How to Keep Your Sanity When Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s
- Melinda Eye Cooper Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 7 Aug
Alzheimer’s is a thief. It slowly takes a loved one into a confused, dark place and steals the person we love—robbing the family in unforeseen ways.
My beloved dad passed away in September 2019 due to this terrible disease. Mom kept him home longer than she should have because she couldn’t bear to put him into a nursing home. She was only able to manage because some of my sisters and brothers lived nearby and were on call 24/7. One sister took the brunt of it because Dad thought she was his wife. She had the ability to calm him down when sundowners set in and he was acting out in his confusion.
Mom finally gave in about the nursing home and he spent his last few weeks there. Once that happened, he went downhill quickly. He was brought back home and passed away the same day within an hour of arriving home in the ambulance. He relaxed when he was back in the house he built, and in the presence of his family again, and breathed his last breath.
The man who preached in so many little churches about God’s grace and mercy was finally with his beloved Savior. It was a long road home.
The grieving came slowly but surely over time as he declined. Countless tears were shed over many years before he finally passed away. We were relieved for him, because he was finished suffering, yet devastated not to have him with us anymore.
One thing Dad never forgot were hymns. He sang stanza after stanza that I couldn’t remember the words to, but they were ingrained into his mind from years of singing them. I can only imagine the praise songs he’s singing now in Heaven.
When one is suffering with Alzheimer’s, the journey home can be long. Being a caregiver for a loved one with this terrible disease can be frustrating, stressful, and full of heartache.
Here are six simple ways to keep your sanity when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s:
1. Use Music
Hymns are rooted deep in the hearts of many older Christians. The familiar melodies take the listener back to a comforting place. When I hear most hymns, I’m back in the little church I grew up in, singing alto with the congregation.
- Sing some of your loved one's favorite hymns, or songs that uplift you
- Play a soothing instrument such as a guitar
- Sing popular songs from their younger years
- Play gentle nature sounds such as ocean waves
2. Meet Them Where They Are and Go With It
It can be confusing when we’re in the present and they talk about someone who passed away many years earlier as if they are in the other room. But if that’s where they are at that moment, then go with it.
If they’re insistent that they want to visit someone they think is alive but they’re already dead, take them for a drive and pretend for a little while that you’re going to see them. They will eventually forget about it and you can take them back home.
This is because if you take them to the graveyard and explain to them that their loved one is dead, they will relive the death over and over again.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/MangoStarStudio
3. Don’t Correct or Argue with Them
There’s no point in correcting someone who will forget what they said in about one minute. It will frustrate the caregiver and stress out the one suffering with Alzheimer’s. They truly can’t help it.
Play along with what they say or distract them. Try to get them interested in something else such as browsing through a photo album. You can have one created just for them with photos of their parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren.
4. Get Some Rest!
Caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is exhausting. Dad was always trying to go home so he took off many times. It’s dangerous and scary when they slip off undetected and a search party has to be called in.
Again, the family living nearby takes the brunt of caregiving. Though, living far away from the loved one is also stressful. Because not being there to help when you’d like to be is painful, too...and you feel anxious about leaving the load on the shoulders of others in the family. Here's how to share the load:
- Take weekend shifts to give others a break
- When you’re off for a weekend—get away and relax
- Hire a professional caregiver if possible
- Hire a housekeeper (one less thing!)
5. Expect Late-Day Confusion
Here are a few helpful tips for dealing with late-day confusion or ‘sundowners:’
- Limit daytime naps (difficult to do when the caregiver is exhausted)
- Limit caffeine and sugar
- Keep a daytime routine and try to create a routine for evenings and bedtime
- Limit television viewing in the evenings
6. Love, Grace, and Patience
There’s no substitute for love. The fact that you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s shows just how much you love them.
They may need to be touched. If so, offer a hug. Dad liked to get his back scratched and that’s what I did the last time I visited him in the nursing home.
Extend grace to the patient and other caregivers. It’s okay to laugh sometimes at the crazy situations that arise when going through this journey. Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine to help manage the madness.
Through experience, I know all of this is easier said than done.
Truly, seeing a loved one go through the stages of this disease is dreadful. So many times we just want a conversation like we used to have; but it’s no longer possible. We might get a glimpse of the person we once knew, but it’s rare when they have declined into the later stages.
After Dad’s funeral, I browsed through old photos of him on my laptop. How wonderful to see his smiling face and eyes sparkling with life, years before he began to forget.
What I’d give to have him back the way he used to be before Alzheimer’s riddled his mind and body.
As I contemplated my earthly father and how much I’d give to have him back the way he used to be, another thought crossed my mind.
What would God give to have us back the way we were before we were racked with sin and fallen?
He gave His only Son to get us back.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (NIV)
Never forget we are deeply loved by our Heavenly Father who gave everything to have us back. Through His Son, we are made new.
Diseases may steal our loved ones...but God gives new life.
Trust Him with everything.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Jovanmandic
Melinda Eye Cooper grew up in the Missouri Ozarks but lives near Nashville, Tennessee. She and her husband have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and three beautiful granddaughters – and a spunky dog named Lincoln!
Melinda writes articles and devotions. She also writes fiction and is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy novel. She grew up in a large family, and many of her devotions and stories are inspired from her childhood.
Visit her website here. You can follow her on Facebook here or Instagram here.