Jun 9, 2010


By Andrea Brown

I and my husband have cared for his 96-year old father for the past 3 years. One thing this experience has taught me is an important difference between caring for someone with Alzheimer's and caring for children.

As a mother and a former teacher of children, I have had much practice in helping children learn new behaviors. I cannot teach my father-in-law, Cliff, to learn or to want to change his behaviors.

I am learning acceptance and ways to handle difficult behaviors in new ways—lessons from Cliff and my husband, Allyn, mainly.

My husband and I were in a restaurant recently, and the two men split an order of French toast. Cliff said that he preferred to lick the syrup off his fingers rather than use a napkin alone, and said that his tongue was clean enough. I had the impulse to tell him why he would need to wash his hands and teach him about germs.

Cliff also has dropped food on a restaurant floor and wanted to eat it anyway. Sometimes he eats the cracker crumbs off the restaurant table.

My wise husband, in regard to the finger licking, took him the bathroom with him so they could wash their hands after our meal.

He sometimes tells me to not look when there is something I cannot change rather than worry or getting upset at all.

Sometimes I share my sanitizing, alcohol-based stuff after a meal or before if needed. Sometimes that works.

Regardless, trying to teach Cliff why to do these things is fruitless. It works better to distract him from dropped food or change the subject.

What I have learned is Cliff’s increased powerlessness is part of why he wants to make many of these decisions. He was a leader, a master mechanic—no wonder!

I must add that Cliff retains his wit and charm with ladies and sings old songs in a big, great voice to any woman anywhere and any time (or to a man that looks like a woman to him). Also, he is physically strong and is ready to go places at the drop of a hat without complaint.

Andrea Brown. I am working on a dissertation for my PhD on caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease. The study is to find from these family caregivers what resources help, barriers to using them, and what their experiences are and have been. I will share my results by printing and publishing when my dissertation is finished.

I knew very little about Alzheimer's prior to my caregiving experiences, though I had worked in the area of mental health. I also address grief and loss issues as part of the dissertation.

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Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,510 articles with more than 8,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

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