It has been Carol, Sandra, and Jenni; best friends for 53 years. For a group of military wives, often living for years on opposite sides of the country, it’s quite an accomplishment. The triumph: Carol and Sandra have remained my mom’s faithful, intrepid friends, even through her Alzheimer’s journey.
Many in early stage Alzheimer’s are very angry and frustrated, sensing something is wrong. Friends may fall away as the person with Alzheimer’s withdraws, confused and embarrassed by herown mistakes. Instinct told Carol and Sandra to continuethe lunches and garden show trips, as often as Mom would allow. News of my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis spurred their research into the disease.
Mom’s friends learned she would likely have both pleasant and unpleasant moods and possibly challenging, behaviors as the disease progressed. Books like a “Best Friend’s Approach to Alzheimer’s Care,” by Virginia Bell, explained babying Mom would not be the right approach; as an adult, she deserved respect and an attempt to understand her situation.Carol told me one of her biggest challenges was reaching a mental place where she could comprehend deeply that Mom would interpret everyone’s actions and all events through a lens of Alzheimer’s. (Bob DeMarco of the Alzheimer’s Reading Room addresses this, too.)
“It’s nothing but the disease,” became Carol’s and Sandra’s constant phrase to remind themselves not to be angry or fearful if Mom did something uncaring or seemingly senseless. Both her friends consciously adapted their communication style, working to look at everything from her perspective. In time, Carol and Sandra took Mom’s “NO!” for what it really meant: “I don’t understand; I’m afraid!” Seeing that reasoning only caused resistance and confusion, the friends redirected Mom instead, when necessary.
Time with Mom evolved as her abilities diminished, but the theme of accepting her reality remained consistent. Early on, Sandra and Carol intentionallyrecorded Mom’s version of their college days, using photo albums and keepsakesto trigger memories. Later, Carol, Sandra, and my mom worked in my parents’ house, sorting items for donation and clearing out clutter. Mom, always an organizer, enjoyed these guided, purposeful projects. The organizing reduced Mom’s rummaging and agitation, helping my dad tremendously. Just two years ago, the ladies began to spend visits with Mom sorting and arrangingher costume jewelry and dusting rooms.
Now, Carol’s college storybook enthralls Mom. Mom listens while strokingthe satin handbag the three friends shared back and forth for various college formals. Sometimes, Mom dances a little with these somehow familiar strangers as herfavorite college era music plays. She enjoys the milk shakes they bring. Mom does not know the people in the photo album, but loves looking at the pictures of girls in long, poufy dresses.
Carol and Sandra gave my dad a great gift, too: occasional rest from caregiving. Knowing their sadness would not change the situation, they stayed positive with both my parents. Their enduring friendship eased Mom’s fears and smoothed her path. They thought they could help; they were right.
Lee Nyberg, the daughter of woman with Alzheimer’s, seeks to help families and those living with Alzheimer’s through education and her company, Home Care Assistance. To find out how Home Care Assistance’s professional caregivers can help you help your parents age in place, at home, check out the website: HomeCareAssistanceOmaha.com