One thing I’ve learned about Alzheimer’s and caregiving is that no two experiences are the same. Alzheimer’s patients are like snowflakes. Every single one is different. When it comes to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you have to find what works best for you. Sure, there are plenty of proven methods and tips for caregiving, but you have to tailor your caregiving to fit your needs. You know your loved one best and you will be able to determine the best way to care for him/her. It might involve a bit of trial and error, but that’s ok. Alzheimer’s caregiving is a learning process.
I have read many articles and Facebook posts about the benefits that certain things may have on an Alzheimer’s patient. I’ve read about the importance of an Alzheimer’s patient having a set routine and a healthy diet, as well as getting some level of physical and mental exercise. I’ve read about the importance of maintaining personal hygiene, such as showering and washing her hair regularly. I’ve also read about how eliminating sugar and white bread from her diet and slathering her entire body in coconut oil every day will improve her symptoms. Well, I call bullshit on that one. But, I do know that some of these things are important and some have been proven to be beneficial to some people. Some, some, some. Not all.
I’m not an expert on Alzheimer’s, but I am an expert on my Mom. I know what she likes and doesn’t like. I know what will work with her and what will not. Although I am not a full-time caregiver, I take my part-time caregiving responsibilities very seriously. I have tried different approaches and activities with my Mom over the years. Some things have worked. Other things were utter failures. Many times I feel like I have absolutely no idea what the fuck I’m doing. But, the best part is that my Mom has no idea what I’m doing either. All she knows is that I’m spending time with her and that makes her happy. I have learned over the years that no matter what I do, all that really matters is that she’s happy. As long as she’s happy, I must be doing something right. As long as she’s happy, then whatever I’m doing for her is enough. I’m sure that some people would disagree with that. I’m sure that some nursing homes and professional caregivers would insist on doing more things for my Mom, some of which might make her unhappy. They might insist on washing her hair at least once a week and not allowing her to eat sweets. Maybe those things are important and maybe they would help. But, this isn’t a nursing home and I’m not a professional caregiver. This is life and I do what I can.
In my mind, as long as she’s happy, then I’m doing enough. As long as she’s happy, who cares if her hair is dirty, greasy, and unwashed? As long as she’s happy, who cares if her breath smells bad? As long as she’s happy, who cares if she drinks soda instead of water and eats cookies instead of fruit? Honestly, I could give a shit what she’s eating or drinking as long as she’s eating and drinking period. I will usually try to push the water on her over a Diet Coke, but if she refuses something a third time, then I back off. I will offer her a healthy snack over junk food, but if she insists on eating cookies instead, then homegirl wants some damn cookies. I have definitely learned my limits with her.
Unfortunately, I learned them the hard way. One time during a visit home from Alabama, I gave my Dad a break by helping my Mom get ready for bed at night. She had already used the bathroom and put her pajamas on, so I told her to brush her teeth. She looked at me like I was crazy and said that she already brushed them that day. Apparently, she only brushed her teeth in the morning and that was it for the day. I thought that was disgusting and I was a little annoyed at my Dad for not insisting that she brush her teeth again at night. I told my Mom that she should really brush her teeth at least twice a day and that she needed to brush them before bed. She refused again and I kept insisting that she brush them. We ended up arguing about it a little bit and I could tell that she was getting really mad at me. I finally gave up and helped her get into bed without brushing her teeth. The next morning, my Dad told me that my Mom woke up feeling upset and that she kept asking him if he was mad at her. She kept saying that she thought they had an argument the night before and that he was upset with her. My Dad said that my Mom was really upset and confused about it. I realized that she must have been talking about when we argued about her brushing her teeth the night before. I felt terrible for causing her to be so upset and confused. I felt even worse that she was blaming my Dad for it. I have never and will never again insist on her doing something when she adamantly refuses to do it.
I have definitely learned to choose my battles carefully. Most of the time, it’s just not worth the fight. Whenever my husband is annoying the shit out of me, I glare at him and say, “Don’t poke the bear.” I’ve found that it’s quite effective. I guess I have developed this same mentality with my Mom. I have learned that when she says “no” she means “no.” It is almost never worth the argument to try to convince her otherwise. I have learned not to poke the bear. I have learned to let sleeping dogs lie. As long as she’s happy, then I’m happy. Alzheimer’s has already taken so much from my Mom. It has stripped her of her memories and her independence. It has taken away the ability for her to think and do for herself. The last thing I want is for it to take away her happiness, as well. I’m not an expert on this disease. I don’t have all of the answers. I’m not the perfect caregiver. But, my Mom is happy. And, as long as she’s happy, I don’t give a damn about anything else.