When telling people about my work, the response I almost always get is, “I know someone with Alzheimer’s.” A comment that usually follows is, “and it is so awful.”
Yes, having Alzheimer’s is awful. It robs people of their memories, independence, and cognitive functions. Many times, we refer to people with Alzheimer’s as “suffering” with it.
We cannot minimize the suffering, but we also shouldn’t maximize it. Finding moments of joy can help balance “suffering with” and “living with” Alzheimer’s.
Find Joy and Dignity
I participate in a networking group, “Cognitive and Memory Professionals (CAMP).” This group is lead by Dan Kuhn, Vice President of Education with All Trust Home Care in Hinsdale, IL. The purpose of this group is to discuss current thinking about caring for persons with the many varieties of cognitive impairment.
Recently, we read and then discussed the book, “Dementia Reimagined” by Tia Powell, MD. The tag line for the book is “Building a Life of Joy and Dignity from Beginning to End.”
In my thirty-one years working in long term care, I can recite story after story of the fun and laughter shared with persons with Alzheimer’s. The reason is this- people with Alzheimer’s forget the facts, but they remember the feelings. By making someone with Alzheimer’s feel good, loved, respected, and dignified is where joy is found.
To illustrate, a colleague at the AGE-u-cate Training Institute likened this to feelings about our kindergarten teacher. While we probably don’t remember specific conversations or interactions, we know if the teacher made us feel good or bad. We will either smile or cringe when we think back depending on the experience.
Friends, by looking through a different lens, perhaps we can discover joy lurking underneath life with Alzheimer’s.
Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare, Julie provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving for family and professional caregivers. In addition, she is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.