Like millions of other people, my neighbor Bob cared for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. For three years, I watched Bob’s wife, a once bright and vivacious woman, turn into a shell of her former self. When I met them in the condo hallway, she gave me a blank look. Then Bob gently told her, “Say hello.” With a bright but strangely artificial smile, she did so.

Bob was blunt when asked about the difficulties. It takes a lot of patience, he said, and all the self-control he could muster. He compared it to caring for a 2-year-old: Her behavior could be highly aggravating, but it was no fairer to blame her than it is to expect a toddler to act like an adult. “And you know it’s only going to get worse,” he told me.

Anyone in Bob’s shoes knows well the fears and frustrations of watching a loved one slip into the fog of Alzheimer’s. Here are ten tips for coping with those fears.

1. Know your enemy.

Taking a hard look at Alzheimer’s is terrifying. But knowledge is power. The better you understand both its course and its effects, the better you can respond to the needs of the person you love.

2. Hold a family conference.

Decide together who will be the primary caregiver and how others will help—perhaps managing finances, researching community resources, or chauffeuring when needed.

3. Make room for grief.

Know that grief is not just sadness. It also includes anger, guilt, depression. You can try to dam feelings up by ignoring them, but they will break out in behavior that baffles even you.

4. Plan ahead.

Before the disease makes serious inroads, explain to your loved one that it will be helpful to both of you to make a list.

5. Get support.

Start with people you know who have been there. Check with your local faith community for others on the journey. (Don’t forget to ask for their prayerful support!) Local social service agencies may be able to put you in touch with a support group.

6. Put safety first.

Take a hard look at your loved one’s environment with a view to preventing accidents.

7. Simplify.

Keep to established routines as much as possible.

8. Accept your loved one as she is.

Confirm her value with affection and praise for small victories.  Respect the feelings of sorrow and frustration that will inevitably arrive.

9. Take care of yourself.

See that you eat well and get enough rest, even if that means asking for help. Always remember that you cannot give good care unless you maintain your energy.

10. Stay in touch.

Literally: Every human being thrives on physical expressions of affection. Keep in touch with the person who was, too; hold fast to your memories of better times.

And, of course, keep in touch with the God who shaped the person you love. The God who sees the smallest sparrow fall will never forget either of you.

Excerpt from “Ten Helps for an Alzheimers Family” from CareNotes.

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