COACH SUMMITT'S DIAGNOSIS OF ALZHEIMER'S
For some reason, I keep thinking about Coach Pat Summitt and her recent diagnosis of early onset dementia. Last week, I wrote a small blurb about how I feel her courage in pursuing the diagnosis, as well as going public with it, will inspire many families to do the same and thus move forward with their lives rather than huddle in fear of the unknown. But, I keep thinking about it and feel compelled to put my thoughts down in this blog.
Once the media frenzy dies down, the Summitt family will face each day just like any other family dealing with dementia. It appears that Pat will be surrounded and helped by multiple people around her so she can continue to coach for as long as possible, and that is certainly a blessing for them. This too, can be a lesson for others who may not have access to all those helpful assistants. If you want your loved one to be as independent for as long as possible, then seek out ways to help them do that. Is it friends who schedule daily/weekly outings? Is it neighbors or relatives who truly want to help? Is it members of your church who want to help? If you can afford companion care, that's wonderful, but if you can't afford it, then for the sake of your loved one (and your own mental health), take advantage of those friends, neighbors, relatives or church members who wish to step in and help on a regular basis. Please do not think you're taking unfair advantage of them because they too, are getting something out of the relationship with you and your loved one. They feel satisfied and fulfilled that they are helping a fellow human being. They want to give back, and remember that you will have the opportunity to also give back to them once your life is not so consumed with caring for your loved one.
Coach Summitt's son, Tyler is a young man who will walk on this dementia journey with his mother even though I'm positive he would wish for nothing more than a normal life of his own and good mental health for his mother. He will need an awful lot of support in order to not lose his own identity and his future on this journey. As his mother's dementia progresses, his caregiver burdens will increase, as well as his stresses. He must make plans for time away from his responsibilities as a caregiver in order to be a better caregiver. This too, is a lesson for all caregivers. It will be the most difficult "job" you will ever do, but you compromise yourself and your loved one's safety and happiness when you cannot step away and recharge. I think it's okay to think that nobody can take care of your loved one as well as you can, but I don't think it's okay to turn away those people who want to help. Everyone will benefit from more people coming in to help and keep your loved one socialized.
I wish the Summitt family many, many happy and productive days ahead, as I wish every family struggling with dementia the same. It is possible, and I pray you are all able to achieve that goal.