Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Visiting Alzheimer Patients

I recently visited with a parishioner who has Alzheimer’s Disease. It was a pleasant experience and the parishioner seemed to appreciate and enjoy the visit and my prayer before I left. It occurred to me that perhaps my experience with my mother, who had Alzheimer’s for years before she died, probably gave me some experience that would be helpful to others.

Often when we visit friends or family members with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, we feel ill at ease because the patient is often anxious and uncomfortable. Then, we often think it would be better if we hadn’t come at all. Let me assure you, that is not true. It is good that you went to visit, and it was probably helpful to the patient to have some diversion to their life, even if they don’t remember it moments after you leave.

Here are some suggestions that may be helpful to you:
  • Just love them. How long they remember you isn’t as important as bringing a bright spot to their day.
  • Treasure the moments. Learn to treasure the moments, the smiles, the conversation—even if it is sometimes disjointed and doesn’t always make sense. It is good for them to chat with you. Your presence is important to them.
  • Don’t ask questions. Never ask them to clarify or explain. They can’t, and the anxiety will come quickly.

I noticed early on in Mom’s Alzheimer time of life that if I asked her questions that she couldn’t answer, even the least thing, she would become anxious and ill at ease—perhaps embarrassed because she didn’t know the answer. (Although, I’m not sure if she was embarrassed, because she couldn’t tell me.)

I soon learned to never ask questions, but to always tell her things. First, I would tell her who I was: “I’m your son, Rick. I wanted to stop by and see you today. How are you?” (That’s one question I could always ask Mom. It may not be true of all Alzheimer patients.) Tell them about the weather. Tell them about your children, grandchildren, friends, the news, anything that may be of interest. But always tell it as if you wouldn’t expect the patient to know any of it, so he/she doesn’t have to do mental calculations, which might make them feel anxious.

The main thing is to visit. Even though they won’t remember, the moments are precious “in the moment.”

In the latter days of his life, former president Ronald Reagan was afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. His son was faithful to visit him, and Reagan greeted his visits eagerly, even though he then only knew him as, “the man who hugs me.”

Just be the one who hugs them.

I'm Rick Blumenberg . . .
and that's My View from Tanner Creek.

(This article was first published in First Touch, online newsletter for First Church of God, St Joseph, Michigan.)

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