Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Spiritual Perspective on Alzheimer's and Caregiving


As you accept what is, you may decide to seek help by attending a support group, seeing a therapist, or talking with other caregivers. By entering Alzheimer’s world and accepting it, you will no longer be fighting this terrible disease.

By Donna McCullough
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 


When faced with a challenging life situation some people turn to God with questions about why this is happening and prayers asking for help.

A Spiritual Perspective on Alzheimer’s Disease and Caregiving
Some might wonder “How could God allow my loved one (and me the caregiver) to suffer with Alzheimer’s disease?” “Why would God do this?” These are tough questions. I have some thoughts to share which might help point you in the direction of finding answers.


Personally, and it seems that many spiritual philosophies and religions hold similar beliefs these days, I do not believe in a punishing God who inflicts painful situations on people for their own good. I do not believe that God gives us negative experiences in order to help us to grow. I do believe, however, that God turns everything to good. I believe that God is always present to help us with situations but that we do not always accept that help.

You may be thinking
“What possible good can come out of my loved one having to spend the rest of his or her life living in a state of confusion, disorientation, fear, agitation… and for me as the caregiver?”
It is possible and even understandable that a person in this situation might want to close their hearts and minds to even considering the possibility that God is present within this situation. Even if you are someone who feels a loving connection with a Higher Power or God, it can be difficult to trust that God’s power is at work in your life during rough times.

When I think about nature and the harmony that exists in the Universe I find myself trusting that there is a Power greater than myself operating in life and I am more willing to rely on this power. Take a moment and consider our Solar system. Year after year Earth rotates perfectly around our sun. I have heard that if Earth rotated just a little bit closer to the sun we would burn up. And if Earth rotated a little farther from the sun we would freeze to death. But this never happens, and, we are just one planet circling around one star in one galaxy. There are millions of galaxies in our Universe where this kind of order is happening.

I also get a sense of this Higher Power when I think about the seasons naturally flowing from one to another, allowing the cycle of life to continue. When I think about a seed turning into a mighty oak tree, it can inspire a sense of awe and wonder. A human being can plant a seed and can water it, but there is some mysterious energy that allows the seed to grow into a tree.

By looking at nature we see that life keeps happening to us and around us. There obviously is something at work here besides you and I. There is something that creates and sustains life. Some call it God. Some call it nature.

Perhaps this same Power (God, nature etc) can bring harmony to your life, even in the midst of this terrible disease called Alzheimer’s.

Might it be possible in the midst of your difficult day to take a moment and say “God, I surrender this situation to You.”

Many times we ask God to take our problems away, assuming that is what we need. I am suggesting here that maybe there is another type of healing or opportunity for growth in this situation, and that by surrendering your situation you open yourself up to receiving the healing.

I fell into this trap when my sweet step-father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I turned to prayer and metaphysical practices to help him to heal from this disease. When it became apparent that the progression of his disease was not going to slow down or stop I decided to focus on acceptance and surrender.

At first there were feelings of sadness and loss. I did not know why Pat and my Mom had to suffer through this ordeal. As sad as this was, this was an opportunity for growth for me.

I came to see that we cannot fight what is happening. We can accept what is happening in this moment along with the feelings about what is happening, and then surrender the situation to God and allow the healing (in whatever form it is going to take) to occur. Sometimes this healing can mean an actual physical healing, in other situations the healing can be of one’s emotions, a relationship, or a spiritual healing.

For a caregiver or someone with Alzheimer’s disease, this kind of acceptance and surrender means taking a giant step into Alzheimer’s world. It means slowing down enough to allow whatever thoughts and feelings you are experiencing to rise to the surface, and then surrendering them to God.

All that you have to do is start with where you are at right now.

What does it feel like to be a person taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s dementia? If you yourself have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other condition, what does that feel like? Accept and surrender. And remember to use the breath, to relax. We sometimes say the words “I surrender” but we hold onto the feelings and thoughts by tensing our bodies. Take a deep breath in to relax and as you exhale let go.

Step into Alzheimer’s world with the understanding that life is guiding you in ways that you are not even aware of needing.

There may be things about yourself or your life that you need to see. Acceptance does not mean that you have to accept that this is the way that life will be forever. Instead it means accepting things as they are now and being open to change.

As you accept what is, you may decide to seek help by attending a support group, seeing a therapist, or talking with other caregivers. By entering Alzheimer’s world and accepting it, you will no longer be fighting this terrible disease – that requires a lot of energy, energy that could be used elsewhere. You aren’t giving in to it either. You are just accepting where you are at in this moment, taking a breath to relax, and surrendering it to God.

Surrender the entire mess called Alzheimer’s disease and allow God to fill you, in order that you can fulfill the highest purpose for your life at this moment. With this kind of relaxed acceptance we are often more open to our intuition, inner guidance, and deeper wisdom. We think and act with more clarity. We are more open to giving and receiving love. Love is a powerful force or energy. Love heals.

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Donna McCullough, PhD is a psychologist with a private practice in Laguna Hills, CA and co-founder of Affirmative Therapy Products.

Original content +Bob DeMarco , the Alzheimer's Reading Room