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Published on: March 16, 2012
by Barb Mills for In-Law Suite:
Seven years ago my father died, leaving my mother to cope alone. Before he died, we knew that something was off with mom, but he assured us that it was just her getting old and he could deal with it. Once he was gone, she got worse and I finally broke down and took her to the doctor. The diagnosis – Alzheimer’s disease.
Both my grandparents on her side had struggled with the illness for years before finally succumbing to its damaging effects, so it was no surprise to find out that my suspicions were correct. Still, it was depressing to think of the long road ahead for my mother and the position I would be place in taking care of her.
Today, almost a decade later, there are moments when I wish I could just walk out the door and leave her behind. It is awful watching my mother decline, having to clean up after her because she has forgotten how to use the bathroom correctly or chasing her down because she does not want to wear clothes that particular day. It is hard having to tell her the same thing over and over and over, answering the same questions every day, knowing that the answers are entirely new to her, even if they aren’t new to me. It’s overwhelmingly exhausting and it is never-ending.
Dealing With Guilt
I feel guilty for not wanting to deal with her sometimes. She is, after all, my mother and she cared for me when I was a child and just as helpless as she is much of the time now. But I also grieve over the loss of the vibrant and joyful woman of my childhood.
It Feels Like She Is Already Gone
When I look at her, I see a shell of who she was and rage internally at what this terrible illness takes from her a little bit every day. You see, Alzheimer’s is an illness that does not just regress a person to childhood. It actually causes neurological deficits, so from one day, one moment, to the next, a part what made my mother the wonderful person she was is gone. It’s just not there any longer.
I find myself imagining how terrified she must feel at times, waking up, not knowing where she is, who she is and who these strangers are around her and what they want of her. It terrifies me to watch it happening to her, because I also know that with my family history, it could happen to me too. I do my best to comfort her, to help her feel secure and safe. I want her to know that she will always be loved and taken care of, but I am not always sure she understands. In fact, I’m pretty sure that much of the time she does not actually understand at this point.
Caring For An Elderly Family Member
If you are caring for a family member or loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you probably feel many of the things I have felt in caring for my mother. However, you do not need to carry the burden alone. It is important that you also take care of yourself. You can join support groups through your local hospice and most hospitals now have support groups for family members of dementia patients.
Find Help From Alzheimer Associations
Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association to find out about support groups and respite care. You may find that your loved one qualifies for nursing assistance, even if you are caring for them at home.
Planning For The End Of Life
If your parent of loved one is in the early stages of the illness and is still having periods of time when they are lucid and aware, talk to them honestly about their illness. Ask them what they would like done for their end care and how they want their financial estate settled. Also ask about important documents, such as property deeds, wills and life insurance policies.
Alzheimer’s is a terrible illness. It is difficult to care for someone you love and watch them slowly slip away and disappear while still being alive. If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s find ways to get support yourself and talk to them if at all possible about what they want for the end of their life.
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