Talking To Parents With Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is currently affecting over 5 million people worldwide. A large majority of these cases afflict the elderly which means that there are millions of people who have parents with Alzheimer’s. My grandmother was one of the most honest and sweetest people I have ever met. I would venture to say she probably never told a lie. In conversations I used to have with my father, I’m pretty sure he learned the hard way about lying.

Grammy, as she was fondly called, was not a very big or intimidating figure; but she had a way of letting you know she was a no-nonsense-kind of person. She had a heart of gold and a loving personality. I don’t ever recall Grammy saying a cross word to anyone. I do remember that she would speak in a broken form of German, called Pennsylvania Dutch, when she wanted to say something to my father without my knowledge of what they were talking about. She would speak with much intent and then look my way and just smile.

One of The Saddest Days of My Life

Grammy passed away in 1976. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I don’t think my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, but I’m sure she had some dementia in the latter years of her life. In one of the columns I wrote mid-last year I mentioned a must-read book for those caring for people with Alzheimer’s. The ten-page booklet written by Candace Stewart is titled, “Welcome to Planet Alzheimer’s”. Ms. Stewart knows firsthand the challenges facing families of loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; two of her family members were diagnosed with the illness, including her mother.
Picture yourself on a rocket ship and you just arrived on a planet where not many things make a whole lot of sense. This is what taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s can be like. And if you disagree or argue a point, it only gets worse.

The book makes a few suggestions to follow in order to live on planet Alzheimer’s and still make it back to earth with some peace of mind. Following are some of the rules:

You are not who YOU think you are — you are who THEY think you are.

Logic and reason do not exist … follow the rules of improvisation and go with the flow. You will not gain any ground by arguing. YOUR truth and THEIR truth are very different … accepting their truth is not the same as lying; but lying is acceptable in certain situations. If your mom has forgotten that your father has passed away, and expects him to come home for dinner in a little while – it is much better to allow her to believe he will be home than to keep reminding her that he died two years ago. Even my grandmother could understand this rationale for lying to help preserve and protect someone’s loving memories.

Never take anything personally and have no expectations. Remember, old memories are best. You don’t have to feel the need to emphasize new experiences. You just need to make them feel loved and accepted. And take advantage of the shuttle back to earth as often as possible … you need to have your own needs met as well.

In conclusion, Having parents with Alzheimer’s can be taxing. Ms. Stewart makes a whole lot of sense in her approach to a disease that makes little sense to most. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “I wish I had this information three years ago”. Now you do.

If you need more information, you can contact the Alzheimer’s Association via the internet at

You may also want to join us for our Alzheimer’s Exchange Support Group. We meet the fourth Tuesday of every month from 5:30-7:00 PM at Station Exchange. Feel free to contact me and get more info about the group.
Learn well my friends.