Alzheimer’s, Compassion and Love

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,
while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
~Lao Tsu~
When babies are born, they have no understanding of their world. They don’t know how to communicate their needs. They sense discomfort which could be from being cold, hot, wet or hungry. They cry as an automatic way to communicate their distress. It is up to their parents to guess what troubles them.
As some adults progress into more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, they also have difficulty expressing their needs. It becomes difficult for them to clearly understand their needs although they can still sense discomfort and show it in ways which might not be easy for caretakers to appreciate. Being a good caretaker for someone with this disease takes considerable sensitivity. It also calls for the flexibility to handle the unexpected from day to day with no predictable pattern of good and bad days.
Recently Carol and I visited a couple whom we have known for many years but do not see often due to the many miles between our homes. Our woman friend was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease several years ago. Each time we saw them, we could see the advance in the hold her disease has over her. A once vibrant and alert woman has become wheel-chair bound and has extreme difficulty participating in or even following a conversation.
Her husband accepted the role of chief caretaker for her and has remained in that role for the past few years. It has become necessary to have aides in the house so that he can tend to his own needs as well as their needs as a couple involving contact with the outside world.
On the way to see them recently, we speculated on what we would find. We were prepared to face her deteriorating condition. While not a surprise, we were both struck by his love and devotion to his spouse in her extreme condition. He showed no indication of feeling sorry for himself. He adapted and responded to her needs with obvious love.
We usually think of love as something mutually shared and appreciated by two people. Love feels best when both people can make an equal contribution to the relationship. Yet there are times such as this one when one lover has very little to give but gives what she has. Her husband is left with the primary responsibility for maintaining their relationship and accepts the challenge lovingly.
While many people in relationships do not face the extremes confronting our friends, I would venture to say that most have faced times when the relationship is unbalanced for various reasons such as illness. One of you might require more effort on the part of your lover or you might be the one from whom more is required. Love means accepting what you lover can give you and providing what your lover needs. Make the best of every day you have together. Be prepared to do what you can when needed.

 

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