Remembering Who They Are: Key to Caring for Alzheimer's Patients

A man named Floyd wrote, "To friends or relatives of someone with Alzheimer's, please remain a friend....do not let Alzheimer's be how you define a person..."

     What do you do on Sunday afternoons?  Watch football?  Clean house?  While these are pretty common - recently individuals from all over the state decided to set aside their Sunday routine and walk for Alzheimer’s research.  This effort, called “Walk to End Alzheimer’s”, joined over 600 walks nationwide, raising funds and bringing awareness of the disease to others. Increased awareness and compassion can lead to new solutions for patients, caregivers, friends and families.

     According to the Alzheimer’s Association over 5.2 million people have been diagnosed with this disease.  They also project that by 2025, 6.7 million individuals will be afflicted, and between 11 million and 16 million people by 2050. Many in the field consider this a pending Tsunami for our society.

     And the impact on individual lives is nothing less. Caring for Alzheimer’s  patients can be draining on care givers.  The emotional and financial toll on families can be overwhelming.   According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”  And these figures are rising significantly each year. 

     Along with the huge financial burdens, many individuals and families feel abandoned or forgotten by others as they face this illness.

     Angela Lunde, Mayo Clinic’s health education outreach coordinator, recently wrote a blog entitled, “Friends don’t forget friends dealing with Alzheimer’s”.  She quoted a man named Floyd, a caregiver for his wife who struggled with the disease.  Floyd wrote, “To friends or relatives of someone with Alzheimer’s disease, please remain a friend.  Do not allow your fears to make you stop being a part of our lives.”

      Poignantly, he stated, “Above all, do not let Alzheimer’s disease be how you define a person (or us as a couple).”

      Patti Davis would agree.  The daughter of former President Ronald Reagan - who also battled this disease - has been spending much of her time lately helping other families who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

     In a recent interview, she talked about how she had to learn to separate her father’s physically deteriorating being from his spiritual one.  She said, “If I can look past what I’m seeing, the physical deterioration, then it will inform how I deal with him.  It’s an act of faith to believe that, because what you’re seeing physically is so different.”  She iterated, “I don’t believe his soul could have Alzheimer’s.”

     During her father’s illness, she felt she got to know him in a different way, as gentle and sweet aspects of his being became more evident.  She learned that somewhere beyond the lost memories and physical struggles, the real person was alive and well.  Facing her grief was not easy, but she said, “…it gets a little bit smoother because there is another stream of consciousness that keeps you looking beyond the disease.”

     Jesus knew that “stream of consciousness”.  He always looked beyond the person engulfed in depression, sadness, rough circumstances or illness and saw someone worthy of love, attention and full health.  He didn’t define the sick by their illness or the downtrodden by their circumstance.  Compassionately, he looked for, and encouraged, a spiritual view of the individual.  This approach healed mentally and physically.

     This is good advice for all of us.  As we visit friends, go to work, or just walk through our cities, we can remember Patti Davis’ advice to look past mental and physical illness and choose not to define people through a disease.


Tim Mitchinson is a health columnist and the media representative for Christian Science in Illinois


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