While many of us have spent years as family caregivers, some caregivers are new to this challenge. So new, in fact, that they have yet to realize that they are caregivers. So new that they haven’t had time to even consider the stress that they are under – stress that will likely increase, rather than decrease, if they don’t begin to develop some self-care strategies early on.
We frequently hear about some promising new potential drug breakthrough, yet there is at this time no medical cure and it’s not likely that there will be one anytime soon. Thus, the interest in exercise, diet, vitamin and herbal remedies and brain challenges.
... More likely, at least in the case of Alzheimer's disease, the home this elder misses is a childhood home. It's the home where he or she felt the comfort of a mother's arms; the safety of a father's protection. Again, this home is a state of mind rather than a building. Even if we could take our loved one to the actual house of his or her childhood, it's not likely that this structure would bring comfort. A sense of comfort comes from being with other human beings who love us and will do what they can to care for us.
Could life experience make up for some of the effects of age on the brain? According to researchers from the School of Business Administration at the University of California, Riverside, it can and does. The research group measured a person's decision making ability over their entire lifespan. Using two difference types of intelligence - fluid and crystallized – they found that experience and acquired knowledge from a lifetime of decision-making often offset the declining ability to learn new information.
Caring for our aging loved ones can be exhausting, frustrating, demanding and time consuming. Since November marks National Alzheimer's Awareness Month, we’re honoring Alzheimer’s caregivers, but November is also National Caregiver’s Month. Thanksgiving, as another November holiday, reminds me to think of ways that caregiving, tough as it can be, also offers caregivers a time to note the special blessings we’ve received when we are open to recognizing the gifts. After all, caring for one another is, in my view, one of the answers to “why are we here.
Dear Carol: As the holidays approach I’m facing the second anniversary of my husband’s death from cancer. Until he entered hospice care, he’d endured months of misery and pain. With hospice, he was able to find comfort and we had some wonderful talks together before he became too ill to communicate. His death was pain free and dignified. We’ve both had long lives, so why is this time of year so hard for me? I have a loving son and daughter-in-law as well as two grandchildren. I feel guilty about being angry and frustrated when I should be feeling grateful for memories of a happy marriage and a good life now. How do I get past this? - Mattie
Alzheimer’s is a global issue that is on track to bankrupt worldwide health systems if a cure is not found. Therefore, funding for research is paramount, not just for those who have the disease but for all generations. However, large numbers of the people who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia at this time are trying to make the point that it is equally important to put imagination, research and funding into how to care for those who already have this incurable disease.
By treating aging as a disease are we just prolonging the inevitable or can we change the course of our lives? This question will be discussed at length on "Breakthrough: The Age of Aging" premiering Sunday, November 29, at 9 pm ET on National Geographic Channel.
My opinion? Aging is a process and it’s not all bad. We gain hindsight and wisdom. We gain experience from our successes as well as our mistakes. The wisest among us gain perspective about what really matters as we each navigate our personal path through life.
For me, the question is more about how we live and how we die than it is whether or not aging should be treated as a disease that needs to be cured.
If we take care of our body, our mind, and our spirit, we have a better chance of enjoying good health as we age. Will we have annoying issues that accompany aging? Most likely we will. However, many of us can mitigate some of the negative symptoms of aging if we consume a fairly healthy diet, exercise moderately and challenge our brains.
I believe that by maintaining a positive outlook on life, which is often enhanced by making some type of spiritual connection habitual, we can limit stress. Stress has proven to be destructive to our body and our mind, so by limiting stress we stand a better chance of staying reasonably healthy. Maintaining relationships that we enjoy and eliminating those that are toxic to our wellbeing may also improve our chances of living well as we age.
Rather than thinking of aging as a disease, or just accepting that there’s nothing we can do to improve negative symptoms of aging, I'd rather think of aging as something that we can do with grace. Therefore, in this way, yes I think we can change the course of our lives to some degree.
I believe that by accepting aging as part of the circle of life and respecting the process, we can age graciously. Then, if we're fortunate, when our time comes we can also experience a dignified death. To me, this means knowing when to quit treating any disease - including aging if, indeed aging is a disease - and moving on to whatever exists beyond the physical.
For breakthrough information, as well as opinions from people who’ve intensely studied this issue, tune in to "Breakthrough: The Age of Aging" premiering Sunday, November 29, at 9 pm ET on National Geographic Channel.
Dear Carol: My wife has had a stroke that’s left her mostly paralyzed on one side. She can’t speak well and she cries a lot. We’re in our 70s and have spent our lives as active church people. In fact, we’ve done our share of visiting hospitals and nursing homes representing the church. We’ve told people that what they are facing is their reality and that we will pray for them.
It’s easy to feel grateful when life is going well, and certainly it’s desirable to acknowledge life at its best with appropriate gratitude. What’s not easy is finding gratitude when life hard. Is it even realistic to try? Yes. Discovering gratitude during difficult times can be a giant step toward peace.