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My Mother—and My Mother’s Dementia

My Mother—and My Mother’s Dementia
“While her disease is devastatingly sad, there’s a weird and welcome side effect: She’s often more fun to be around.”
 
Steve Knopper’s mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease and lives with 50-some residents in an assisted-living facility. While Knopper has struggled with the changes that come with this progressive disease, from behavioral to memory loss, he’s learned that he needs to look past himself to help support his mom the best that he can.
 
What Caregivers Need to Know
 
“The key, for me, is to stop judging or trying to analyze or change her behavior,” says Knopper.
 
Just a few years ago, his mother was a daily runner and a veritable force, Knopper describes. She was also an entrepreneur who helped raise funding and resources for students.
 
Now, on the outside, is a woman who can no longer brush her teeth without assistance and whose clothes are picked out by her caregivers. A woman who doesn’t always remember her husband of 54 years.
 
But this same woman, who had rarely made new friends, can now be found relaxing with others on communal couches. The mother who was “never much of a hugger” now craves contact, letting her son put an arm around her shoulders, and returning his embrace.
 
A mother who still laughs.
 
And through this, Knopper has learned an important if difficult lesson: Accept the behavior and try to become part of it.
 
 
Redirection and Validation Therapy
 
Say your loved one or client starts getting ready for a job she retired from 20 years ago. Rather than trying to bring her back to “normal” by saying “You don’t work there anymore, remember?” say, “I just made breakfast for us. Come and eat, and then I’ll drive you to work.”
 
While it’s essential to tailor your responses to the individual’s needs, this example shows how a caregiver can both redirect and acknowledge the person’s feelings.
 
Psychologist Naomi Feil calls this validation, a technique she developed after becoming frustrated with traditional methods of working with persons with cognitive impairment.
 
In addition, using redirection and validation therapy helps a person with dementia retain their dignity and decrease their agitation or distress, all the while keeping them safe.
 
 
One Way to Cope
 
It’s not easy to face someone you love and see them in such a different way, Knopper acknowledges. This woman before him is his mother, an integral, immortalized part of his life.
 
And when his mom can’t remember a scene from their shared past that shows up so clear to him, brimming over with sight and sound and smell, it’s difficult not to let his disappointment show.
 
But he hides it, scales down his expectations, and tells himself to enjoy what they can still share: Laughter, good times, seeing each other, being together.
 
What are some ways you cope with your loved one’s dementia? What things can still make you  laugh?
 
 
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