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Enjoy the moment: embrace the experience

Caregivers tell me about shared laughter and special moments with the person they’re caring for. But most articles emphasize the stress related to caregiving. What about the tears of laughter and warm loving times?

Caregivers will be more likely to find these special times if they learn to balance their lives, are members of support groups and are able to ask for help. Overworked and exhausted caregivers who insist on doing everything themselves will be less likely to experience these times. How sad. Stress robs us of our ability to be clear-headed and make smart choices.

The spouse who feels committed to care for their loved one without any outside help, whether it be out of love, loyalty or obligation, will often end up burnt out and unable to enjoy special moments. They have the least to offer their loved ones with regard to quality of life. They tend to the necessary tasks, but they deplete their energy by not enlisting help. This leaves them with little if anything to offer in terms of love, kindness, understanding, and warmth.

I have met many cognitively-impaired individuals who have a great sense of humour and interesting stories to share. They communicate through touch and facial expressions, beautiful music and art. Although Alzheimer’s robs the person of many of their abilities, their essence is still present.

The individual may respond inappropriately to situations, but a good caregiver may be able to find a way to make the most of an awkward experience. Alzheimer’s is a long and difficult journey and different stages will bring different behaviours.

A friend told me that her mother now enjoys singing old crooner tunes with her and eating ice cream cones – experiences they haven’t shared in years. Yet clothes shopping, which they used to love, has become a bore. As a caregiver you need to be flexible enough to adapt to new experiences.

Those of us with most of our cognitive abilities intact find living in the moment a difficult if not impossible task. But a person with Alzheimer’s lives mostly in the moment – their memory impairment prevents them from remembering yesterday, and tomorrow doesn’t exist for them. How many of us are able to do this? If there’s no concern about what others think about us, that’s truly living in the moment.

Someone with Alzheimer’s may start singing or dancing in the middle of the street while people stare. This is a joyful time for them. The question is whether the caregiver can join in or try to stop the behaviour out of embarrassment. A good moment shared is a joyful time. Allow yourself to enter the moment. Remember who the person you are caring for was before the illness and get to know the person he or she is now.

Tips for finding joy in caregiving:

  • Don’t do it all by yourself
  • Find time for yourself
  • Continue with activities you’ve always enjoyed
  • Join a support group
  • Educate yourself
  • Don’t fight the disease
  • Forget the shame, go past it
  • Do not allow others, ignorant of your journey, to judge or advise
  • Surround yourself with people who care about you and understand your situation

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