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Alzheimer's: Holding On To The Dignity
By Brenda Race

I think one of the hardest tasks of love for a caregiver to an Alzheimer's patient, is trying to help them maintain their dignity. Dignity is defined as: the quality or state of being worthy, honored or esteemed. As role of the caregiver, we have taken on a task which sometimes seems unbearable. We often rush through what we feel needs to be done, giving little thought to the feelings that remain in those we are caring for. It is so important to remember that this is still a person who has feelings no matter what form they take. 

I remember when my mom came to live with us how very frustrating it was to find her in the morning with layers and layers of clothes on. I was totally new at taking on the role of caregiver and I made many mistakes along the way. My reaction was to remove all of the extra clothing which sometimes resulted in tears for both of us. Then one day I decided... So what? If she feels comfortable, why should I make her struggle to give them up. She saw nothing wrong with what she was doing. Gradually I started removing some of the clothes in her dresser and she really never noticed. Eventually only one outfit remained for the start of each new day. No more fighting or struggling to take what she saw as perfectly normal.

Imagine yourself waking up and not being able to remember many of the normal everyday things, then gradually losing the ability to even perform normal routine acts. All of a sudden someone is trying to tell you how to do everything and when you must do it. My reaction would be one of fear, anger, confusion and agitation. Are we really sure of what they can still process in their minds? Maybe the brain knows what should be done but is just unable to carry it out. How confusing that would be! My mom used to say constantly that she was not a baby and could take care of herself. I would always agree with her and then ask her if it was okay if I helped her. Usually she would say yes but if not then I needed only to leave the room and return a few minutes later to ask again. If the caregiver can remain calm and maintain an unhurried attitude then most of the problems can be worked out and still leave a sense of dignity for your loved one.

We must remember that inside that body which is gradually losing its ability to control itself is a real person. A soul still remains of the one you once knew! You need to adapt to their needs, not make them adapt to yours. When you remember this it’s not hard to treat them as a person who still has needs, someone who had hopes and dreams, someone who feels, someone who is still capable of giving and receiving love. It all comes back to that old saying…walk a mile in their shoes….how would you like to be treated? Would you want all of your self worth removed? AD removes everything from it’s victim starting with the simplest to the most complex of lives processes. The least we can do and perhaps the very most is to allow them to maintain the dignity we all deserve!

©1999 Brenda Race


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