The Caregiver

By Margie Eisenhower

There is a wonderful saying that goes like this (anonymous):
“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regrets for I am more sure of what is kind, than I am of what is true.”

As caregivers of a patient with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, there will be times when the patient imagines things that aren’t real. Because of their confused and jangled minds, they become frightened or stressed by these things. You can try to relieve them of the worry from these things if they can’t let it go. For instance, one woman in a care home “imagined” there were two children coming in and out of her room. She was afraid and they’d be hurt. She called her husband, very agitated; she didn’t know what to do. He told her “not to worry, the police department knew about them and was sending their parents.” She was so relieved.

My own mother told me the neighbor boys were coming into her home and stealing money. She lived a great distance from me but I knew the neighbors well, and knew this couldn’t be so. Contradicting her and trying to reason with her about the impossibility of this would have been futile. Instead I said “Yes, I know about that, Mom, it’s terrible! However, I’ve talked with the parents and they will make sure it doesn’t happen again.” That truly appeased her. When it came up again another time. I said the same thing, and again she was relieved. Eventually, I moved my mom closer to me and when I packed up her home, I founds several rolls of twenty dollar bills – one roll inside a cereal box, one inside a roll of paper towels, one hidden in a secret drawer in an old trunk, and rolls in a couple of other places. It was a “catch-22.” She’d worry about the neighbor boys stealing it, so she’d “hide it” from them. When she needed money she couldn’t remember hiding it; hence, the neighbor boys took it!

One daughter told me her mother was very frightened, as she thought a burglar had entered her home and she feared he’d be returning. The daughter told her mom she had called the police and they’d already caught and arrested the burglar, so she needn’t worry any more. That’s all it took.

As a peer counselor for the Alzheimer’s Aid Society, I’ve had both men and woman tell me that they can’t imagine lying to their own mother; But, that’s where the quote above comes in. This “white lie” you’re telling is a way to bring comfort to that mom whom you love, respect, and want to protect.

I had someone tell me once, that having Alzheimer’s or dementia is like having someone fly you to a foreign country, set you down on a bench in the city and just leave you! You can’t speak the language, you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where to go, and you don’t know anyone around you. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety this would bring? Many patients deal with confusion and stress on a regular basis. They forget they have Alzheimer’s but they know something is very wrong with them and it is always frightening.

A simple rule when dealing with loved ones: Be kind. Don’t argue with them. Don’t tell them they are wrong. Don’t tell them they don’t make sense. Don’t say “You already asked me that!” Don’t say “You’ve told me that five times!” They can’t help it that their brain is off balance and mixed up. Ask yourself, “how would I want to be treated if that were me?”

This job isn’t easy! Caregiving is probably the toughest occupation out there right now. Call your local office for help. Take yourself to a support group. Not only can you visit with people who are going through the same thing you are, but you will pick up ideas and suggestions that will make your job much easier. No one knows how difficult this job is unless they’ve done it themselves. And sometimes other family members make it tougher instead of easier because they simply “don’t get it.” What they don’t know is that unless they spend two full days with the patient, they have no idea how bad the disease is or how hard it is for you the caregiver.

I salute you! I admire you! I wish you well.