People with Alzheimer’s disease can often become upset and agitated about things that happen to them. And when you, as the caregiver, witness your loved one’s anguish, you may become distressed, too – sometimes more so than your loved one.
There is a secret, however, that can help reduce your stress when your loved one is upset. It’s very simple. You just have to be aware that people with dementia live only in the present.
This means that people with Alzheimer’s have the following traits:
- They quickly forget unpleasant things that happen to them
- They often adapt to change faster than their caregivers do
- They don’t worry about the future
Let’s look at each issue:
1. People with Alzheimer’s quickly forget unpleasant things that happen to them.
People with Alzheimer’s disease usually don’t stew about bad things that happen to them. That’s because of the disease. They don’t fret over things that happen simply because they don’t remember them.
Yet caregivers who experience their loved one’s distress over some issue tend to become quite upset. The reason is that caregivers don’t easily and quickly forget painful things that happen to their loved ones. They suffer long after the person with Alzheimer’s has completely forgotten the issue and moved on.
An example is a woman who took her mother, who was living in a nursing home, home on Christmas day, thinking this would be a special treat. But once there, her mother became deeply distraught and kept begging to go home.
As the woman later narrated that story to a friend, it was clear that she was still upset about it. And the shocking thing is that this event that had occurred three years earlier. It’s almost certain her mother forgot all about it the next day – if not the moment she arrived home that evening. So it was the caregiver – not her mother – who continued suffering. And there was no need for that.
2. People with Alzheimer’s often adapt to change faster than their caregivers do.
People with dementia often adjust to change more easily than their loved ones do because they don’t remember how things were before the change. Thus, they are not aware any change has taken place.
For example, when a patient was moved to another room in his nursing home, he kept saying over and over in a desperate and plaintive tone of voice, “I want to go home.” His caregiver was distressed because her loved one was suffering.
Yet when she arrived to visit the next day he had forgotten all about it. Nonetheless, that urgent plea reverberated in her mind and caused her emotional anguish for days afterward. She was the one who was suffering – not he. Again, it wasn’t necessary.
3. People with Alzheimer’s don’t worry about the future.
People with dementia typically don’t worry about tomorrow. They don’t experience the kind of anxiety about the future that we may because they don’t have the mental capacity to do so.
For example, we are all aware that one of these days we are going to die. And the realization becomes more acute for people who have a terminal illness. But people with Alzheimer’s rarely – if ever – think about death. They don’t have a concept of the future and thus they don’t have a concept of death. Nor do they tend to worry about other bad things that might happen to them.
So one secret to reducing your emotional stress is to remain aware that your loved one lives only in the present. That way you can be more at peace when your loved one gets upset about something. You will be able to end your own suffering as quickly as your loved one does and then you can move on to something pleasant.