Alzheimers at the Wedding

Throughout the pre-wedding activities, Mom functioned well. She attended bridal showers, listened to all the exciting plans and smiled for the photographer.

But we knew our 85 year-old mother might create a few problems on the actual wedding day. It was my job to get Mom dressed, drive her to the church and make sure she made it down the aisle.

I was surprised that from the time I saw her in May until the wedding date in July, Mom regressed further into Alzheimer’s. Her facial expressions resembled those of a child, that naughty rolling-the-eyes look. When we discussed what she would wear to the wedding, we had to go through the scenario several times.

“We talked about this skirt, Mom. It’s a nice skirt.”

“No, I want to wear the red one.”

“Not a good choice of color, Mom. It’s too dark for a summer wedding and besides, it has a spot on the front. Did you tell them to launder it?”

“Yes.” A debatable answer, because Mom’s short-term memory grows shorter every week.

Finally, the chosen skirt was on and I convinced her to wear a beautiful white blouse with a lacy collar. As I fluffed up her hair, I asked, “Don’t you have some pretty pearl earrings? They would look nice.”

“No. All my jewelry has been stolen.” Paranoia is strong these days. Mom is convinced that people, usually family members she loves, have stolen her things.

It does no good to argue, so when she was finally dressed – I drove us both to the church. But pictures were scheduled for noon, and the wedding for two o’clock. Two hours is a long time for someone whose concept of time has disappeared.

First, we ate lunch – slowly. I tried to convince Mom to eat more meat and drink more water, but she refused. However, she sat quietly and waited while I finished eating. My brother came to get her for some of the outdoor pictures, then brought her back to me.

Mom and I strolled through the church and looked at the beautiful decorations. Lanterns along the sides of the pews. Purple and green petals strewn up and down the aisle. Beautiful cascades of dark purple gladiola at the front of the sanctuary. Everything ready for that moment when our Rachel would walk down the aisle to meet her beau, Grant.

“How about the library, Mom? Would you like to see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

So we toured the library, picked out a few to look at and discussed others. “They have a good selection here,” I said.

“Yes,” Mom said. “I like books.”

I remembered when she helped organize and catalog one of our first church libraries. I also remembered when a prayer group met in the library, and my mother was one of the members  ̶  a praying woman who cared about overseas missions. Mom not only prayed for missionaries, but she also gave a portion of her nursing salary to help meet those same missionaries’ needs.

That was a long time ago – before Alzheimer’s stole Mom’s ability to help in a church library or participate in a prayer group.

In a few minutes, Mom tired of the library so we walked through the church again. We watched the photographer shoot pictures of Rachel and Grant. Then Mom grew restless.

“Hey, Mom. Would you like to go see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

Three times we toured the library, each time about twenty minutes apart. Then we sat in the fellowship hall and watched people begin to file into the sanctuary. The wedding planner found us and fastened a flowered bracelet on Mom wrist.

“Why do I have to wear this?” she asked me. “You don’t have one.”

“It’s because you’re special. You’re the only grandparent on both sides of the families. You get to have a special flower.”

“Well, okay,” she said. Then about two minutes later, “Why do I have to wear this thing?”

My nephew Ethan, Mom’s grandson, was scheduled to escort her down the aisle at the appropriate time. But Mom balked. “I don’t want to do that. Everybody will be looking at me.”

“No, Mom. They’ll be waiting for Rachel. They want to see the bride. You just walk in quietly with Ethan.”

“But if it’s just Ethan and me, then they’ll be looking at me and I look fat in this skirt. I shouldn’t have worn this skirt. I should wear a nicer outfit.”

 “Now, Mom. This is Rachel’s special day. Ethan will take care of you, so you just walk down the aisle with him and then sit by me at the front. Remember, this is for Rachel.”

Mom rolled her eyes. I fully expected her to stick out her tongue, but after another grimace, she took Ethan’s arm. I joined my son, my sister, my aunt and her daughter in the second row and watched as Ethan and Mom came down the aisle.Mom and Ethan

Even within the horror of Alzheimer’s disease, my mother is a trooper. Uncomfortable with any kind of public display, there she was – standing tall and doing her part for her granddaughter’s special day.

Mom paraded down the aisle with Ethan and smiled while doing it. I was proud of her and also relieved. We made it through our two hours of waiting and our few minutes in the spotlight. Rachel married Grant and Mom got to be part of that special day.

wedding pic - famEven in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, we somehow find joy.  

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

7 Tips for Caregivers Reviewed

When life unravels into Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important for caregivers to carry survival tools. As I speak in various venues throughout the metro and beyond, I share these survival tools.This week, I had the opportunity of sharing these tips with professionals at the Chem Council in Kansas City.

With 43 million caregivers in the U.S., I hope these tips – from the viewpoint of Reverend G – will offer hope and sanity to caregivers who choose to implement them.

Tip # 1      Talk to Me – it’s easy to ignore someone who has Alzheimer’s. Since they can’t always      respond, we sometimes forget they’re even in the room. We need to look at our loved ones, smile, communicate and talk to them

Tip # 2      Don’t Argue with Me – when memory loss or paranoia sets in, it’s easy to get into a debate. But arguing with an Alzheimer’s victim is pointless. Reverend G would remind us to ask questions instead. Questions help our loved ones figure out a solution or completely drop the subject.

Tip # 3      Keep Laughing –laughter helps keep us healthy. Many funny stories are included in “The Unraveling of Reverend G.” I included them on purpose, because we need to somehow find the humor in the situation and keep laughing.

Tip # 4      Remember the Life Story – knowing the life story of the Alzheimer’s patient helps caregivers utilize pet therapy, music and various other ways to connect. One patient used to watch the sun set with his wife, so the caregivers made sure to sit with him each evening and watch the sunset together.

Tip # 5      Take Care of Yourself – 70% of caregivers struggle with clinical depression. 20% will develop a chronic illness and may even die before the Alzheimer’s patient. Stress is a killer. It is vitally important that caregivers take vacations, utilize daycare centers, join support groups or go somewhere and have fun.

Tip # 6      Forgive Me – none of our loved ones planned to get dementia or Alzheimer’s. They hate what the disease does to us, and they never wanted to be a burden to us. Reverend G often tells her son, Jacob, “Please forgive me.”

Tip # 7      Pray – when the 36-hour day blends into the next, pray. When you need extra patience, pray. When you can’t bear watching the symptoms of this horrid disease, pray. Ask God to help your loved one through this disease and to give you the endurance you need. Pray for a cure for Alzheimer’s and medicines to reverse it.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia websites have a plethora of resources, but these seven tips come from the heart of Reverend G and are addressed within the book. In my presentations, I address each of these tips and give personal examples.

Chem Council  RJTPerhaps you’d like to hear me speak about the “7 Tips for Caregivers.” If so, let me know at rjthesman@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, keep praying.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Tip #2 for Caregivers

Here’s one of the tips Reverend G might tell her loved ones: Don’t Argue with Me.

You might wonder…who would argue with Reverend G? But for caregivers who deal with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, arguments sometimes happen. I’ve seen this in my own family.

With her paranoia, Mom often makes up the most elaborate stories. “Someone came into my house and stole my checkbook. Then she took it to the bank, forged my signature and stole all my money.”

This story was of course, ludicrous, but it did not help to say, “No, Mom. That didn’t happen.” She was convinced the story was real and so we argued back and forth about the phantom forger, “Yes, she did,” and “No, she didn’t.”

I’ve learned that instead of arguing, I should ask questions. “Now, Mom, how do you think this person broke into the house? No doorknobs have been broken. No windows are shattered. And how did this person possibly forge your signature when hers is so drastically different?”

By asking questions, Mom is then forced to consider answers rather than arguments. Mom no longer has the ability to reason, so after a few questions she forgets all about the story – until she brings it up again. Then we start all over with more questions.

It takes a bit of practice and perseverance to ask questions instead of arguing. But arguments do nothing to solve the problem and only bring more frustration to both parties. Instead, open-ended questions help everyone settle down and realize that this particular story is not true.

And who of us wants to debate when there’s so little time to just love? It’s so much better to acknowledge that our loved ones have a legitimate concern, treat them with respect and just ask questions.

The Golden Rule of Alzheimer’s is: Treat your loved ones the way you want to be treated in fifty years.

7 Tips for Caregivers

When life unravels into Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important for caregivers to carry survival tools. Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine some of these tools and ways that caregivers might implement them. Today, we’ll look at 7 tips that Reverend G might offer caregivers to keep them in hope and sanity.

  1. Talk to Me – it’s easy to ignore someone who has Alzheimer’s. Since they can’t always respond, we sometimes forget they’re even in the room. We need to look at our loved ones, smile and talk to them.
  2. Don’t Argue with Me – when memory loss or paranoia sets in, it’s easy to get into a debate. But arguing with an Alzheimer’s victim is pointless. Reverend G would remind us to ask questions instead. Questions help our loved ones figure out a solution or completely drop the subject.
  3. Keep Laughing –laughter helps keep us healthy. Many funny stories are included in “The Unraveling of Reverend G.” I wrote them on purpose, because we have to keep laughing.
  4. Remember – when it’s hard to keep repeating the same answer over and over, remember when your mother read your favorite book to you – over and over and over.
  5. Take Care of Yourself – healthcare professionals remind us that caregivers often get sick because they don’t take care of themselves. Grab the oxygen mask and place it over your own face, then you can help others.
  6. Forgive Me – none of our loved ones planned to get dementia or Alzheimer’s. They hate what the disease does to us, and they want us to forgive them. Reverend G often tells her son, Jacob, “Please forgive me.”
  7. Pray – when the 36-hour day blends into the next, pray. When you need extra patience, pray. When you can’t bear watching the symptoms of this horrid disease, pray.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia websites have a plethora of resources, but these seven tips come from the heart of Reverend G and are addressed within the book. In my presentations, I address each of these tips and give personal examples. Perhaps you’d like to hear me speak about “When Life Unravels: 7 Tips for Caregivers.” If so, let me know at rjthesman@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, keep praying.