Accepting Alzheimer's disease
Hearing the diagnosis was alarming. My family had to face that Dad would imminently forget all details from his life. Other than filling the prescription of Aricept (suggested to stall the symptoms), there was nothing I could do but accept the terrible truth: No cure for Alzheimer's had been found.
This was 1997 and progressing to parenting a parent was stressful for me. I acquired many unexpected responsibilities, including banking, driving Dad to doctor's appointments and serving as his guardian and alternate trustee. I helped move him three times in his final years living in Edmonton, I picked up medications and I regularly visited him. At 40 years old, I was single but had plenty on my plate – a job, postsecondary classes and family responsibilities. Over the next seven years, managing Dad's life and my own life became an all-consuming juggling act and I frequently prioritized Dad's needs ahead of my own.
Build strong family relationships
While our father-son relationship was never strained, Dad had always been emotionally reserved. This used to upset me; however, his Alzheimer's disease was a blessing in disguise. With his condition, Dad's emotional wall came down, and as a result, I got to know him much better. Dad was a gentle, caring man who was simply quiet by nature. Other unanticipated benefits included forging stronger relationships with my two sisters (who also helped with Dad's care), becoming more organized and learning more about my own capabilities.
What to do if your parent has Alzheimer's disease
If and when you become a caregiver in the months or years ahead, prepare as much as possible (by learning about your parent's specific health condition and appropriate care centres), make key decisions with other family members, take respite and ask for help when needed.
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Rick Lauber is the author of Caregiver's Guide for Canadians. For more information on providing elder care, visit www.caregiversguideforcanadians.com.