Living in the Moment by Dr. Elizabeth Landsverk is a guide on living well with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In this excerpt, Dr. Landsverk explains how to stay positive and look on the bright side when caring for a loved one with this disease.
Read an excerpt from Living in the Moment below.
Dementia doesn’t decrease enjoyment of the world and all it has to offer. In fact, patients may enjoy simple things even more than they did before the onset of their disease. For them, the stress of adult life—finances, worries about achievement, schedules—are melting away. What remains is “now”: the smell of fresh-baked bread, the laugh of a grandchild, roses bloom- ing outside a window, a game of golf or balloon volleyball.
A man and woman who both had early dementia fell in love and got married. Listening to music, holding hands, a nice dinner—simple pleasures like these make life worth living, even after a dementia diagnosis. I’ve worked with elders who, with help, still love to bake cookies or to take pictures. One couple went dancing regularly, well into the wife’s dementia. They both loved it.
Unbelievable as it may seem now, when you’re just getting used to the idea, the quality of your family’s life could even improve with dementia.
The father who never had time for his family is now just happy to have someone to hold hands with and chat. One son reported that he had a much better relationship with his mother after she was diagnosed with dementia. “Mom was always nicer to company than she was to us children, and when she forgot who we were, she was much more pleasant to be with.” His mother moved to a care facility where she was much better supported and engaged. She was happier than she had been when she was at home and when he was growing up.
Um, Why Was I Angry, Again?
One of my patients once was a successful attorney. Before alcoholic dementia and frontal dementia impaired her, she was a force of nature. She was used to being in charge and tolerated little disagreement from her family or employees. When her daughter moved across the country after college, then stayed away for family and professional reasons, the woman was angry and resentful for years.
Yet as the mother’s dementia progressed, she began to mellow. She was still demand- ing, but she forgot many of the reasons she’d been angry with her daughter. When her daughter eventually returned home to help with her care, the two enjoyed a more placid relationship than they had in years.
The patient had aphasia, a loss of language functions, such as speaking, understanding what others say, and naming common objects, which is sometimes seen in Alzheimer’s disease. But at Thanksgiving, she was able to tell her daughter, sim- ply, that she was grateful that her child was home. She was living in the moment, not the past.
Though the daughter could not say so to her mother, she was thankful that the dementia had melted away her petty disagreements so that they could have that talk.