Taking control of an uncontrollable situation
Alzheimer’s disease, thief that it is, steals control. The loss of one’s memory is more than the dissipation of a series of compiled experiences. Losing memory encompasses everything that was once learned and some things that just came naturally, like swallowing a pill or recognizing yourself in a bathroom mirror. Gratefully, with early diagnosis and medication, the loss is gradual. Hopefully.
Loss of control
If you were to interview a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, they might tell you that the loss of control is what they dread most. Wouldn’t you? Dementia is no respecter of persons. People from every walk of life and social, economic, and political persuasion have been diagnosed with the disease. College professors, professional football and basketball players, coaches, at least one U.S. president, and countless others have been diagnosed. Imagine having the world by the tail and suddenly someone is micromanaging every aspect of your life. This is no less true for people who are less famous, who are also stripped of the opportunity to manage their own affairs.
Conflict of loss
Letting go of control is excruciatingly hard. It doesn’t come naturally to a person who’s been independent for most of his or her life. They’ve been raised to make their own decisions. That’s the goal. Grow up and make your own way in the world. Pay your bills and responsibly live your life the way you want to live it.
Retirement age is just about the time that a diagnosis is leveled, since symptoms of Alzheimer’s often appear around 60 years of age. As the disease progresses, family caregivers often step in, attempting to take a measure of control. It is a form of protection, but the loved one doesn’t always take it that way. A conflict may arise between the two.
Your loved one may be convinced that they are still able to pay their bills, drive their car, and generally take care of their own business. It’s understandable that a person who has always been in control wants to hold on to it. The bout of stubbornness they exhibit isn’t for the sake of just being obstinate. It’s not even about being in control, but rather the last stand for independence. Loss of control equals loss of independence and that is what creates the conflict between caregivers and the ones for whom care is provided.
Taking control of a situation is often necessary, but if your loved one views you as a partner in his or her situation, then it will be easier on both of you. Minimize conflict by giving up control of some things — not the big things, mind you, but the little skirmishes that aren’t worth the drama.
Choice is a learned behavior. A mom or dad might hold up a pair of pants in each hand and ask, “Which would you prefer?” The child is given a choice, and the parent still has some control over what will be worn that day. He or she won’t leave the house in a summer pant on a cold winter’s day. Not that your loved one is a child, but providing an opportunity to make a decision between one or two controlled choices presents them with a measure of independence.
Incorporate controlled choices into your caregiving practices
Sometimes personal hygiene is an issue for someone who is holding on to control. Perhaps instead of announcing that it’s time to take a shower, give them a choice. “Would you like to take your shower this morning or later tonight?” If the reply is “tonight,” then remind them of that choice “tonight.”
“Mom, you told me that you would like to take your shower tonight. I have everything ready for you, just like you asked.”
Imagine never having the opportunity to choose what you will or won’t eat for dinner. Allow your loved one to make a choice between good nutritional options. Too many choices are overwhelming, but one or two may be useful for independence.
Caregivers control the flow of laundry from the laundry room to the closet. If your loved one is at a stage where they need help getting dressed, remember to offer them a choice of what they will wear, instead of just picking it out. Keep the choices to a minimum, having matched shirts to pant, etc., beforehand. However, if they choose mismatched clothes, who really cares? Choice fosters a feeling of independence.
Caregivers must take control, but no one wants to be viewed as a dictator.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.
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