Many people regard Alzheimer's as a cruel and devastating disease that destroys its 'victims.' One that robs them of their very humanity. Caregivers may fall into a period of deep depression and despondence when the diagnosis is made. Anticipatory grief also may develop. One realizes that life as it had been planned has been lost forever. Companionship and intimacy may appear to have vanished.
The caregiver also can become angry at the situation, angry at God for the painful reality that his loved one has developed Alzheimer's. The caregiver may sometimes even be angry at his loved one who has the disorder.
Yes, it seems that Alzheimer's is a devastating illness and that those who have it can never again enjoy life. But in the books of several experts on the disease, however, a somewhat different picture emerges. They unanimously agree that although Alzheimer's is a terrible disease, people who have it can and do retain the capacity to enjoy life.
According to Virginia Bell and David Troxel, writing in The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer's Care,
"Too much attention has been paid to the 'tragic side' of Alzheimer's disease. This is a terrible disease. Yet, by dwelling on the negative it is too easy to victimize people with the illness and settle for lower standards of care."
Teepa Snow, a nationally renowned expert on Alzheimer's caregiving, also believes that people with Alzheimer's can enjoy life. In an interview she said,
"Yes. Almost all people with dementia, even those in the later stages of the disease, can enjoy life if they have the right support and environment."
The entire book, Creating Moments of Joy: A Journal for Caregivers by Jolene Brackey, is dedicated to this issue. Brackey states,
"I have a vision. A vision that we will soon look beyond the challenges of Alzheimer's disease and focus more of our energy on creating moments of joy." She adds, "We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with [people who have Alzheimer's], but it is absolutely attainable to create perfectly wonderful moments - moments that put smiles on their faces, a twinkle in their eyes, or trigger [pleasant] memories."
Tom and Karen Brenner, a husband and wife team of Alzheimer's caregiving experts, train family members, professional caregivers, and medical staff in the use of cutting edge interventions for persons who have dementia. Tom answers the same question by saying,
"Yes. And their enjoyment in life is based, in part, on our enjoyment of them. It's like a swinging door - it goes both ways." Karen adds, "We believe we can reach all people with Alzheimer's, including those others consider unable to communicate in any way. It's almost always possible to communicate, even with people who have lost their verbal skills."
Yes, people with Alzheimer's can, and indeed do, still have the capacity to enjoy life.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.