Lovingly waiting for slowly sputtered syllables, patiently assisting simple tasks, repeating and redirecting fill each day. It all begins anew in the morning if it hasn’t continued all night. This is not a snippet of life with a young child; it is one of caring for a person with dementia.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month and I have been busy blogging on the MemoryMinders blog regarding brain wellness. Understanding about dementia and the various diseases causing it, the importance of nutrition, sleep, socialization and exercising mind and body are key, but the most important thing needed when caring for someone with memory issues is love.
Jesus gave us one commandment which covers all the rest:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. ~ John 13:34
Jesus’ command to love applies to everyone and in every situation. But it can be extremely difficult to carry out His command when someone’s mind and then they themselves become entirely different. The take charge person now needs assistance. The outgoing, talkative individual can’t find their words. The mild mannered, kind person’s behavior changes to embarrassing or uncomfortable. All these new and different challenges can be how dementia manifests itself.
Whatever the cause, when we observe variant demeanors in ourselves or others, we should have them assessed by a trained physician. Next comes how to live, love and care for someone affected by dementia. This leads us back to Jesus’ command to love.
Reading 1 Corinthians 13’s, “love” chapter, I contemplated a different scenario than the marriage or friend perspectives we usually think of with this chapter. Ponder these words as they relate to caring for someone with dementia:
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ~ 1 Corinthians 4-7
Love is patient while they search for and slowly express words or try to focus on a simple task. Love is gently being present rather than rushing to the next thing. Love is forgiving and forgetting when someone or something is not remembered. Love endures when answering the same question for the fifth time in ten minutes. Love never ends.
Anyone who has loved or cared for someone with memory issues in early, mid or late stages understands this familiar territory. The days seem endless. But Jesus calls us to be patient, endure, have faith and most of all love. The person we see may not be the same on the outside, but they are still present at some level. If you have read the book or seen the movie Still Alice you appreciate the title. She is still Alice even with Alzheimer’s. Behaviors change, words vacate and functions diminish, but the person we love is still there, albeit with a changed persona.
Let’s be present, kind and patient even when repeating ourselves or mourning the person we once knew. Let’s be loving even when we don’t feel like it or if behaviors make it difficult. What we are called to do is not easy but it is precious. It is precious to the person we care about, to God and to our essential selves.
Understanding behaviors and learning about resources for caregivers and individuals with dementia is necessary. Decreasing the stigma associated with dementia is imperative. But ultimately what is needed is for all of us to obey Jesus’ call to love one another, even those with dementia.