What to do when dementia strikes your family – Faith & You by Terry Pluto
CLEVELAND, Ohio – I received this email from Emily (not her real name), who read my recent column on adult children caring for elderly parents:
âI haven’t really had that experience of lovingly caring for my mother in old age. She was a great mom. But with Alzheimer’s disease, she became hateful and violent. We five siblings couldn’t take care of her – especially after she left big bruises on my sister. We decided to place her in a care facility. That day she punched me in the jaw and clawed my brother’s face – among other things less easy to mention.
âThe psychologist at the health center suggested that the two of us visit him for our safety. It lasted five years. We brothers and sisters were totally in agreement on things and (in pairs) took care of the necessary business – all while being told how horrible people we were.
I have heard stories like this from other friends. Joe Tait’s wife has never been violent with him. But the former Cavs broadcaster realized that over the past few years, Jeannie Tait had no idea who the man who visited him daily and fed his dinner.
âI know she’s still out there somewhere,â Tait told me. “But she also seems so far away.”
Tait died on March 10 at the age of 83. Jean Tait is still alive and in a memory care facility.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
âThese are such difficult situations and there are no easy answers,â said Father Bob Stec of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick.
Stec recently spoke to a woman whose husband suffered from severe dementia.
For the five years before her death, “she joked that she hated himâ¦ but there was some truth to that feeling.”
Stec said he hears more stories like these as dementia and Alzheimer’s are more and more common.
âYou have to keep reminding yourself that it’s not the person, it’s the disease,â he said. “You are trying to keep in mind who you love, not how that person is acting now.”
It becomes a test of our love and obedience. Stec said the woman’s husband later suffered a stroke and ended up in a hospice. She went to see him every day until his death.
âWe take care of the person the best we can,â he said. âIt may mean having to place the person in an institution. But we can visit, stay engaged. Treat them as we would like to be treated. This is what Jesus taught.
HOW TO LISTEN
But as Emily found out, others will question your decisions. Often they have strong opinions, but they are unwilling to spend the time providing care and dealing with emotional trauma.
It can be very painful for people like Emily and her family, who were doing their best under terrible circumstances.
âThis is when you need to take your faith and your love off the shelf,â said Reverend Robin Hedgeman of Bethany Christian Church in Cleveland. “It’s not just something to watch or discuss, it’s something we have to do and show off.”
Hedgeman said people like Emily need our patience and love. We are not here to fix the situation, unless they ask for advice.
âBe present in the moment,â she said. âRealize that there will probably be repetitions. Our reaction may be to want to move away quickly, to change the subject. But stay with them.
We can show the love of God by validating their feelings of frustration, their hurt. People who are closely related to a loved one who is in pain sometimes seem unable to talk about much else.
Or they may not want to talk about it at all.
âTake your clues from them,â Hedgeman said. “It’s a way of putting faith into action.”
RECENT TERRY PLUTO FAITH & YOU STORIES
My relatives are old and I am not a child!
Walking through the ruins: life, death and the sequel
Men & Women, how to make it work: readers have ideas
What do women want from relationships?
How to find some peace when things are falling apart
Faced with a decision concerning a retirement home and a loved one
What have we learned from COVID-19? Readers speak out
When life turns upside down, a caregiver opens her heart
How do we treat those who serve us during the pandemic?
Coping with Here We Go Again Syndrome
Murder story, mysterious memorial, wild river in Michigan’s UP
Mark “Munch” Bishop’s big heart undergoes heart surgery.
Readers send their thoughts on homelessness with the sign
Worthy of charity or swindler? The guy with the homeless sign.
Prayer and walk in Memphis
July 4, Gettysburg & Us.
I’m sick of getting angry, what now?
When the Cavs made Father’s Day even more special
Hi graduates, here are some tips for you – and for all of us
Has a phone call ever changed your life – and your calling?
Good night at the stadium, good hike, be a super spreader
Are you haunted by the “WHAT IF?” “
Some tough questions we should be asking ourselves
Our mother’s dreams, joys and frustrations
Parents, you must read this regardless of the age of your children
What happens when snow falls on our lives?