform that same task. With that said, I want to encourage you to let them do as much for themselves as they are capable of. Don’t feed them if they can feed themselves, don’t do the puzzle for them or don’t brush their teeth if they can do it themselves. Be prepared to adjust your caregiving to meet their needs not your wants.
The lay of your “caregiving land” is constantly changing and you will have to change with it. As my daughter and her husband adjust to their daughter’s different abilities as she grows and develops you’ll have to adjust to your loved ones inabilities as they occur.
Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Remember, Join the Journey.

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Robert Elmer IIIView all posts by Robert Elmer III