More than 5 million people in the United States suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. That terribly high number doesn’t even reflect how many family members have to cope with having a loved one who is an Alzheimer’s patient. Though the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are widely understood and recorded, for those family members, their individual situation feels unique and presents a huge burden in their lives.
Letting Go of Guilt
The first step in helping family members cope with an Alzheimer’s patient is to teach them to let go of the guilt. Often, there is tremendous guilt over feelings of anger and resentment about having to use up their time and financial resources to take care of the patient’s needs. These feelings are perfectly normal, and often are masks for the true underlying feeling of fear of losing their loved one.
Learning to Accept
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease at this time. It is better for all concerned if family members accept that time is limited with their loved one. Though research is ongoing, false hope should not be clung to. When family members can come to terms with the fact that the disease will run its course, they can often better appreciate short moments of clarity or times of joy while visiting with or caring for their loved one. In the long run, this will help them to accept the outcome when it comes about.
When family members are counseled not to have expectations regarding behavior from their loved ones, it helps them to understand the new limitations that Alzheimer’s patients have. Teach them not to be surprised if they aren’t recognized, or if old stories don’t ring a familiar bell. When new limitations are understood, preconceived notions and expectations can’t disappoint family members.
As a professional, you are in a unique position to educate and help the family members of Alzheimer’s patients. When you succeed, it will be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your career.