In 1996 Nicholas Sparks wrote a romantic novel called The Notebook that was about two people named Allie Hamilton and Noah Calhoun who were madly in love with each other. Unfortunately Allie succumbed to dementia and Noah suffered a heart attack. In the end, they both died peacefully together while sleeping in the same hospital bed. This novel that later became a movie is a very poignant take on a tragic disease that affects more than five million families in this country. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that steadily erodes a person’s memory, their mental capacity, thought process and ability to communicate. There is no cure. Trying to slow the symptoms down is the most that can be done.
What prompted me to write this blog is because of an article that I read in Guidepost magazine that was written by Glen Campbell’s wife. I have friends that have lost loved ones to this disease and who are dealing with it in the present. I felt like some of the things that I read in this article were worth sharing. Glen’s wife was his primary caregiver for the first few years and then the responsibility became just too much for her to handle. Her first indication that something was wrong was when Glen started shadowing her everywhere; trailing just a few steps behind. His explanation was that he just liked being around her. Next he became forgetful but he laughed it off as senior moments. He then began to ask the same questions over and over again. As time went on, Glen’s memory worsened and he would get lost on the way home from the golf course or forget where their bedroom was. His shadowing had become smothering and he didn’t want to let his wife out of his sight. In the latter stages of the disease, Glen began suffering from hallucinations, paranoia and physical combativeness. He started to get into things as though he were a child. His wife had to put safety locks on the cabinets but they were no match for his strength. He would try to play with the stove and wandered around the house aimlessly during the night. They ended up installing motion sensors which were constantly going off. He started putting everything in his mouth from soap to glue and then he became aggressive when they tried to take it away from him.
Research shows that even in late-stage dementia, the essential part of the self remains. You can connect with loved ones by engaging their spirit and their senses. Here are some suggestions from the article on how to do so.
- Play their favorite music especially music that goes back to their youth.
- Take them outside for fresh air and sunshine. Being in nature is life affirming.
- Reassure them through touch. Rubbing lotion into their skin, brushing their hair, giving a gentle massage or a simple hug can provide the human connection that language may no longer convey.
- Have a friendly cat or dog visit. This can help to ease their anxiety and agitation.
- Nourish their faith. Because people with Alzheimer’s are living in the moment they are more receptive to spiritual connections such as hymns, prayers, Bible verses, etc.
- Get caregiver support