I feel that I need to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, coping approaches and treatments whenever a learning opportunity appears. My Alzheimer’s awareness starts from reading this helpful article “Why Those With Alzheimer’s And Mental Illness Need Community.” by Amy Aves Challenger on this web page http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-aves-challenger/caring-for-alzheimers-patient_b_7980486.html. I quote her suggestions here as a reference.
Amy Aves Challenger’s points:
. First, if you’re a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s, consider creating an anonymous group in your community for those in the early stages of the disease.
. Treat people with Alzheimer’s as individuals who have a disease not people who are their disease.
. Don’t fear those with brain disease or mental illness. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them.
. Be a fearless, humble explorer when you connect with a mind that is ill.
Since his diagnosis, my dad has volunteered at a presidential convention, been active in church, written poetry and a memoir, created ceramics, played football with his grandchildren, skied the Sierras, chatted with his daughters about birth and death, his years as a U.S. naval officer, the president of an advertising agency, and more. But still he wrote to me in an email, “It is lonely out here. We do not lose our brains all at once.”
So what can we do?
First, if you’re a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s, consider creating an anonymous group in your community for those in the early stages of the disease. A grassroots group would allow people the opportunity to talk openly about their disease, promoting dignity, treatment awareness, and less fear of stigma around Alzheimer’s. If people with Alzheimer’s unite, then more accurate perceptions about the disease will take root. My dad has contacted his local chapter of The Alzheimer’s Association to start such a group in his community.
Treat people with Alzheimer’s as individuals who have a disease not people who are their disease. If you know someone with Alzheimer’s, ask him or her out for coffee, a walk, or a visit to a museum. Help prevent the “withdrawal into depression” as my dad described his friend before he took his life. Make the phone call, send the email, knock on the door, comment on the Facebook post, offer the volunteer job. Be there!
Don’t fear those with brain disease or mental illness. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from them. When I had my third baby, my dad reached out to me. I’d felt guilty about which grandparent would get to stay with us first, second, etc. “Amy, don’t worry about pleasing us. Focus on what’s important,” he said, recognizing that I was coping with a special needs child in crisis as a new baby was arriving. My dad’s “poor memory” of yesterday’s details allowed him to be present with my experience, providing me with assurance. Similarly, my son with special needs often pinpoints my feelings. “Mom, why was your voice angry even though you were smiling?” His highly sensitive nature, which often gets him into trouble, enlightens me with its honesty.
Be a fearless, humble explorer when you connect with a mind that is ill. And carry your greatest tool always — HOPE. A disease without hope is a certain path to despair, depression — to death. And treatment without a humble awareness of the undiscovered avenues of the brain, overlooks opportunities to heal. We have much to learn. Admit that we don’t fully understand Alzheimer’s or other mind illnesses.
When I approach my father with an open mind, I see all that he is today. Each poem he sends me, every phone call, each bowl he spins on a wheel — surely is a blessing. Each day he lives, he offers me a gift that spreads its wings to share with you: Let every mind — no matter the diagnosis or the prediction of days on this earth — let every mind fly. Fly high!