May 23rd, 2013
In the second of two personal articles, Annabel Dunstan explains how she helps her parents, both Alzheimer’s patients, to live in the moment.
When someone you love develops Alzheimer’s, it can be all too easy to focus on the negatives. But I believe it’s really important to continue having fun as much as possible and to try to make the most out of any situation.
You need to avoid questions, problems and any expectation that your loved ones can plan ahead, and instead help them to live in the moment. For instance, if we’re in the garden and looking at the flowers, it can be something as simple as taking a photo, emailing it to myself and showing it to them on a computer screen when we’re back indoors. We might then grab a pencil and piece of paper and do a quick sketch for them to hold on to afterwards.
My parents love being around my own children and my brothers’; you can tell that they’re in awe of their grandchildren’s energy. The fact that my son plays football and my daughter likes art are very strongly entrenched in my Dad’s memory. I try to use these as reference points when we see each other or talk on the phone.
I’m also quite bold. You don’t often see elderly, frail people in restaurants around town, but I recently bundled my parents into the car and took them out for pizza. We shared a bottle of wine and Dad broke out into song. It’s important to relax together, to laugh and to help them lay down good memories. My parents won’t remember the specific details of our visit to that restaurant, but hopefully they’ll recall that it was a nice feeling and that we enjoyed it together.
What I wish I’d known
Looking back to when my parents were first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I remember that there weren’t any clear signposts about where to find help.
I think it would have been useful to get an information pack from the GP – including facts, figures, resources and, in particular, a book list – rather than just being left to work things out for ourselves.
With the benefit of my experience, a family checklist should include questions like:
- How are we going to manage the household?
- Who will take care of shopping for food?
- Are they going to continue living independently?
- Will the partner of the person with Alzheimer’s take on the role of carer or will their own health needs stop them from doing so?
I also would have appreciated being put in touch with a local network of people who were going through the same thing. We’re bright, switched-on people but it’s still been a huge challenge to get the information we’ve needed. I can imagine that for anyone with less access to the internet or other resources, it must be a real struggle.
I’ve been lucky with my parents. I know that some people with Alzheimer’s can become quite aggressive, possibly as a by-product of their frustration, but my Dad has remained buoyant and hasn’t developed depression alongside his condition.
Whenever I phone or see him, the fact that he remembers that I’m helping out is very moving. There’s a simplicity to the ends of their lives which is very beautiful in a way. They’re not weighed down by the worries of the world. Their levels of gratitude for very simple things are enormous.
Read part one of Annabel’s experiences with Alzheimer’s.