Recently, Sue (the moderator of this site) saw a response I gave to Jomenma and asked me to share this response in a separate sharepost. Jomenma asked, “How can I best help a friend who’s dealing with two parents with Alzheimer’s?” And here’s my reply to Jomenma, which may be useful to others who want to help friends:
I’m so sorry that your friend has to face both parents having this terrible disease. You don’t share whether the parents are living with the friend, whether they are in a local retirement community, or whether they live in a differnt city or state than your friend does. That may make a difference in some of the ideas we could brainstorm to help you.
In thinking back to my own situation (my mom lived in a nursing home near me for two years before she passed away), I’d suggest six ways you can be really helpful:
1. Be available as a support for your friend when he/she wants to talk. This disease is so difficult in that a person’s personality (and what they remember) will change from day to day. Having a supportive person to talk to during these times (like when one of the parents doesn’t recognize the friend for the first time) is so helpful. If you’ve been in a caregiver role in your own life, your insights will be so useful. I had friends who had taken on caregiving for their parents (some of whom did not have Alzheimer’s), and they coached me on a variety of issues, such as navigating the medical system, dealing with family conflict that comes up around caregiving, etc. I wrote about this group of friends in a previous sharepost.
2. Take your friend out to fun stuff that helps him/her think about something other than the parents’ condition for awhile. That may be to the movies, a play or to a dinner party. Getting a chance to focus on something uplifting is so important for caregivers.
3. Another option is to give your friend a gift certificate for a massage
4. While we’re on the subject of health, become an exercise buddy for your friend. This is important for several reasons. First of all, your friend may not otherwise make time for exercise, like my neighbor Judy. In my case, my friend Sondra made sure that we rode bikes at least two times a week before work. Secondly, regular exercise can help your friend relieve stress. I can tell you that during the early part of caregiving, I could feel myself aging. Exercise is one way to counteract that. I ended up joining a gym to do so additional exercises (in particular weight lifting) and even got Sondra to join the gym as well so we could continue to be workout buddys. And thirdly, exercise is one way that your friend can have a physical “booster shot” to stave off Alzheimer’s (since I’m making the assumption that because both parents have it, your friend will be worried about getting this disease too).
5. Buy your friend a copy of “36-Hour Day : A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life” by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins. A friend told me about this book and it was priceless in helping me understand some of the realities of what happens to a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Point your friend to this website. We’re constantly sharing good information, ranging from the latest research to how to handle a particularly sticky issue. Someone in this community can help your friend with dealing with his/her parents’ issues because we’ve all been there (or are there now).
Take care Keep in touch! And thank you so much for being a good friend!
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.