My neighbor, Ilse, has a beautiful mind, it just doesn’t always cooperate as she’d like. Dementia has a way of muddling the brain’s communication pathways, leaving a person drifting in and out of a mental fog. Dementia is unpredictable and sometimes unfriendly. One hour you’re laughing and reminiscing, and the next you’re glum and refusing to take a bath.
I write about senior issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, for my at-home caregiving client Right at Home. It’s one thing to write about America’s 5 million people with age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s, the number one form of dementia. It’s quite another to personally know someone with the memory, thinking, and behavior disorders.
In February, Ilse’s husband, Herman, died unexpectedly. So their daughter Edie and her husband, Gary, moved in with Ilse as full-time family caregivers. Their sheltie puppy became fast friends with my collie pup. Now we’re more than waving “hi, there,” neighbors. We’re friends. We’re extended family.
Last Friday night, Edie hosted a one-year birthday party for her pup, Dutchess, and invited my puppy Ayrabelle and me. Doggie hats. Doggie balloons. Doggie cake. And a wonderful evening of Ilse fully lucid and loving the frolicking pups. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Ilse so talkative and thrilled.
Dementia can cloud the mind, but not the heart. Ilse is still my fun-loving, German-born neighbor, and I look forward to
more parties and everyday moments when she is fully her playful self.
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. If you know someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, how do you stay connected with the person or the caregivers as the disease progresses with its ups and downs?
Thank you for this lovely article, Beth. My best method for remaining connected to my Mom with dementia is to always remember that she lives “in the moment.” I know that if I approach every interaction from that perspective, the outcome is bound to be successful. Mom’s dementia has been an incredible learning experience and test of patience, not unlike training a puppy or raising a child. The rewards are immeasurable and her smiles are priceless. I wouldn’t trade this time with her for anything.
Edie, I love how you interact with your mom showing such gentle patience and steady love. Living in the moment is such a great way to enjoy her in the now and not rush on to all the to-dos in life. Thank you for modeling such respect and faithfulness in serving both your parents. Her smiles ARE priceless! And her laugh. And her joy over the pup pups.
I love Elsa too. She has great stories when you can get her to talk about them. I too had a mother that suffered with Alzheimer’s. It was brutal to watch her dwindle into thin air. It got to the point where she couldn’t walk or talk but always tried. Looking into her eyes you can see her soul was trapped in a prison of a lost mind. To those that suffer with loved ones in this state I pray you have patience and understanding for these dear souls. Try to remember they don’t want this either.
Tina, thank you for sharing your encouraging, I’ve-been-there words. I am sorry that your mom battled Alzheimer’s. I know you were a calming presence through her illness and you loved her well through those dwindling days. Thank you for your wise words to others who are walking through dementia disease with their loved one. “Remember, they don’t want this either” is what a friend of mine said just last week. So true.