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Positive Aspects of Caregiving


By Priscilla Fritter Peterson, Ruth Brinn, Marcia S. Marx, PhD
& Jiska Cohen-Mansfield, PhD

(Page 1 of 3)

Caring for a person with a debilitating illness is often challenging. It becomes all the more difficult when the person is in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Those affected can display mood swings, repeat words in a constant patter or show a complete lack of communication, have aggressive or docile behavior, and show recognition of loved ones or seem completely unaware. The anxieties and frustrations of the caregiver are well documented. There are significant factors, though, that can and do contribute to a positive and rewarding outcome in caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • A close loving relationship before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Mutual interests, e.g., music, dance, sports

  • The caregiver has volunteered willingly rather than
    taking on the role because of family coercion/obligation

  • There is a sincere desire to follow the “Golden Rule”

As a result, there can be great satisfaction in being with the family member with Alzheimer’s disease, regardless of the manifestations of the illness. This is exemplified in the following true story.

A Daughter’s Perspective

They say that Alzheimer’s is the cruelest disease, and that is so true. It robbed us of fourteen years of my mother’s delightful, joyous personality and her marvelous musicianship. She was a professional violinist, pianist, and composer. When I became a professional flutist, she and I worked together as colleagues. We forged a special connection and became great friends. I was privileged to have far more than the usual mother/daughter relationship. My mother first began to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s disease at 79 and passed away at 93. The progression of her illness was slow during the first eight years. But then, she had two falls in quick succession, causing her to break a hip and fracture several vertebrae. The pain and surgery involved caused a sharp decline in her mental status and from then on, she needed round-the-clock care. 

My sister and I were determined to help our mother hang on to the world around her. We were fortunate in two respects. First, when it became obvious that her care was more than my stepfather could manage, we had the good luck to find an excellent live-in caregiver. Secondly, it was truly a blessing that my mother did not become belligerent, as is sometimes the case. If anything, she became even sweeter.

My mother also gradually became more childlike and at times it seemed she was one of my children. This role reversal often made me think of all my mother had done when I was seriously ill as a child. In the face of a rare ailment which doctors were uncertain how to treat, my mother used all her wisdom and creativity to keep me well. I viewed her illness from Alzheimer’s disease as my opportunity to give back to her all the care she had lavished on me.

 

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