Contributed by Virginia Naeve, Caregiver and UCI MIND Leadership Council Member
Most people are just happier when on a schedule. Adults and children alike. It’s especially true if someone has Alzheimer’s disease. If you want to see someone with Alzheimer’s dementia turn upside down and backwards, change their schedule. Move them to new living quarters, admit them to the hospital for a health issue, or have a national disaster or upheaval. Like Covid-19.
My Mom suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for almost 9 years. I wasn’t prepared for any of it. It took me years to figure out what was going on with her loss of memory, her changes in personality, and her lack of understanding and reasoning skills. I had no idea what I was in for or what she would have to endure. She weathered several storms during her illness (including a clothes dryer fire in the room next to hers) but fortunately the Coronavirus was not in anyone’s wildest imagination.
My heart is going out to the families who are dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s during this national health crisis. Residence homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals are not allowing visitors. Staff is on edge, and rightfully so. Without a lot of help, Facetime or video conferencing is out of the question. Even in the early stage of Mom’s disease, she wouldn’t have understood what was happening. Her brain just wouldn’t have been able to process it.
I can remember all kinds of mistakes I made during my caregiving time with Mom, but I ‘took the cake’ after we had a very large earthquake. It was in the summer of 2008. At 11:42am on July 29, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.5 struck hard enough to be noted as the strongest shaker since the Northridge quake. It shut down our south Orange County amusement parks. It was felt as far south as San Diego, and as far east as Las Vegas.
I was horrified and knew I had to get to Mom quickly. I couldn’t think straight. I drove to Mom’s assisted living facility, parked God-knows where, ran in and couldn’t get to her fast enough. I found her sitting in her large, over-stuffed chair, looking calm. Fine. Like nothing had happened. I grabbed her, wrapped my arms around her, and in a quivering voice asked if she was ok. She looked at me as if I was crazy. HUH??
It wasn’t long before she felt there must be something to worry about. She was picking it up from me and everyone else around her. I saw it in her eyes. She went from feeling fine, and generally happy to being tense and wondering why everyone wasn’t acting as they normally do. Our vibrations, tone of voice, and our faces were telling her that something was very wrong.
My actions resulting from that earthquake taught me several things. Someone with Alzheimer’s cannot possibly process a disaster. That requires clear thinking and reasoning which they often do not have. What they are good at is picking up on moods and feelings. What I should have done was to go over to her room, gently hold her hand, and have a lovely conversation about what an unusually beautiful day it was. Yep! Alice down the rabbit hole.
Coronavirus will pass. We will all get through this together. The research at UCI MIND will continue and bright minds will figure out solutions. In the meantime, treat your loved one with Alzheimer’s as if it’s just another lovely day.
Then for them, hopefully it will be.
For more posts like this, visit Virginia’s caregiver blog: anewpathformom.com