Big Changes Occur as Alzheimer's Progresses: Losing Independence
Someone you love has sadly been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Maybe your wife or husband? Perhaps your mother or father? Another family member, friend, or loved one? It is incredibly sad and difficult for the person who receives this devastating diagnosis; and also for their family and loved ones. We try to cope the best we can; gathering as much information as possible from multiple sources to help us sift through what is happening and what will happen to our loved one and our family as this disease progresses. We try to hold onto some sense of “normalcy” in our lives and in our family, working as hard as we can and trying to keep going as if nothing has changed.
Worsening Alzheimer's symptoms
But then gradually everything starts to change. We begin to notice our loved one is repeating themselves over and over again. We see them lose items; see them forget entire conversations that you have had with them just recently. Maybe their clothes look dirty, or they wear the same clothes for days. Maybe they don’t want to get out of their pajamas. Perhaps they don’t shower as often as they should. You start to wonder if they are eating properly and getting enough nutrition. We wonder if they should still be cooking for themselves. The year my mother, Jewel, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s we noticed that she had been buying multiple pairs of the same purple slippers and the exact same pair of black pants! We found at least 20 pairs of the same slippers. They were her favorite and evidently she wasn’t aware she had so many of them.
Staying independent with Alzheimer's
One of the most challenging circumstances that will happen on the Alzheimer’s journey is deciding when a loved one can no longer be left alone for any significant length of time. This will most likely occur quite gradually and with some difficulty. No one wants to lose their independence and freedom; we need to remember this as we struggle with this decision.
When my aunt had been living with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis for over a year, her family was wondering if she could still safely be left at home alone for an hour or two. Her husband believed she could still handle this, but her daughter had more doubts about her mother’s ability to still remain alone. Oftentimes, family members will see things a little differently and need to work together to come to a decision. Asking other family members, medical professionals, and friends what they have witnessed is often helpful.
Since I had experience with my mother, they asked me to observe my aunt and offer my opinion. While my uncle went out to lunch with my dad, I quietly sat with my aunt watching a tv program she enjoyed. There were no issues until after about an hour or so when she needed to use the bathroom. She was able to slowly get to the bathroom which was good to see. When she emerged from the bathroom 10 minutes later, she had forgotten that her husband was not home. She walked slowly down the hallway looking for her husband and calling his name over and over. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. She didn’t know what to do. I reminded her that I was there with her and brought her back to the couch to wait for her husband.
Sadly the Alzheimer’s had progressed too much; she could no longer safely be left home alone at all.
Going through change with Alzheimer's
When this point is reached on the journey, a significant period of change will begin for both the person with Alzheimer’s, their significant other, and their entire family.
Gather all the information you can, and please don’t be afraid to ask for help wherever it is available. Sadly, you will need it.
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