Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coping with Her Grandfather's Alzheimer's Disease and Lessons Learned from "The 36-Hour Day"

In this blog post from AFA Teens Advisory Board Member  Emmy Prothro she explains the important lessons she learned about caregiving and particularly those from reading "The 36-hour day" and how they benefited her interactions with her grandfather who had Alzheimer's disease. 
It has been eight years since my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  We have been very lucky that his illness has progressed gradually over that time.  
As I look back over the past few years, it makes me happy that I can remember the days when everything was normal at Maw Maw and Paw Paw’s house. Paw Paw used to sit and sing with us for hours.  He would tease us and make us laugh.  He always had time for us. So as his disease has gone from forgetfulness to almost total disability, I have tried to give back to him my gift of time. 
The hardest thing for him is letting people help him.  I have learned to be more compassionate and patient with Paw Paw.  I always give him a kiss when I leave, and I tell him I love him.  Sometimes he will still say, “I love you too.”  I have learned to cherish those moments. 
This past summer, I read the book “The 36-Hour Day" a family guide for caring for persons with Alzheimer disease by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins. As I read this book, I not only began to understand the illness better, but I also began to understand what my grandmother has gone through as Paw Paw’s only caregiver during the past eight years, until a few weeks ago when Paw Paw had to go to a rehabilitation hospital. He had become completely dependent upon her for everything, from getting dressed to eating to going out in public. She has done it all. She is my hero.
In reading, “The 36-Hour Day,” I also learned ways to communicate with my grandfather as he slips away more and more each day. Remaining calm, smiling, holding his hand and looking directly at him when I speak are all ways to communicate with him nonverbally.
As I learned from the book—and in real life, when someone in your family is facing a disease that involves memory loss, it is challenging for the family as well as the person who has the disease. All of us try to help Maw Maw out as much as we can. We have all adapted to Paw Paw and his needs.  The most we can do is keep his life as stable and familiar as possible.  Although I cannot change what my grandfather is going through, I have realized how my family can better deal with his disease and be more compassionate toward all of my family members who have been affected by it.  
Editor's Note: Emmy's grandfather recently passed away on September 9, 2011. Emmy notes: "I am glad that I had him in my life for 18 years."


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