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Alzheimer's seemed to me like the worst thing that could happen to a person. Then my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Knowing that God would not allow anything to happen without a purpose, I wondered what good could come from it. However, in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined the blessings I would receive from being Mom's care-giver.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

According to the experts, the disease has three stages: early, middle and late stage. (See page 8.) In the early stage, small memory losses become apparent but are often attributed to the aging process. The person with the disease begins to experience mental impairment.


In the middle stage, which I call the losing it stage, three feelings surface in the Alzheimer's patient. First comes paranoia. People begin to realize a problem exists. When others talk behind the person's back, the paranoia increases. Next comes hostility. To protect the person, caregivers begin to take away rights, such as driving or going out alone. No wonder Alzheimer's victims become hostile. Finally, insecurity sets in. The person losing it knows things are wrong but has no power to change the situation. Everything seems to be changing, but the person doesn't have the mental resources to cope. Family members and friends seem angry, but the person does not know how to stop it.


The insecurity phase of stage two is generally the hardest for everyone involved. The person with Alzheimer's feels angry and hopeless, often wanting to die. Some caregivers, believing that the patient truly wants to die, have assisted in the person's suicide. At this stage, my mother begged many times for me to end her life. Each time, when I explained that God must have a purpose for not taking her, it reminded me to look for those purposes. Because rationalizing usually made her angrier, I would hold her in my arms and tell her over and over, "I love you." She melted in my arms, feeling secure and peaceful. I believe that as Mom grew more secure in my love, she was able to transition to the third stage with a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment.


When Mom reached the last stage, she began teaching me much about life. I learned that language that you hear early in life may come out when you no longer have control over your mind. Many people with Alzheimer's swear profusely-people who would not do so otherwise. My mother had never watched TV programs with off-color language and would never allow it to be used in her presence. Therefore, when she had no control over her mind, foul language didn't come out because it wasn't there. The worst she could ever say was, "Jeepers creepers."


Mom also taught me that inhibitions may rob us of joy. She had always been shy and didn't want to entertain people. Yet, when her inhibitions were lost because of the Alzheimer's, she would get excited when people visited. She enjoyed the Bible study in our home every Friday evening. One day I was late getting her up from a nap, and students were already arriving. I woke her, asking if she wanted to see the students coming. She jumped out of bed, replying, "I think they'll want to see me." Indeed, she did have a special relationship with the students. At her funeral, many international students commented on her smile. One shared how he was apprehensive about meeting Mom when my husband explained she had Alzheimer's. But when he walked into our home and saw Mom's smile, he knew everything would be okay. Before she had Alzheimer's, she missed that joy because she was shy and afraid.


I also learned not to criticize something that makes a person happy. Once, I saw Mom pulling tissues out of the box one at a time. When I asked her what she was doing, she responded, "I'm happy. Are you happy?" If a simple box of tissues made her happy, who was I to complain?

Figure. Shirley with... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Shirley with her mother.

Furthermore, I learned that the joy of discovery adds spice to life. This became more apparent as the disease progressed. For Mom, the same simple things brought joy repeatedly. Forgetful-ness became a blessing as the same card from a friend brought light to her face each time it was read.


Mom also taught me more about love. I learned to express my love. Because I knew she would easily forget, I would remind her many times a day that I loved her. Each time I did, she would light up with a smile. It brought me much joy to see her receive my love. Often when I was helping her, she would kiss me on the arm, whisper "I love you," or say "Thank you." Sometimes I thought my heart was going to explode from joy because of the love we shared. I realized the more I said, "I love you," the more love grew. Often we get so busy that we don't take time to express love to others, causing us to grow cold and stale. I learned to express my love more often, even to friends and family who do not have Alzheimer's.


Love conquers fear. When Mom felt truly loved, she was not afraid of things she previously feared. Love helped us make it through the losing it stage. Love helped her when her inhibitions were gone.


Alzheimer's often shows a person's true character and what was really valued in life. One day a Japanese man asked Mom, "Where were you born?" She didn't understand his question. He persisted in asking and explained, "I was born in Japan. Where were you born?"


She responded, "I was born to glorify God." This man had been searching for meaning for his life. Later he shared that Mom's statement had been a turning point.


Near the end of her life Mom didn't speak much. However, one night as I tucked her into bed and prayed, she whispered, "Tell Jesus I love him too." God had always been most important in her life. She had given her life to serving him. Alzheimer's didn't stop that.


Through her struggle with Alzheimer's, Mom taught me that our character counts for eternity. Caring for Mom made me a better person. I am grateful that God gave me that privilege.


The Three Stages of Alzheimer's

The disease affects each person differently. The order in which symptoms appear and the length of each stage will vary from person to person. There is no clear line when one stage ends and another begins. In many cases, stages will overlap.


Some people experience many of the symptoms in each stage, while others experience only a few. Fluctuations from day to day are the norm, with a person appearing more confused one day, for example, and less so another.



A person in this stage will usually be aware of the diagnosis and will be able to participate in decisions affecting future care.


Symptoms can include mild forgetfulness and communication difficulties, such as finding the right word and following a conversation. Some people stay involved in activities, while others become passive or withdrawn. The individual may also be frustrated by changing abilities and may become depressed or anxious. It is important to consider the emotional well-being of the person and offer support when possible.



This stage brings a further decline in the person's mental and physical abilities. Memory will continue to worsen, as the person forgets personal history and no longer recognizes family and friends. Increased confusion and disorientation to time and place will require assistance with many daily tasks-dressing, bathing, using the toilet.


In this stage, some people become restless, and pace or wander. In responding to the loss of abilities, a person may react in a number of ways-for example, become less involved in activities or repeat the same action or word over and over again. It can be helpful to understand more about the disease and develop strategies to deal with these situations.



In this last stage, the person becomes unable to remember, communicate or look after him-or herself. Care is required 24 hours a day. Eventually, the person will become bedridden, have difficulty eating or swallowing, and lose control of bodily functions. This stage eventually ends with the person's death, often from secondary complications, such as pneumonia.



Although the person loses many abilities as the disease progresses, it is often helpful to focus on the abilities that do remain, such as the senses of touch and hearing and the ability to respond to emotion.