How to cope when a loved one is suffering from dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease

My mother had Alzheimer's disease with obvious symptoms for about six years. She died of cancer May 23, 1994, and we are glad her struggles are over. The things that helped me and my family the most and what I can recommend to others are the following:

Seek spiritual help. I had a number of blessings to help me cope. I put our family's names on the temple roll often. I let my ward leaders know our situation so they could remember us in their prayers. Personal prayer was essential.- Join a support group. Others in the group know what you're going through and can offer practical advice, encouragement or a shoulder. Many community hospitals and nursing homes sponsor such support groups.

Keep in touch with your local Alzheimer's Association. This organization can mail you abundant information on dementia conditions, how to cope, what to expect. They often hold seminars and workshops to educate and offer support.

Find a physician for your loved one who will not only attend to his or her needs appropriately and sensitively but also will offer much-needed understanding and support to you.

Remind yourself of the way your loved one was before the dementia. Remember, these changes you see in them are not their choice and are beyond their control.

Take breaks away from your loved one, or you may break. Friends or neighbors may be happy to "sit" for a few hours or a half day. Look for adult day care in your area. Some nursing homes with special facilities for dementia patients are set up for respite care.

Realize dementia patients respond better if they have set routines - meals at the same time, same place, etc.

Know you are not alone. Know that Heavenly Father loves you and your loved one. - Kathleen Taggart, Beaverton, Ore.

How we did it:

Accept illness

One of the first hurdles I had to conquer was to accept my husband's illness. Our doctor recommended that I find a nursing home to care for him, but my decision was to keep him at home where I would have the peace of mind knowing that all his needs were being met. It was important to take one day at a time. - Iris Doemland, Downers Grove, Ill.

Be grateful

Have hope, eternal perspective. In the next life, all of us will be free from physical limitations.

Feel love for afflicted one. It is a growing thing, motivating one to greater effort, sustaining joy in spite of difficulties.

Be grateful. Consider memories, present capabilities.

Reach out to others.

Receive compassionate service graciously.

Pray for strength, for faith. Be aware of help and comfort from unseen sources.

Ask for priesthood blessings - for the caregiver as well as the patient. - Mona W. Haynes, Colonial Heights, Va.

Relieves tension

Laughter, along with prayer, can sometimes get us through situations when nothing else works. We have found in our family that, while dementia or Alzheimer's disease are not humorous, being able to laugh together at some of the things that are said or happen helps us cope and relieves tensions. - Carolyn Couser, Edgewater, Md.

Write letters

My lovely and only sister, Maureen, has Alzheimer's disease. Her daughter, our niece, counsels us to write letters. While telephone conversations vanish into the mental mists, letters are read over and over again and are much cherished. - Bernice Ostvig, Buffalo, Minn.

Previous lifestyle

Continue the patient's previous lifestyle as much as possible, although as the disease progresses, this becomes less and less an option. While we must do for our loved one many things he no longer can, we must not strip from him those things he still can do. - Paul and B.E. Coppinger, Chandler, Ariz.

Build self-esteem

In the beginning, these people often know something is happening to them. Do not criticize or be visibly upset with them. Keep a sweet tone of voice. Prayer is the key when patience runs short.

Do not treat them like a child. Offer your help on tasks they can no longer handle and give them tasks that can build their self-esteem. Give them some individual attention focusing on their childhood. You will have to spark their long-term memory with questions. Young children can be a great help here. - Phyllis J. Rosecrans, Deltona, Fla.

Same routine

I have learned to cope using the following factors:

Put belongings in the same place all the time. Keep the same routine, position for furniture.

Give them only one or two choices of clothes, as their recognition of their belongings, such as clothes, changes.

Realize that they may become fearful of people and reflections. Let them approach you, and keep your hands at your sides, so they won't perceive you as threatening them. Remove mirrors, if possible.

Know loud noises are scary to them, so no loud music or shouting. - Eileen Flexhaug, Lethbridge, Alberta

Don't judge

Be kind to yourself. you're doing the best you can.

As for others, never judge others for their decision to place a loved one in a care facility. It doesn't mean they don't love the afflicted one. A care facility can provide the 24-hour physical care. - Kathy McLeish, Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Memory book

One thing that has helped my mother the most is a book the children put together about her life. She spends hours everyday looking at her childhood pictures, reading about her courtship and marriage and reminiscing about her days as a wife and mother. On days when she is suffering the most, the book seems to help her piece her life together. - Renee Erickson, Ogden, Utah

Proper nutrition

Proper nutrition is important as some patients have a tendency to lose weight. Prepare food that they can cut and then feed themselves, or serve one food at a time with only one utensil or one dish, like soup. - Thaya Eggleston Gilmore, Provo, Utah

Anger because of illness

Try to remember that a lot of the mean, angry things they say is because of their illness. Write your feelings in your journal. That way you can get over the hurts more easily. - Ruth P. Lichfield, St. Johns, Ariz.

How to checklist:

1 Seek help from family, Church members; get rest.

2 Learn about, understand dementia; join support group.

3 Pray for help; get priesthood bleessings for you, loved one.

4 Be patient; realize anger, confusion are due to illness.

Write to us:

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Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, or send fax to (801) 237-2121. Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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