Caregivers, Don’t Impede Positive Experiences by Too Often Saying ‘No’

Saying 'yes' may help a loved one with Alzheimer's feel independent

Ray Burow avatar

by Ray Burow |

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“No” is the easiest answer to any request. Unfortunately, it’s a caregiver’s go-to, perhaps especially when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. I often felt it necessary to tell my mother “no,” but now, I wish I’d said “yes” more often.

My mother is in a better place, and I’m sure she doesn’t hold my shortcomings against me. Still, if you’re a caregiver, you know we tend to remember the failures of our bad days instead of the myriad of good days filled with demonstrations of the love and kindness we were privileged to share.

Alzheimer’s diminishes independence

After my father’s passing, my sister and I moved our mother to Florida from her home in West Virginia. We lived close enough to share caregiving responsibility; Mom shuttled between our homes, living with my family about 50% of the time. On days or nights when traveling to or from my sister’s house, we passed a major airport. Each time, Mom asked the airport’s name and commented on the many lights lining the runways.

I still pass that airport almost daily, never without hearing my mother’s voice asking about the lights.

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Family Caregivers Provide an Invaluable Service to Loved Ones

Moving away from her childhood home significantly blew my mother’s independence. Losing driving privileges was another factor, though the transition wasn’t too difficult for us caregivers. We took over the responsibility of driving. That felt normal to her because we’d done most of the driving when she visited from out of town. We still hid her keys, just in case, but she never seemed to mind not driving.

On longer trips, she’d remind me, “If you get tired, just pull over, and I’ll drive for a while.”

I’d reply, “Thanks. I’ll let you know.”

Not driving affected my mother’s independence. As the driver, she could stop when and where she wanted on the way to and from my home. In the old days, she and my father often took a detour to pick up a treat for the grandkids. Triumphantly, they’d walk in bearing gifts, which continued to cement their hero status.

Occasionally, perhaps more often, when chauffeuring Mom between our homes, she’d ask if we could stop to pick up something for the children. I was a busy mother and often in a hurry to get to home, school, or a sporting event, so the answer was, “No. Can we do it another time, Mom?”

I wish I’d said “yes” more often.

I wish I’d gone to the trouble of saying ‘yes’

Because saying “no” requires less effort on a caregiver’s part, we often impede positive experiences that could occur if we took the time to say “yes.” My husband was a master at saying “yes” with our children, but also with his mother-in-law. I remember one specific occasion that I found inspirational.

Our family volunteered to glean tomatoes for a food pantry. It was the last pick of the season, and my sister and mom joined us for the four hours of gathering. Her stage of dementia was mild, but it was difficult for her to maneuver about the plowed field of dirt, rocks, and rows of leftover tomato plants.

An old family photo shows a husband and wife standing in their garden and smiling. The woman is wearing a white and green polka dot shirt and a floral apron. The man is wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and tinted sunglasses.

Ray’s parents when they enjoyed sunny days in their West Virginia garden. (Courtesy of Ray Burow)

We sat her in a comfortable beach chair, outfitted with a wide-brimmed hat to protect her from the sun. Her job was to sit and watch, but she wanted to work. “I want to pick tomatoes, and I can help.”  She said it more than once, and each time my sister or I told her it was too difficult and that she should relax and keep an eye on the youngest grandchild.

Before Alzheimer’s, my mother and father were avid gardeners, and my mother’s tomatoes were prize-worthy. I didn’t think of it at the time, but imagine her frustration just sitting there watching.

Thankfully, that didn’t last too long. Pulling up several leftover plants, still full of tomatoes, her son-in-law came to her rescue by dropping them at her feet, along with a nice-sized box. My sister and I marveled at his genius. Mom was thrilled to sit and pick tomatoes from bushes that were continually supplied to her. It was a great day, and one of my cherished memories with my mom.

I know precisely why I didn’t say “yes” more often, and it made sense at the time. But looking back …

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


Cathy Foutz avatar

Cathy Foutz

Thank you a million times over. My husband has bvFTD instead of Alzheimer's, but this is sage advice from someone who has navigated the dark waters. I am so grateful for this reminder to live in the moment and appreciate the good times that are still possible if I allow them. The reminder that sometimes a little creativity can make a huge difference in someone's day is priceless. Thank you for your gift of sharing in such an eloquent way.

Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow


Thank you for the kind words. The phrase "live in the moment" is one that my sister and I often returned while caring for our mother. It isn't always easy, and I'd say it's usually not, but the connection was rewarding on those good days and in the "with it" moments.

I wish you many beautiful moments of connection and good times with your husband. May God bless your navigation through this challenging season, and may you find hope and joy in the journey.



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