Those who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder are most fortunate if they enjoy the sustained support of others through-out the long course of the disease. Even the closest relationships may be tested to the limits in such difficult circumstances. A common refrain among experienced caregivers is. “You certainly find out who your friends are!” This familiar remark has a couple of different meanings.
A common refrain among experipenced caregivers is: “You certainly find out who your friends are!”
First, there is gratitude for those rare persons whose loyalty endures through thick and thin. Their help is expressed by listening, responding, laughing, crying and knowing when to act tough or be tender. Their countless acts of kindness do not go unnoticed. Their presence may make the difference between hope and despair for the caregivers. Such friends may truly serve as a life line.
On the other hand, caregivers feel a terrible loss when persons expected to be available begin to drift away – relatives, neighbors and long-time companions. As persons with dementia become more impaired, caregivers tend to need more support. However, the circle of support too often shrinks or disappears altogether.
Must caregivers accept this reality? Yes, sometimes. But must they also settle for loneliness and isolation or should efforts be aimed at reacting positively to a troubling situation? As a rule, actively coping is better than simply moping. The following ideas may be useful when friendships begin to falter.
• Since it is safe to assume that others are usually ignorant or afraid of dementing illnesses, do your best to educate them. Explain how the disease has affected your loved one and how you have dealt with the myriad of symptoms. Pass along some educational brochures or books.
• Inform others of how the disease has affected your lifestyles. What changes have taken place’ How do you feel about the situation?
• Provide details to others on how they may be of assistance. What are your needs and the needs of the person you care for? Grab their attention by being specific.
• If others do not respond to this kind of information, it is best not to press further. Too much precious time and energy may be wasted on futile efforts and ongoing disappointments. Yet keep channels of communication open if at all possible. In other words, free yourself from some unrealistic expectations and cut your losses.
• Attend meetings of a support group. Group members inform and encourage each other on the many facets of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, including ways of coping with strained relations.
• Nurture other existing relationships and develop new ones that may blossom into lasting friendships.
• Finally, show appreciation for those who manage to hang in there with you over the long haul. No matter how little or much they may be able to stand by you and your loved one in this time of need; they embody the meaning of friendship.
by Dan Kuhn, A.C.S.W
(Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center)
Alzheimer’s Arkansas Programs and Services
201 Markham Center Drive ~ Little Rock, AR 72205
501-224-0021 or (outside Pulaski County) 800-689-6090
Web Site: http://www.alzark.org