Alzheimer’s is a deadly disease which attacks and deteriorates the brain. The most common form of dementia, it is the only leading cause of death which currently has no treatment or cure. This mysterious and often misunderstood condition affects over forty-four million people worldwide.
 
Our loved ones seek to be understood as we accompany them on this journey. They have been inexplicably changed forever, resulting in tremendous challenges to be faced. Despite the heartbreaking realities, there is much to learn from those who are forced to live in the moment.
 
1.      Be present in each day. Those with Alzheimer’s cannot live in the past; these memories are being swept away. It is also impossible to worry about the future; skills involved in planning are lost. However, enjoyment can be found in the present as each precious moment is experienced.
 
2.      Forgive quickly. There is no denying the frustration of this disease. Often we, as caregivers, are the unfortunate recipients of angry outbursts. Fortunately, with a little redirection, these fleeting moments will soon be forgotten. These are, without question, the most forgiving folks.
 
3.      Learn to accept help. Unfortunately, abilities quickly diminish with any form of dementia. Most become blissfully pleased to accept assistance and quickly learn to enjoy attention. Graciously accepting the help of others is a lesson for all caregivers.
 
4.      Say what you mean. The filter quickly disappears as this disease causes those affected to speak with shocking honesty. Although we would be ill-advised to abandoned social graces, there is beauty in trading pretenses for truthful transparency.
 
5.      Don’t sweat the small stuff. Despite the challenges, these folks will seldom be found sorrowfully complaining. Rather than cry over spilt milk, they simply look for another glass. The annoyances of life disappear with these nonchalant attitudes.
 
6.      Dance to the music. The most non-expressive will be transformed when listening to music. There seems to be a magical connection which joyfully engages reckless abandonment. A beautiful reminder to step on the dance floor and experience life.
 
7.      Live without regret. Those dwelling on past mistakes will not be found in memory care. Transgressions have been swept away and replaced with a clean slate. A lesson to focus on the present moment where feelings of well-being and happiness reside.
 
8.      Don’t be afraid of silence. Conversation can be difficult when communicating with those affected by dementia. Broken connections often result in empty silence, which can be uncomfortable. We learn these muted moments hold treasures to be embraced.
 
9.      Be compassionate. These are some of the most loving souls we will ever meet. They are the first to offer those in need a hug of support. While we wonder what someone might be trying to express, those with dementia seem to instinctively understand the needs of others.
 
10.  Share your cookies. Dessert is popular at memory care; those with the longest arms are afforded the greatest select of food. The beautiful reality is no-one seems to care. There is blissful freedom in eating dessert first and contentment found in the willingness to share.
 
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from those with this disease is to make the most of life, regardless of the challenges we face. These folks have much to teach us about seizing the moment. We simply do not have time to waste on anything less than authentic living.
 
Judith Ingalsbe is passionate about bringing understanding to those experiencing the effects of dementia. She recently joined other advocates in Washington D.C. to secure funding for research and HOPE for those affected. Judith has gleaned over a decade of caregiving experience with her parents, who were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and shares these insights in Stone Benches: Understanding the Invisible Footprints of Dementia. For more information visit StoneBenchesJourney.com.