ARTICLES / General /
Surviving Caregiving... /
By Barbara Hanson Dennis
Yesterday, my husband Les died. No,
it was actually a year and 41 days ago, but it feels
like yesterday. I’m still wondering how this
could really have happened. He was
diagnosed with Early Stage Early Onset Probable
Alzheimer’s Disease in January 2000 at age 63.
For the first week after diagnosis, I kept
saying, “WE have Alzheimer’s,” but then I quit
saying that even though it was certainly true.
When a person is diagnosed with dementia, there must
be someone who is the caregiver. That someone
may be hired, but in most cases it is a member of
In many cases, that is the spouse of the
person with dementia. Whether that new
caregiver knows anything about the condition, she or
he is thrust into a role for which they may have no
preparation at all.
This article is about how I learned to become a
caregiver and what I found to be the 10 most useful
things to know in caregiving—not only for myself,
but also for Les.
1. Love: Sometimes
we don’t have strong feelings of love—when we are
tired, scared or angry about the situation. I have
heard and read about situations where there is a
great deal of anger simmering in a relationship that
may make it extremely difficult to be a caregiver.
“Brotherly” love may help to get through those
difficult times. Inspirational readings can be
calming and encouraging. It may be useful also
to talk with a clergyperson or a therapist.
2. Learning: Learn
as much as possible about the particular kind of
dementia your loved one has. There are many
books about the subject now as well as articles on
the Internet. Ask the doctor for
recommendations about ideas for reading. If he
or she doesn’t have any, then try the library or
3. Support groups:
I cannot say enough about the value of support
groups. I learned as much from other
caregivers about how to handle situations as I did
from anywhere or anyone else. Fellow
caregivers can be an absolute goldmine—not only for
ideas, but for venting when things are tough.
It takes a fellow caregiver to fully understand what
you are going through.
4. Humor: This is
one of the best ways to get through those sticky
situations where you are getting resistance or
disagreement. Your own “private” jokes with
your loved one may be great for maintaining a bond
Another way to get through a difficult time is
diversion. When humor doesn’t work, coming up
with an alternative activity or topic of
conversation usually does. It may be
something as simple as looking for a favorite
object; i.e., “Now where did the coin box go?” or
possibly offering a drink of water or a “treat” that
is appropriate to the person’s diet.