The Alzheimer’s Assocation website is a great resource for anyone who has been affected, either directly or indirectly, by Alzheimer’s. One article that caught my eye while I was an active caregiver was called “101 Activities.” The article offers simple suggestions of things to do with your Alzheimer’s patient like listening to music, coloring a picture, or tossing a ball. There is no further explanation and no warning of how these simple activities might backfire. However, with fifteen years of caregiving experience behind me, I have a couple of tales that might give a caregiver pause before engaging in some of the activities.
One of the suggestions is baking cookies. Mom was a great cook and she enjoyed working in the kitchen. As her Alzheimer’s progressed and arthritis twisted her fingers into odd shapes, she was willing to turn over the major kitchen duties to me, but she still wanted to be involved. Anytime she heard me open the refrigerator or rattle a pot, she appeared as if by magic with a bright smile and the inevitable questions – Can I help?
As a mother, I spent my share of time fishing egg shells out of the cake batter when my son Christian wanted to help. It was a loving time of bonding as he learned to stir and measure and eventually create some edible offerings on his own. But it was different with Mom. It was heartbreaking to see the blank expression on her face when I gave her a simple task, and it was frustrating when her help meant it took twice as long to get a meal on the table. More often than I care to admit, I turned down her offer and watched the smile fade from her face as she went back to watch TV with Dad.
But sometimes I slowed down a bit, and we worked together. One Wednesday afternoon as I began preparation for the Thanksgiving meal the next day, she appeared with her inevitable offer to help.
“Sure,” I said. “You can help with the pecan pie.”
I removed the pre-made pie crust from the package, rolled it out and laid it over the top of the pie pan.
“Pat this down into the pan for me.”
“I can do that,” she said.
She worked a few minutes and then looked up at me. In one of her heart-wrenching moments of clarity, she said, “I’m not really helping, am I.”
“Of course you are. Getting the crust right is the most important part.”
I don’t know if she believed me, or if the moment of clarity simply past, but she went back to patting with great enthusiasm. When she finished, there were deep fingerprints in the crust, and when I served the pie the next day, that crust stayed in the pan, right where she had patted it. But for a little while she was involved, and for once I didn’t have to feel guilty about refusing her help.
After 15 years as a family caregiver, Linda began writing to encourage, inspire and amuse other caregivers. She is the author of A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos, an inspirational memoir released by Anaiah Press on July 1, 2014. She blogs about caregiving, faith, family, and writing at www.LifeAfterCaregiving.WordPress.com. She loves to travel and since retiring has traveled mostly by motorcycle and RV. She and her husband live in a small East Texas town where she gardens, writes, and works part-time at her church.