Seven years ago, as we were going about our Thanksgiving routine, mom looked at a bay leaf and she didn’t know what it was for a split second. I got a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. After all, no one knew her way around a great pot of gumbo better than mom. I remember the feeling so well - shock, uncertainty, fear, confusion. One thing I can say for sure though, no one knew my strong-willed, positive, force of strength and courage mother better than I did. I knew it was surely “a something”. While this blog is not specifically about my story and how our lives intersected with Alzheimer’s, (we can talk about that another time) it is to offer the benefit of some practical and powerful lessons I’ve learned so far. I pray it will empower you to live beyond fear.
If you are someone (a daughter, son, husband, wife or friend) suspecting Alzheimer’s may be what you are facing, or you already know and are paralyzed with fear my take-away for you today is DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Three things I pray will help you to move forward in faith and courage vs fear:
Early Detection – Early detection matters with this disease. To reiterate Alzheimer’s is NOT a normal part of aging and it is NOT a mental condition. While many things are still undiscovered in finding a cure what we know is aging is the highest risk factor, and women are at a higher risk for the disease. Apart from those facts, remember I shared seven years ago was my discovery and now seven years later because of three factors we are living well – faith – knowledge/education – life adjustments.
Clinically, there are only two drugs on the market indicated for Alzheimer’s (this is not a recommendation of clinical advice) in combination therapy, they are indicated to but when in . Suspecting Alzheimer’s does not mean it’s Alzheimer’s; there are other conditions that display similar symptoms. Guessing or assuming is not the way to go. Knowledge gives power and the more you know and understand about the disease and your specific situation the more empowered you will be and the more grounded your decisions. This is NOT the time to give in to fear. This is NOT the time to take away your loved one’s control or take over their lives as if they can no longer live it. .
Time – The one thing we can’t buy more of, or control is the one thing we lack the most respect for – time. I share it that way because there are some things in life that truly bring clarity – loss and sickness. I’ve now experienced both in critical ways. And while Alzheimer’s caregivers experience loss at varying degrees throughout the journey, what most of us agree on is how being a caregiver has changed us, and fulfilled us all at the same time. Tied to early detection and the issue of pressing through fear is the reality of protecting and valuing time. Don’t waste time with worry, or regret, or living in paralysis about making decisions. This is not a license to bull-doze through stages or to disregard your loved one’s acceptance in the journey but to arm you with revelation that Alzheimer’s is not the decision-maker, God has the final word. Learning to make the most of every day will shift thinking, quality of relationship, and joy. Remember, it’s seven years post discovery on our personal journey. Mom is 87 now and while things are different – while things are tough – things are still blessed and good.
Organization – Early detection is not time give up. In fact I would propose prior to any situation, we need to recognize that if we are blessed we will age. As a whole we do very well in this country at dealing with the young and growing but not the old and aging.
I’ll say it again, it’s a blessing to age. And we should prepare to do it with grace. More, we should be not only preparing our children to live their purpose but to be courageous, discerning, compassionate adults equipped to take care of and make wise decisions for their parents. All of us will one day be here (if we are blessed enough to live a long healthy life).
Take time to put a power of attorney in place (full-power of attorney including health decisions). It’s not there to take over it’s there as a backup if a time comes where you are needed to come alongside the aid of your loved one. With Alzheimer’s issues such as short-term memory loss etc. it’s important to do things prior to. But remember how you approach it is as important as when. This is not about controlling but protection and planning. For us it was done several years prior to and Alzheimer’s presented itself it enabled me to move through specific processes as needed when needed.
The same holds true for establishing a will, living will and back up access to bills, important papers and other financial matters.
Finally, I know how hard this is I really do. But I’ve seen God work purpose through the process, and I’ve seen and experienced miracles that would blow you away. This message is not one to minimize feeling fear or to imply the journey as an Alzheimer’s caregiver won’t be difficult. Instead it is to encourage and equip you to not be paralyzed by fear – whether “it’s if” or whether “it is” – so what don’t let it rob you of what God has planned by trusting Him and being empowered to go through it – eyes open, focused, prayed up and armed with faith and knowlege.