What to Do When Scary Thoughts Overwhelm Family Caregivers

Family caregivers of Alzheimer's patients sometimes face mind games

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by Ray Burow |

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For caregivers, there are few things scarier than the thought of developing Alzheimer’s disease. We’re empathetic to our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s, yet every day, we face what could be our own future. We start thinking about our cognitive abilities and wonder, “Could this happen to me, too?”

It’s not a selfish thought, but it is scary, as there can be a genetic component to the most common form of dementia.

Heredity and risk of Alzheimer’s

The risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases when a family member, particularly a parent or sibling, has the disease. The risk increases again for family members with more than one first-degree relative with the disease. When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and then during the time of her care, fleeting thoughts of developing the disease crept into my psyche. Perhaps such ideas are related to the mourning that accompanies caregiving.

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Is it wrong to be glad it’s not me?

There are few things a caregiver wouldn’t do if it meant their loved one’s cognitive health would return. We’d eliminate their suffering if we could, perhaps unselfishly wishing we could trade places. However, understanding the depths of caregiving, we wouldn’t burden them with our care.

I despised watching my mother’s undoing, but oddly, I was thankful it wasn’t the other way around. It wasn’t for completely selfish reasons, either. Of course, I didn’t want to have dementia, but imagining my mother caring for me was unthinkable. My mom would have done it in a heartbeat, but a mother caring for her child is more devastating, or so it seems to me. I’m grateful that she was spared, but so many aren’t.

Statistics on the number of mothers caring for adult children aren’t readily available. Still, we know that more women than men care for Alzheimer’s patients. Most are daughters caring for their parents. Yet given that more women provide care for Alzheimer’s patients than men, there’s a likelihood that many are moms caring for their adult children. My heart goes out to them.

I’m sure my mother would have insisted on taking the reins to care for one of her four children, and I am also sure it would have broken her heart more than it did to care for her parents when it was time. As a mother of five, I would spend the rest of my life caring for one of mine, but I sincerely pray that such heartbreak will pass me by.

Exorcise scary thoughts with facts

We can’t choose what life will throw at us. But we can choose how to respond when scary thoughts invade our thinking. Can you find gratefulness in having the fortitude to provide care, and in the fact that you’re not struggling in the throes of dementia? Aren’t you glad your loved one isn’t tasked with shouldering the burden of your suffering? It’s the other way around, and you can handle it.

Scary thoughts of developing Alzheimer’s disease because your loved one has it are a genuine concern, but respond with the facts. Heredity can be a factor, but not always. There are genes that indicate risk, but even those genes aren’t a guarantee that Alzheimer’s will develop.

If your brain is nagging you regarding your family’s history of dementia, there are tests you can take to determine your gene risk. Speak with your health provider or contact the Alzheimer’s Association for more information.

This Halloween, may the scary characters haunt only your front door and not your thoughts. May you have treats and not tricks, and may the fearful thoughts surrounding Alzheimer’s not be one of them.

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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