Discovering Beautiful Moments: Lessons I’ve Learned from Alzheimer’s Disease

Despite the intense challenges and heartbreaking realities of this disease, there truly are beautiful moments to be found. I have accumulated over a decade of treasured memories with my parents, who were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2005.

My mom’s anticipated diagnosis was followed months later with the shocking realization my father had been stricken as well. This disease forced me to grieve the mom and dad I lost seemingly overnight. Simultaneously, I learned to embrace these individuals who looked strikingly familiar, yet reacted to me in unpredictable ways.

Soon it became apparent they could no longer live in the realities of my world, which meant I was going to have to find a way to join theirs. Learning to put aside what I believed to be true was my greatest challenge.

Spending precious moments of life attempting to convince Mom she had gone to the beauty shop yesterday, not last week, was futile. Eventually I learned to leave my preconceived ideas and expectations at the door. This is when I discovered beautiful moments by implementing these key principles.

Step onto the stage:
Imagine we are actors in a play and our loved ones write the script. This requires us to relinquish our need to control; no longer can we force our reality into the situation. We simply step on stage and act the part we are given. I now have dozens of beautiful friends at memory care. When I open the front door and step on the stage, I am ready to embrace their realities and follow along. It no longer matters what I believe to be true once I enter their world.

Accept the part you are given:
Perhaps I am cast in certain roles because I look like someone these folks used to know. At the very least, because I make an effort to talk to each person I encounter at memory care, many now view me as a trusted friend. One beautiful woman at memory care believed she owned the building. Soon after meeting me, her attempts to persuade me to buy it from her began. Without fail, this opportunity was discussed when I saw her.

Read the script:
The script is revealed simply by paying attention. Listen as cues are given and follow along. Facial expressions will alert us when we have veered from what is believed to be true. The goal is to steer every interaction into a positive, enjoyable encounter. I soon realized my resistance in buying memory care and inevitable excuses were   disappointing my new friend. Eventually I realized how selfish writing my own script was and agreed to the purchase. After all, it was free money. She was delighted!

Follow the story: 
Never attempt to correct the reality they believe to be true. This is their story, not ours. Enjoy the ability to be creative, but be ready for correction if the response does not fit the script. From then on, we discussed meetings I was attending, what changes she thought I should implement, and which cookies were most enjoyed by residents. The most positive effect was the burden of owning these decisions was lifted off her shoulders.

Regardless of how much we miss who our loved ones used to be, that is simply no longer who they are. When we learn to enter our loved one’s world by stepping onto the stage they have set, there will no longer be a need for excuses, explanations, or debate.

When we are able to achieve this mindset, conflict will blissfully disappear. By letting our expectations go, our loved ones are free to steer the boat and we are simply along to enjoy the ride!

8/17/2016 7:00:00 AM
Judith Ingalsbe
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Judith Ingalsbe is passionate about bringing understanding to those experiencing the effects of dementia. She recently joined other advocates in Washington D.C. to secure funding for research and HOPE for those affected #TheyHaveAName. Judith has gleaned over a decade of caregiving experience with her parents, who were b...
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