Adjusting to Memory Loss in Loved Ones Gracefully
I was reading about Alzheimer's the other day and came across an article about how to talk to a loved one with the disease. I think sometimes people talk to us caregivers like we just broke out of a big ostrich egg and are in need of a big mother ostrich to tell us how to wipe ourselves.
Here is the first thing it said, "If your loved one does not seem to know you, is unkind, or gets angry, try not to be hurt." Duh. If somebody doesn't already get that then they need to leave the house right now and go to the nearest therapist.
Crying person, ‘Oh, boohoo. My dad who has forgotten who I am was mean to me! He doesn't approve of me!!' Well, of course! You piss him off and he doesn't like it that you just changed his diaper. All he can remember is that his pants are too tight and he can't remember the word for ‘pants' for Christ's sake! Let it go! Either that or take a Valium and sit down and watch Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in, "The Road to Morocco." That always helps me when The Ancient One in our house decides to talk for an hour about how plates should never be bought anywhere except Pier One. That actually happened yesterday and she doesn't even have Alzheimer's.
One of the golden pieces of advice the expert offered was, "Don't argue. Respond to your loved one's feelings and change to a new topic. Use a gentle, calm tone of voice." Oh, now come on people, do we really need someone to tell us this?"
Really, now. No, no... I think I will argue with a person who can't even remember my name, insist that we hammer out an argument that they can't even remember the answer to and yell as loud as I can so that I can intimidate them to death. "You turd sweeper! All I did was ask you if you had seen my stupid cell phone! You don't have to be so rude! Stop treating me like a child or I won't give you your five o'clock Oreos and ‘Wheel of Fortune!"
I know caregivers need encouragement and a feeling of being supported by giving and gentle people who also understand how hard it is, but please, don't insult my grown-up, 50ish year-old mind and lecture me through language that a five-year-old would use on her I-Wet-Myself-Teddy-Bear.
Another piece of advice given was... "Don't talk about your loved one to others as if your loved one wasn't there." Actually, I have heard people do this, especially in beauty parlors when the mother was sitting under the dryer. I think it's mostly women who do this. The mother is really listening intently as she hears her daughter say things like, "She doesn't like Brussels sprouts so I secretly chop them up and put them in the stew and she never knows the difference." The mother laughs to herself as she thinks, ‘Can't wait till she looks in the ficus plant. It seems to like Brussels sprouts just fine. Nyuck, nyuck... nyuck."
I want all of you caregivers who are dealing with toilet dookies, dry shampooing back-headed, dirty-haired crop circles and cleaning crumbs that look like boogers from lunch trays to go outside right now and kick a tree. Go ahead, they can take it. And then stand back and yell at the nearest cloud, "Dammit!! Dammit!! Dammit to hell!!" Go ahead, you deserve a little release, and it feels good.
Nobody is perfect, and all of us will have a bad moment sooner or later. If you get testy with your patient then just feel bad for a second and apologize, go get them a box of ‘Fudge Love' or tell them the next time they have a bad moment you will keep your mouth shut and not pout. It's tit for tat. Try different trees when you are kicking them and then blame the loud venting on your loved one. You can tell the neighbors your loved one just went a little nutty and you got there too late. Of course I'm no expert on human behavior but... that's what I do.