This week our family will celebrate our nation’s birth. Like many others, we will gather with friends and family to exercise our freedom to live, work, play, and party as we may choose, so long as we stay within the boundaries of social norms and the laws of our community. We will revel in time away from work and its endless tasks. We will sleep late, eat lazy foods, and step out of our normal routines. We will remember the sacrifices of others, my parents included, given in service to our country to protect its freedoms. We will reflect on the courage of our forefathers who risked everything when they signed a piece of paper that severed England’s hold over us and declared war on a king who thought he owned us!
Family Caregivers who are alone in their caring duties don’t often have the freedom to step out of their responsibilities, to take a holiday from their job as a caregiver. If you are fulfilling this important role for a spouse or an aging loved one you understand the immensity of your daily tasks. If you are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or another related dementia, your burden is even greater.
Diseases that affect the memory of someone for whom you care impact both your loved one and you as the caregiver. A disease that leaves your mother like a little child who thinks you are her mother, or mistaking you as a stranger in her home who means her harm, can cause feelings of anger, betrayal, hopelessness, and fear of what lies ahead in the disease’s progression.
Forgetfulness related to a form of dementia is also frustrating for your aging loved one. When your father can’t remember where the bathroom is in your home, he may feel anxious or embarrassed. These feelings might make him resist going out in public or coming to visit the grandchildren.
Family Caregivers can become irritable or edgy when forgetful loved ones ask repetitive questions, repeat obsessive gestures or sounds, or resist bathing or changing clothes even when odors would begin to emerge from bodies or clothing in need of a good washing.
This Independence Day we hope you can take a deep breath and offer your loved ones the freedom to forget. You need to remember that the disease has taken away these abilities from those you love; it never offered them a choice, but it is your choice as to how you will handle the resulting behaviors. Choose today to embrace forgetten names, places, routines, even basic tasks. Perhaps you could go mining in your loved one’s memories. Ask them to tell you about seeing fireworks shows as a child or make hotdogs to eat and talk about your favorite memories as a child celebrating the 4th of July. Sing patriotic songs together or listen to them on a recording. You might learn things you never knew about your aging parent or spouse, and you might even discover a few things about yourself!
Chris and I hope you will join our conversation below and share your heart about how you celebrate holidays with your loved one.