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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Piercing the Dark Cloud

By Gary R. Allen
Aug. 17, 2014

My father lived with my wife, Arlene, and me for five years after the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Dad was a gentle person and very compliant, which made it easier for us to care for him. There were humorous times when something he said or did would make us laugh.

Dad had been a coffee drinker most of his life. One morning we asked if he wanted coffee.

“No,” he said, “I never did like it, never did drink it.”

The next morning we poured his coffee and he drank it as usual. He made us smile.

If you have cared for, or are caring for, a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you can certainly share an anecdote or two like mine. But you would also have many more stories that were not joyful. To watch a loved one descend into the cloudy perceptions and lost memories of this disease is heartbreaking. There is no other word for it..

Yet, for followers of Christ, Alzheimer’s is only a temporary trauma. In the light of eternity, it is a sorrowful chapter in which the “tent” of a mortal body (1 Peter 1:14, NKJV) begins to show some wear around the seams. But we do not limit our vision to our mortal bodies.


CLOUD ON THE HORIZON

I come from a family with a significant history of dementia/Alzheimer’s. My grandmother, my father, all three of Dad’s siblings, and now a first cousin have all lived with the condition.

Anyone, with or without such a family history, is vulnerable to this disease.

• More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.

• Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.

• Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

• There are approximately 500,000 people dying each year because they have Alzheimer’s.

• One in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

• In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion.1

Such facts and figures are disconcerting as we age or observe our parents and grandparents aging. It is important for both the patient and family to acquire an understanding of the aging process and the dynamics of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Knowledge will not stop the disease, but will enable us to maintain a healthy focus, a realistic perspective, and to remain committed to do what is best for the patient.

Alzheimer’s has been likened to a dark cloud2 that appears on the horizon and gradually looms over patients, engulfing them mentally and emotionally, hiding the former person from family and friends. In this beginning stage, the dark cloud may seem to dissipate at times revealing glimpses of the familiar loved one and giving temporary encouragement and hope, only to engulf them again.

“Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia (the loss of brain function) that gradually gets worse over time. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Memory impairment, as well as problems with language, decision-making ability, judgment, and personality, are necessary features for the diagnosis.”3


NAVIGATING THE FOG OF ALZHEIMER'S

The fog of Alzheimer’s often arrives quickly. It blurs the reality of the moment and then settles in to stay. It distorts the past and obscures the present, making even the simplest tasks challenging and eventually impossible. The caregiver may also become caught in this fog, losing perspective and hope.

Anxiety and fear of both patient and caregiver can create tension and strained relationships. While the person you once knew is lost in the fog and has become very different, it is important for family and friends to maintain love and respect for the patient, accepting them as they are.

 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). There are circumstances of life we cannot go around, over or tunnel under; we must go through. God has promised to go with us through the dark, difficult times of life. His promise becomes our hope and comfort as we rely on His sustaining presence and power to pierce through the dark cloud of Alzheimer’s.

Even within the dark cloud of Alzheimer’s, while cognizance and memory are impaired, there will be brief glimpses of the former person, past experiences, and memories that bring a smile to both patient and caregiver.

It is important to realize persons with Alzheimer’s can connect with their faith. For believers with Alzheimer’s, the emotions and feelings of a shared faith will last into the disease process, even when they can no longer talk about what is going on around them.4

Expect the creative work of the Holy Spirit to continue to minister to the patient even when they seem totally disconnected from the present. My wife’s grandfather was delivered from 68 years of chain smoking in a vision of Jesus while in a coma following a stroke.

Hearing is the last of the senses to go in the declining process. Reading and quoting Scripture verses usually triggers memories, and the patient will often verbalize along with the reader. I remember starting a Bible verse and my 93-year-old grandmother would complete it, doing so when most of her memory was completely depleted by her disease.

The Word says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB). Such hearing of the Word does not “go in one ear and out the other,” but abides deep within the human mind.

It is important to understand that every day symptom progression is delayed may allow the person with Alzheimer’s disease to spend more quality time with his or her loved ones.5 Some shared activities may include:

• Reminiscing with old photos, music, and home videos, which can help inspire your loved one to remember and talk about his/her past. Talking about events and people may stimulate memories. In addition, reminiscing can create a sense of safety and familiarity.

• Crafts and hobbies can help tap into creativity. Try making a scrapbook with old photos and mementos.

• Musical activities, like singing and watching musicals, can stimulate memory and wellbeing. (Even in the later stages of my father’s deterioration, he would sing all the words of the songs during hymn time at the care center.)

• Outdoor activities and contact with nature, like gardening or taking brief walks, can provide physical exercise, fresh air, and stimulation of sight, sound, smell and touch. Also, a tank with beautiful, multicolored fish can bring nature right into your home.

• Being reminded of seasonal activities is a good way to stay active and engaged throughout the year. If you or your loved one is living in a community dwelling environment or assisted-living facility, there are usually engaging activities that can be done with friends and family.6

We do not know what the future holds for us and our family, but we are confident that with God’s constant presence and strength we can be strong and courageous in piercing the dark cloud.

The songwriter Ira Stanphill wrote, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. I don’t know about tomorrow but I know who holds my hand.”


1 www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp (Accessed May 8, 2014.)

2 mashomecare.com/respite-care/other-causes-for-alzheimer%E2%80%99s-symptoms/ (Accessed March 28, 2014.)

3 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (Accessed March 13, 2014.)

4 support.brethren.org/site/DocServer/Disability_resources_-_Ministering_to_Those_with_Alzheim.pdf?docID=3462 (Accessed May 8, 2014.)

5 alzheimersfog.com (Accessed March 14, 2014).

6 www.namendaxr.com/caregiver-support/resources.aspx?guid=PPC|G|1641&mkwid=sH5ruAJ0z|pcrid|27636140206|pkw|alzheimer%27s%20facts|pmt|e|pdv|c|33873i28264| (Accessed May 8, 2014).


GARY R. ALLEN, D.Min., directed Assemblies of God Ministerial Enrichment and was executive editor of Enrichment Journal from 2000 to 2010. He currently serves part-time as pastoral adviser to the employees of the National Leadership and Resource Center of the Assemblies of God.

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