The Lessons of Caregiving for a Family Member with Alzheimer’s Disease

Clara

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Happy Father’s Day to Our Special Caregiving Fathers!

The Lessons of Caregiving for a Family Member with Alzheimer’s Disease

Cathy’s mother-in-law, Clara, who came to live with the family in June 2015, just turned 80 years-old and has dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.  Cathy and her husband, Fox, had just celebrated their 30th anniversary and were enjoying an idyllic life as a couple with their college-graduated son, Reggie. They learned that being openly available to God’s will in their lives is more than just lip service. They were planners and busy people, who didn’t like to sit still. At first it was very difficult as it greatly changed their family dynamics and limited their regular activities.

Over the past 25 years, sweet Clara had suffered many losses, including her parents, two of her sons, and then her husband. Fox is her only remaining son. The stress and pain of these losses surely contributed to the rapid decline of her mental health, as she is very healthy physically.

Since Clara had always been a very social person and a consummate hostess, they decided to enroll her in a day care center where she has activities throughout the day. Clara has improved greatly – she is much more alert and excited about life since they made that decision. She just celebrated her birthday with her family and friends there.

They are always looking for ways to bring Clara into family activities more often. For example, Clara loves gospel songs, so on Sundays they tune into Gospel music and sing. Cathy even bought Clara a headset for Christmas. Clara truly enjoys this activity, and it is fun for the family.

Cathy says her husband and son are similar to Martha and Mary from the Bible. Fox is the “Martha” person, doing such a great job of caregiving, making sure she is always comfortable and has all her needs met. But Reggie is the “Mary,” who walks in the room and heads straight for his grandmother giving her a big bear hug, and they giggle and hug like school children.

Instead of becoming overwhelmed, they have learned to take it day by day and find solutions that can fit into their family dynamics. They know now that Clara has been a special blessing in their lives.

What Cathy Has Found to be Helpful:

  • Reading Scripture has been a huge comfort to her.
  • An activity basket for Clara with clothes that need folding or socks that need to be matched. It helps Clara to feel useful and helps improve brain functioning.
  • Cathy’s support group.
  • Daily exercise like walking and yoga.
  • She recommends a book called, The 36 Hour Day:  A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins

Scripture verse

Cathy particularly likes this verse as it refers to sons returning hospitality to their mothers’ as Fox is so good to his mother.

1 Timothy 5:4 If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight.

My Prayer

Thank You Lord for the gift of Clara to this family. She has taught them so many important lessons: to be still, slow down, be more patient, embrace routine, and be more attentive to the needs of others. We never know where life will lead us, so teach us to keep our eyes fixed on You as You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

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It Takes a Community of Caregivers

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Helen’s story is a true example of how important family and community are when a parent dies, especially when he’s the father of 11 children! Their 36 year-old father died very unexpectedly after heart surgery. The children ranged in age from 16 to four months old. Helen was seven at the time. She says, “I always felt safe because both sets of grandparents were always there to help, and the community was incredibly supportive.”

It affected each of the children differently. They lived on a farm so basically they divided up the chores and the three girls in the middle, including Helen, worked in the house. Helen says that she took pride in a clean house while sister, Cindy, did laundry, and Valerie cooked and did crafts with the younger children. While they were totally unprepared for this, their mother was strong and she had the support of her children, parents, and in-laws. The Catholic community really stepped in to help. The two older children went to Catholic boarding schools. The family prayed the rosary together and went to daily Mass at school. And both sets of grandparents were always at Mass too. Prayer was very important in their lives.

Helen says her Mom did the best she could as counseling wasn’t available back then. Her mother remarried a good man three years later and that helped restore a sense of normalcy as their new step-father was a calm, gentle man. In the 70s, Helen’s parents became active in the Charismatic Movement and began to study the Bible.

Helen learned to take one day at a time and live in the moment. She is now the amazing mother of three children, a wonderful grandmother, and a faithful friend. She says all 11 children turned out well and productive. They learned early on to work hard. She and her spouse, Charlie, have had discussions about their own deaths since her family was so unprepared for their father’s death.

Looking back and knowing what she knows now, she realizes that they did go through the stages of grieving, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Helen remembers feeling guilty that maybe she did something to cause this to happen. However, Helen did learn to always look for the silver lining and is a very optimistic person.

What Helped:

  • Working together as a family.
  • The support of the community.
  • Their strong faith.

Scripture Verses

Romans 8:28   We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Prayer

Dear Father, let us be grateful for the support of family and friends during our trials. You surround us with a community of caregivers. Thank You for sending these people to always watch over us.

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