The Fit Student—Finding the Joy in Alzheimer’s

We all have issues.  Those issues make life beautiful.  They offer learning grounds, chances to grow, opportunities to see the positive in the direst of situations.  They challenge us to keep our hearts filled with hope and love.  And everyone loves a hero, right?  The person with cancer who runs with an artificial leg across Canada (yes, you Terry Fox).  The man with no arms and no legs who captivates during his motivational speeches.  The young girl deemed a “vegetable” who goes on to accept her college degree.  We can turn any negative into a positive with just one upward stroke.

And Alzheimer’s is no different

As a teen, I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Society.  On my first day, I got a shocker.  The people with Alzheimer’s didn’t look at all confused.  They looked happy.  I painted their nails.  We listened to their favorite songs.  We chitchatted over tea and later went on fun outings.  Not one soul showed signs of the nightmares of Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s isn’t so bad,” I told my dear friend.  I felt proud to have discovered this.  But decades later, I lost grasp of that insight.

Not long ago, Grandma got Alzheimer’s.  Recently, I saw a picture of Grandma.  She was beaming in her photo, happier than I ever remembered her.  Mom, saddened, said, “Grandma’s in her happy place, but no longer knows me.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that comment.  Was Grandma truly happy, I wondered?

And then I read this book: Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers by Marie Marley, PhD and Daniel C.  Potts, MD, FAAN.  The book reminded me that we’re meant to find joy in everything—even in our tragedies.

The books states that “The question to be asked is not ‘Why do bad thing happen to good people?’  but ‘How do we and the ones we care for make the most of the present situation, grow in the process, and live as joyfully, peacefully, and lovingly as possible?’” (24%).

So, how can we live as joyfully, peacefully, and lovingly as possible—in the face of our direst days?  Authors Marie Marley and Daniel C.  Potts (2015) outline ways to do so for your loved one with Alzheimer’s.  But these tips apply to anyone, in any circumstance.

Here is a sampling of those tips to help the person with Alzheimer’s—or anyone, for that matter—find joy:

First, “Don’t even bring up topics that may upset them.  This may lead to a nasty argument, so if you don’t generally agree about politics or religion, just don’t bring them up” (28%).  Paul Friedman says we only think or say one word at a time.  Make the most of that one word.  Let it bring the harmony you deserve.

Second, “Don’t even think about arguing with a person who has Alzheimer’s.  You can’t win.  Again, the issue you’re tempted to argue about probably isn’t important” (27%).

“Do not correct the person: This may embarrass him or lead to an argument.  For example, if he says it’s Christmas time when it isn’t, just let it go.  It isn’t really important that he knows what season it is.  Don’t try to drag the person into your reality.  Meet him in his” (27%).

“If the person starts getting agitated, stop what you’re talking about.  If you quickly change the subject, he will probably forget all about the previous, upsetting topic” (27%).  A good way to prevent agitation is to make every thought and comment upbeat.  That way, no-one feels bad.  Watching your thoughts takes constant effort but leads to joy.

“Turn negatives into positives.  For example, say, ‘Let’s laugh’ instead of ‘Don’t be so serious.’  Or ‘Let’s do this’ instead of ‘Don’t do that’” (26%).  Reframe thoughts about yourself into positives, too.  It’ll help you take life less seriously when troubled.

“Validate feelings.  Don’t try to convince people with Alzheimer’s that they shouldn’t be feeling a certain way, especially if they are sad or upset ….  After that, say something reassuring.  Then change the subject to something pleasant” (27%).  You have something more amazing: your soul.  Your soul is unconditional love (or God).  And you feel unconditional love most intensely when you give it, not when you receive it.  And anyone can give love—to God, to a friend, to a flower, to a carrot.  So, when sadness arises, reassure the one saddened.  Then return to your soul’s natural state of sending out love.   Sending nothing but love takes constant effort but leads to joy.   And it keeps things pleasant.

“Smile frequently.  Smile if you’re telling a humorous story or if you’re loved one is telling you one.  Also, smile if one of you is talking about something pleasant.  Research has shown that smiling at a person can cause that person to feel better and smile back” (25%).  Treat that person like a celebrity taking the time to share laughter with you.  Relish in the good feelings.

To repeat, the book states, “The question to be asked is not ‘Why do bad thing happen to good people?’  but ‘How do we and the ones we care for make the most of the present situation, grow in the process, and live as joyfully, peacefully, and lovingly as possible?’” (24%).

In other words, your positivity can stoke life’s fires into eternal bonds.

Marley, Marie, PhD, & Potts, Daniel C.  (2015).  Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers.  E-book.