Embracing Happiness When Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s

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by Ray Burow |

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“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” — Proverbs 17:22

You may recognize that verse, which is often paraphrased as “Laughter is good medicine.” And it is, though some would say that nothing about Alzheimer’s disease brings cheer — certainly nothing to make you laugh out loud.

It would be very sad if that were true, but the reality is that you can find humor and lightness in almost any situation, and it’s important that caregivers do just that.

Caregivers must pinpoint the sweet spot between their daily reality and happiness, realizing that happiness and joy are two separate entities. You may not find happiness in the middle of your caregiving day, amid the mundane but necessary tasks. Cooking, cleaning, bathing, and the loads of laundry carted in and out of the laundry room don’t spur you on toward a cheerful heart. However, abiding joy moves us through the difficult days and nights that often accompany caregiving. Finding joy is the challenge.

A cheerful heart takes practice

Some people are just naturally cheery. Yay for them! Some of us, however, have a more difficult time of it. For us, a cheerful spirit takes practice, especially when life is difficult, but it’s an exercise well worth the effort. How does a person practice cheerfulness? Basically, cheerfulness is a choice that involves a battle of the mind.

When caregiving turns dreary, remember that it’s but a season, and choose in that season to embrace joy.

It takes work to turn your mind into a happy spot. It helped me to concentrate on the choices I had. I could choose to be burdened with sadness or to think on good things.

When caring for my mother, before my feet hit the floor in the morning, I would say to myself, sometimes aloud, “This is the day I’ve been given, and no matter what it brings, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I often failed this mantra, but I kept trying, and it really helped to make life bearable, even enjoyable, during the caregiving days.

Drive out negative thoughts

Caregivers awaken to a list of ongoing chores. The list never ends, and becoming a martyr to everyone around you is tempting. You may be the primary caregiver in your family, but if you have a spouse, children, or both, caregiving also affects them. Don’t lay martyrdom on them, too.

Caregiving can make us feel as if there is always a cloud over our heads, but if we think of it as always raining, then gloominess will follow. Recognize the negative thoughts that penetrate your mind daily. Drive them out with a positive mindset. It’s good for you, it’s good for your family, and it’s best for the person for whom you provide care.

This is not Pollyanna thinking, but one of the exercises that move us closer to joy and happiness. Counting your blessings — and everyone has some — really does help.

Humorless existence suppresses joy

Caregiving can be brutal, driving out cheerfulness and humor. But humor is one of the characteristics that feeds joy and that will often turn a sad and cheerless heart into a happy one. Caregiving is not humorless. In fact, what happens in a given day can sometimes be downright funny, but we’re often too stressed about those things. Let it go. Find the humor and let yourself laugh out loud.

Scientifically speaking, laughter helps to relieve stress and can even eliminate emotions related to anxiety, as it aids in relaxation and recharges your body’s focus.

I was fortunate. Even with Alzheimer’s disease, my mother had a tremendous sense of humor and wit. As she lost cognitive ability, she also lost the ability to produce wit, but she continued to be happy and to laugh at jokes she probably didn’t get.

She also smiled a lot and was able to laugh at herself. This was helpful to me, because she was one of those people for whom cheeriness came naturally, which made my job of choosing joy and happiness much easier.

Some care for individuals who are combative or possibly verbally abusive. I recognize that it’s difficult to climb out of sadness and into joy and happiness in such a situation. It might help to hold on to the fact that the person for whom you provide care isn’t the same person you once knew.

Others provide care for someone who was never a kind person, not before Alzheimer’s disease and certainly not post-diagnosis. You are saints to care for them when they need you most. The only control you have is over yourself. Choose joy and happiness.

“Laughter is good medicine,” but the second half of that verse is equally important: A “crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Not on our watch. Pursue joy!


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.


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