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Surviving Caregiving with Dignity, Love and Kindness

By Barbara Hanson Dennis

(Page 1 of 4)

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 the family.

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 Google.

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 between you.

5. Diversion: 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.

 

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