When the one you love has Alzheimer's
QUEZON CITY, Philippines – “She’s not really there, even when she’s here.”
These were the words of Donna as she recounted longing for her mom during her darkest moments. Talking to her mom at one time, she was met with a blank stare and at some point, had to repeat the same conversation thrice for 5 minutes.
Madonna "Donna" B. Sanchez is a mother of two, a business woman and is dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Donna’s mom, Alicia B. Sanchez, is 82 years old and was diagnosed with dementia 8 years ago. Now, she is in the early stages of AD.
Alzheimer’s Disease, according to doctor Joel G. Eleazar, is the 4th most common cause of death. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of AD has reached 18 million and is expected to double by 2025. Statistics also show that 50% of people with AD reside in developing countries.
Eleazar, an adult and geriatric psychiatrist, said that exercise is the best way to reduce the risk of contracting AD. He also stressed the importance of socializing. He suggested activities like mahjong, ballroom dancing, and golf.
Carers are at risk too
While it is difficult to imagine what a person with AD goes through, those who take on the role of caregiver are also at the risk of developing poor health conditions. Among these are depression, deterioration of physical health, and development of chronic illnesses.
Eleazar said it is important for these people to seek professional care, and join support groups. Global statistics reveal that 55% of caregivers for people with AD are spouses while 35% are children.
Family members do not only cope with caring and looking after someone with AD, but they also deal with the emotional stress from the situation. Donna admitted that in the beginning, she was angry with her mother’s mood swings.
She recalled her frustration over planning for a trip to Ilocos with the whole family (12 of them), and upon reaching the airport, her mother declared she did not want to go anymore. At another time, her mother refused to wear diapers so Donna was unable to bring her mother along during her travels.
Donna admitted that at the core of it, she really misses her mother. She said the hardest part is somehow losing her. “I miss just having someone to talk to about life. I’m a single mom now, and I don’t have a husband to talk to about things … In my darkest moments, I would utter ‘Ma!’” Donna shared.
Donna believes that challenging situations can actually become a blessing, and can be a tool to help you work out your relationship with yourself. “It’s really pulling out of yourself the patience that you never knew you had, the understanding and the kindness,” Donna said.
She added that acceptance of her mother’s situation took some time, but it is the key. The rest of the family now finds humor in her mom’s little quirks such as tying stockings on the knobs of drawers, or filling up her personal refrigerator with just about anything until it capsized.
In sharing her story, Donna said that what is important is to keep in touch, make the person feel special and happy, and be forgiving of past arguments and conflicts. She admitted she still gets irritated, but she has internalized her mantra: “She is my mother. I love her, I love her, I love her.”
Donna said her “Mama” still remembers their names, but she has accepted that it’s only a matter of time before even their names she will soon forget. – Rappler.com
Madonna B. Sanchez and Dr Joel G. Eleazar were guest speakers in a seminar, “Living with Alzheimer’s,” organized by students from the BS Health Sciences program of the Ateneo de Manila University on Feb 9, 2013.