Find the Fun in Alzheimer's

Often, I describe Alzheimer's disease (AD) as joy tangled with sorrow. Sleepless nights, constant shadowing by your patient, and incontinence can make finding the joy seem impossible. I'm not saying every day will produce belly laughs. But, if you pace yourself, ask for help, and recognize the warning signs of stress, you can find fun moments to share with your AD patient. Honest.

Look for the little things that make you laugh. Embrace the absurdity. A giggle now and again will make your role as a caregiver bearable. Below are my suggestions for finding the joy.

How to Find the Fun

Be realistic, and then be honest about the situation. Be honest with yourself, family and concerned friends. Face the reality that someone you love has Alzheimer's. Ignoring it or wishing it away only makes everything harder.

Enjoy the  moment.
Don't expect the person with Alzheimer's to "get better." Today, there is no known cure for AD. There are however, plenty of ideas, programs and health care plans to help you deal with the disease.

Don't hide or explain away problem behaviors. Before it's obvious something is wrong, the patient may disguise memory problems, while family and friends make excuses for odd behaviors. In my family, we were positive the problem was deafness. Why else would my mother-in-law forget things we said to her? It's natural to make excuses. Everyone tries to make sense of a nonsensical situation. When you realize something is wrong, admit it. Ask for help. Seek answers and a diagnosis. [See ten common signs of AD here:] Knowing what to expect will make you a better caregiver. Don't waste valuable time and energy pretending nothing is wrong.

Conflicting emotions should be listed as a symptom.

It's normal to feel angry, sad and guilty. Sometimes, you'll feel all these emotions at the same time. You want to help your AD patient, but you're angry other family members don't pitch in. You're sad because your patient requires as much care as a toddler. Yet her childlike wonder at everyday occurrences makes you happy. My mother-in-law treated my daily appearance as a grand surprise. "Well hello there! Where have you been? It's been years!" Her enthusiastic greeting always melted my frustration and made me smile.

Take in the pure appreciation an AD patient has for life's little beauties. Colorful fall leaves on the ground, the way light hits a flower outside the window, or a neighbor's dog, all become feel-good moments to relish. Instead of saying, "no, no, that's not right," try moving into the AD world where everything is new. Life doesn't always have to make sense. Enjoy sharing special moments with your Alzheimer's patient.

Anger, guilt and frustration are honest, healthy emotions. They are as much a part of Alzheimer's as the patient's memory loss. If you deny your emotions you'll feel worse, and that will affect your caregiving. Vent to a friend or family member about what is happening. Talk to others who understand your situation. Locate a caregiver support group. Allow yourself to feel sad or angry. And, be aware you'll feel these emotions over and over as the disease progresses.

Stay involved in outside activities and interests.

Maintain outside interests.
The nature of AD is to withdraw from social and recreational activities. Isolation sneaks up on you in the same way Alzheimer’s did. You begin by declining invitations or skipping events, because you're tired or don't want the added effort of taking your patient. You'll have to work hard not to let this happen.

Make solid dates for yourself to spend time doing something you like. Trade time with a neighbor, friend or sibling. Take a nap, walk in the park, read a book, work out at the gym, or have a leisurely lunch with a friend. Maintain your hobbies and interests for your health, sanity and attitude.

Call a local Assisted Living Facility and ask if they have a day program. Grab the phone book and look up the Area Agency on Aging. Phone them now. Ask what's available for caregivers. If you call the Alzheimer's Association, 1-800-272-9300, or visit, you can find a local chapter that offers caregiver outings and respite programs.

What about finding the fun?

It's easier to appreciate the fun stuff if you aren't exhausted, or feeling deprived of your own life. Take care of yourself, and sometimes, the funny-looking layered outfits your patient wears will make you chuckle.

The new rule is there are no rules. Just have fun.
Activities can be fun even when the person with Alzheimer's doesn't perform well, or completely understand. Looking at old photo albums is one way to have a conversation. If the patient doesn't recognize faces in the photos, just discuss the people, their expressions, and locations. Reading a book together may mean commenting on the illustrations. Catching up on news can be you announcing the newspaper headlines in an exaggerated radio voice.

Have fun with exercise, too. Walks around the neighborhood, a local park, or the mall provide a change of scenery and new discoveries. Turn on some favorite music, then wiggle or move around. Recognize your patient's limitations, but celebrate the things you can do together.

Read and learn about the disease. Every person is different, but there are similarities. It's incredibly comforting to know you aren't the only caregiver dealing with an iron in the freezer or hoarding behaviors. Caring for an Alzheimer's patient is often hard, lonely, frustrating and sad. It's also an amazing expression of love. And on a good day, there will be joy.

by Karen Favo Walsh |