The following post is reprinted from the Her Final Year blog entry of the same name, with minor adjustments.
Sometimes, being a caregiver can be a two-edged sword - you work to build a relationship with the afflicted, your loved one, and can become so focused on helping your loved one cope with day-to-day lapses ("brain farts") that you might also be enabling a form of denial & disbelief among family, friends or medical practitioners.
There's one example that springs readily to mind - I'll excerpt the entire entry from the book, immediately after the squiggle.
From the book:
Penny for your thoughtsThe doctor was correct - there did appear to more to what was going on with Georgia, and depression certainly played a role. This event took place relatively early in the caregiving process, but it was one that made a lasting impression on me.
(John’s diary. 5/6/04)
– Villa Rosa
Kathi, Georgia & I stopped in for lunch after taking Georgia to her neurology appointment. Dr. Penny said he wasn't convinced that it was Alzheimer's, suspecting that depression plays a role.
Part and parcel with spending more time with Georgia by having her on the occasional consulting appointment and running errands with her was that we established a better understanding of each other. One of the perks of this was helping her cope with her memory and mental lapses. I encouraged Georgia with clues and triggers to help her remember things like names. The neurologist's name -- "Dr. Penny" -- was one example. I placed a penny in Georgia's hand while we waited for him, after the second time she asked me his name. A minute or so later, I asked her the doctor's name. She looked at the penny in her hand and smiled. "Dr. Penny," she replied with a grin. When he entered, she didn't need to look at her hand. In fact, I think she'd pocketed the penny by that point. But she did remember his name.
This was one of those doubled-edged sword things. The blade cuts both ways -- my helpful "hint" to Georgia to help her alleviate the stress of not remembering the doctor's name and help her feel more at ease likely factored into the doctor's evaluation, as from his perspective Georgia was able to recall his name without assistance.
I didn't really think of that at the time.
Continuation of this thought... Folks suffering from dementia, particularly in the early stages, do a lot to try and compensate as well as hide their affliction. Care-givers, in spite of the best of intentions, may be enabling a form of denial in some ways -- that was the thought I was trying to articulate above, wondering if my assistance to Georgia to help her with the doctor's name was just one way of potentially helping her hide her symptoms, even though it was also a positive reinforcement of my role / relationship with her as care-giver/protector/assistant etc.
Caregivers have a responsibility to their loved ones, but that includes remembering when ~not~ to step in so that other necessary caregivers can properly evaluate their charge. Learning to mitigate oneself when helping another cope with memory issues, confusion & fear isn't easy. It relates, too, to the oft-cited yet hard-to-maintain requirement that caregivers need to take care of themselves, as well.
It's a tough road. The journey is a little easier if one doesn't have to make it alone, but no matter who you travel with there should always be someone keeping their eyes on the road to gently remind you when to throttle back a bit, or adjust course ever-so-slightly.
And if you're the only one taking the journey with your loved one, that means never losing sight of the possibility that you might might miss occasional markers & rest areas. Remembering to watch for them may help ensure that missing them won't send you off on the wrong path, or get you hopelessly lost along the way.