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Healing With Alzheimer’s Caregiving

Posted Apr 07 2011 7:03am

Families that are quarrelsome bring all of that to dementia care when one of the parents develops Alzheimer’s.

This happens after the death of one spouse finally reveals that the other has dementia. A lot of covering up still goes on in families. Whether it’s shame, an over-developed desire for privacy or fearing the kids’ interference — well, it’s hard to know.

And sometimes, Dad concealing Mom’s increasing inability to master daily life is a mistaken commitment to what he saw as her dignity.

Whatever the motivation, often it is only at the death of the caregiver that the kids, hosting the remaining parent, find out how little that person seems able to function on a daily basis.

“We never knew Mom had dementia, until she stayed with us after Dad’s funeral,” says daughter. “At first, we thought it was just grief and loss, but we finally realized it wasn’t going away.”

Once parents are effectively out of the management picture — one dead, the other with dementia — it seems to release rage, invective and possessiveness in some families. The degree to which siblings have not bonded with each other will often be reflected in how they care for a parent with dementia.

As hard as dealing with dementia can be, on the other hand, it is beautiful to see kind families learning to cope, because their plan-making will be based upon kindness. They work out something together, allocating money and effort in relationship to need. They make healthy plans. Their path will still have difficulties, but they’ll walk it together.

How very different from the family wounded by anger, pain, dysfunction and insufficient love and support from parents. Raised in blame and starved in love, such families struggle, sometimes bitterly and woundingly.

For me, as a long-time observer of families doing their dementia stuff, it is often humbling to see how well-intentioned people go out and learn what they need to know and then practice it. Not that the process is ever as short as that sentence.

Siblings reflect their parents. An emotionally harsh environment doesn’t easily create a caregiver mentality.
The first person with dementia I ever looked after was treated by her sons the same way she had been treated by her husband. With disregard, lack of respect and blame for her illness. Fortunately, being a very loving and heart-centered person, good caregivers gathered willingly around her.

Oddly enough, coming together over dementia care can bring great healing to wounded families. Stepping into the flow of caregiving allows that flow to also swirl around the caregivers. Many a person has entered the life of caregiving precisely because family life was wounding, even if that motivation was unconscious.

Even in the wounded family, coming together as caregivers bring deep and lasting healing to those who take part in the process. And those who don’t, don’t give themselves that opportunity to heal. So, yes, they do get off doing the work. But they don’t get any of the benefits either.

And what about the person with dementia that can’t be healed? Is that fair? Well, actually, that person can heal from a lot of their own emotional wounding. Can and does.

Good caregiving brings comfort to the heart and a profound sense of deep security. That may be the first real comfort that person ever had. Sometimes dementia becomes the gateway through which comes the first real unconditional love that person receives in life.

Article By: Frena Gray-Davidson

Link data: Frena Gray-Davidson is an international speaker on dementia behaviors for families and a trainer for direct care staff in Memory Care and Alzheimer’s Units. You can check out her website at and get copies of her books from , including her latest book “Alzheimer’s 911: Help, Hope and Healing for Caregivers.” Feel free to email her at .

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