Learning to Dance

I wish all Alzheimer’s patients could remain living in the comfort and routine of their own home. But I realize that a time may come when you, the caregiver, may no longer be able to provide the special attention they need. You may have to carefully choose an assisted living facility in which to place them.

But be forewarned that once you break your loved one away from his or her daily routine, symptoms of the disease will escalate rapidly. You will likely notice the deterioration of the memory almost immediately. You might be told that it’s because “you no longer see them on a day-to-day basis.” I disagree. From what I’ve seen, the dismantling of the routine life is what leaves the patient in a new world of confusion that’s too difficult to overcome. When visiting Alzheimer’s patients do not keep telling yourself, “What difference does it make if I visit them. They won’t remember anyway.” Your being there will make a positive difference. Trust me. You might be all they have left. There will be times when you walk in and they don’t remember you. But the times they do will mean the world to both of you.

If you’re visiting with Alzheimer’s patients and they don’t recognize who you are, this doesn’t mean your time is wasted. Just having someone by their side helps them. Look directly into their eyes and remind them of who you are. This may or may not rekindle their memory. If they still don’t remember you, try not to take it personally.

Plan your visits between late morning and early afternoon. This should be the time when they’re at their best. As the day wears down, they most likely will too. You might want to bring along a photo album containing pictures from their past life.

Turning through the pages might inspire conversation. Plan an activity such as something as simple as going for a walk. Fresh air can help to stimulate the mind.

If they’re speaking and not making any sense, just go with the flow. Gradually try changing the subject if it’s too bothersome for you. You’re doing the right thing by being there. People are nurtured through human contact, even if they don’t always show it. Every minute you’re there is worshiped.

Recently, someone shared a story with me of a man who goes to his wife’s nursing home and has breakfast with her every day. She hasn’t recognized him in the past five years, but what’s important to him is that he knows who she is. Tough love isn’t about surviving the storm; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.