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Alzheimer’s Caregiving and “Going with the Flow”

Jeff Campbell

Posted on February 10, 2018 14:22

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Learning to “distract” and “go with the flow” can help you in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

With more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and that number growing rapidly each year, it's becoming harder not to be affected in some way, oftentimes becoming a caregiver for a family member. Studies show that 35 percent of caregivers reported worsening health for themselves, due to their caregiving responsibilities. I can attest to the stress of caregiving. I can also attest that there are key coping skills that can greatly help in your caregiving. These can be learned from taking caregiving workshops provided in your local communities. That’s what our family did in providing care for our Pepaw, a decorated World War II veteran, loving husband, father and dedicated bus driver for Greyhound.

During our caregiving workshop, we learned that one way to look at Alzheimer’s was like the brain being slowly erased backwards. I focused on the fact that he would find himself in different places, different realities, and that it would prove futile and counterproductive to challenge those realities. It was, after all, his reality. We learned that he may become combative or distressed in those instances, so better to “distract” or “go with the flow.”

An example of using distraction for me was when, on a particularly tense day, Pepaw thought people were out in his yard. He got close to me demanding to know who they were and if I was with them. I maintained my composure and tried distracting him by telling him I was hungry and asked him if he was hungry. I told him a sandwich sure sounded good, and after a moment of silent staring, he said a sandwich sounded good. “Distraction” had helped me through that tense moment.

“Going with the flow” is also a key skill to use. Pepaw was often thinking he was still driving for Greyhound, particularly at night. To him, I was always another Greyhound driver named Paul and he was always worried about who was driving the “Jersey run.” To try and tell him he was not driving anymore and that I was not Paul would have been futile, because that was his reality. I had no problem being Paul and driving the Jersey run if it meant Pepaw was comforted and got some sleep. At Pepaw’s funeral I was surprised and happy to meet the real Paul who drove with him all those years.

Three tips I can give for caregivers everywhere is to participate in a local workshop, learn and adopt various caregiving strategies and to cherish every moment of clarity you experience with the loved one you are caring for. Helping to care for someone with Alzheimer’s taught me that a disease can erase a mind, but it can never erase a soul, and, that even during their darkest times, they are a lighthouse on the shoreline of humanity.

If you or someone you know is struggling with caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s please refer them to Alz.org where they can find help and local offices to connect with.

Jeff Campbell

Posted on February 10, 2018 14:22

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