By, David M. Gillespie (Guest Blogger)
During 2009, 2010, I worked as an advocate for residents of long term care communities such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This experience brought me close to many people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Several years ago, my own father –in-law died from a similar disease. I learned first hand about the effect this illness has on the patient’s family members, particularly ones most responsible for the patient’s care. I learned about unconditional love and that the patient’s personality changes are symptoms of the disease rather than the person. This is advice from a friend, not a clinician, but it may help you. Please take videos and candid photos of your loved ones – the sooner the better. They will be a blessing later on.
Support direct care givers. They need help attention and moral support – not sympathy. Even small things such as taking them out for a bite to eat, can be a much needed pick-me up. I know it’s not a new idea but still worth keeping in mind. Something my experience with Alzheimer’s patients taught me that was a bit of a revelation when I saw it, is that while cognitive or factual memory is laid waste by the disease, the patient does not lose affective, or emotional memory in the same way. An Alzheimer’s patient’s suffering can be mitigated immensely by exposure to positive emotional memories. Colors, smells and sounds that the patient always loved and which made him or her feel calm and happy, are colors, smells and sounds, etc., which he or she STILL loves.
Sadly, patients are sometimes ignored because, well, “they don’t even know me anymore… “. Listen, the emotional self is still there. Continually surround your Alzheimer’s patient with music, voices, aromas and colors which brought pleasure in the past. When doing so, please avoid just using these things to “test” the patient’s cognitive memory. He need not be able to tell you that the sweet smell in the house right now is apple pie in the oven, or that he always loved going to the beach, or that his favorite song is “Fascination” for the smell, beach picture and favorite song to comfort and calm him. They can really help him cope with the challenge of making it through another day. It may also help you keep your close emotional bond throughout this journey.