Support group for Alzheimer’s disease caregivers is needed |

Support group for Alzheimer’s disease caregivers is needed

BETH KORANDirector, Summit County Seniors

A support group for Alzheimer’s caregivers makes a lot of sense because of the very special needs found here. There is nothing else quite like it. In the early stages, everything goes on pretty much OK. Personal needs are not difficult to handle. The person can generally be trusted to have some memory and be left somewhat on their own.But as time passes, more and more care is needed, even to the point where some people can not even be left alone. The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is unrelenting, like a drum beat of doom. You almost wish you didn’t know what was ahead. If you are fortunate, you learn to cope with different things, such as setting the table with only a fork instead of salad fork, dinner fork, knife, and teaspoon (yes there are still some of us who hold on to old traditions because “we have always done it that way.)Good grief, how long has it been since there were lit candles on the table? But it is sometimes hard to balance in your own mind who the person was, and who they are now!Other things, like cancer, etc. make more sense because you can see the wasting away of the body, even while the person is trying to hang on as long as possible. But this is like the person’s mind moving another foot or two down into the bottom of the well where you see a reflection but decreasingly anything more. Yes, we have memories, but how long can we live on those when the person is still alive? And there is always knowing inside, just exactly how far it is going to go, all the way to the end. We sometimes think that the old persons disease of pneumonia or some other illness would be almost a blessing and relief. Sometimes it is hard to remember how much that person gave us in years past. Yes, you at times can have a good time, but it is not like what it once was. Yes, the play must go on, but sometimes we get tired of being “on stage.”Be it a mate or a parent, the role changes. Instead of the companion who helps make decisions, it is a person who at times we must tell what to do.Then we must keep two things in mind: the person is still almost the same in body, but no longer the same in spirit.They are not a child. They are not an errant person. They are simply a person whose ability to make certain kinds of decisions is gone. So we find as kind a way as we can to make up for that lack in what they are able to do. And, when we get used to working on it, we can find some techniques that work and some that don’t. This is where a support group is fine, they are one of the places where we can explore for different things that might even save the day for us. But more important, in a relationship so close we have become a caregiver, we no longer are fed by them in quite the same way. They may become angry and critical, or any of several other different things that don’t feed our ego in ways we have been fed in the past. We are needy, just as needy as the patient. So we need the support of others who will be fair to us, understanding, and give us the strokes we so much need. We may or may not see a difference in what we get from support group members and what we get from general friends. In fact, one job to work on in the support group is how to “train” our friends to give us what we need! Then when the caregiving task ends, part of it going if the person is placed somewhere, and then ultimately in death, we then face a new set of dynamics where we actually need almost as much support as before.It is important we take care of ourselves adequately through this stage, using all of the resources available to us. Beth Koran is director of the county seniors program at the Summit County Community and Senior Center.

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