These days technology can get in the way. People’s faces are hidden, buried in phones texting, emailing, or checking some sort of social media. People say that texting has replaced talking. We worry that people now have acquaintances rather than friends because we aren’t connecting as individuals anymore. And it is true; technology –smart phones, computers, apple TV, DVRs, and even navigation systems – demand that we pay attention to them rather than to other people. But can technology also be a positive thing? Can it help us connect with others rather than separating us?
As I sit here in a café writing this entry, I can say that technology has been a blessing for my family since my mom developed Alzheimer’s. My extended family is spread throughout the country. I live in Indiana with my husband and children, my mom’s brothers live in New York and New Mexico, my sister is in North Carolina, and my dad is in Virginia. We communicate constantly with email, texting, and other electronic means. We couldn’t communicate instantly when we needed to, or wanted to, without today’s technologies.
Personally, I also have been able to connect with others through the blog entries I write. They are posted for the world to see and read. Writing is a type of therapy for me. It is cathartic. My entries help me process the emotions I am feeling and the problems I encounter while being a caretaker. I know my writing has touched others and helped others, as well. The feedback has been overwhelming. Even if someone isn’t in exactly the same situation, he or she can get a glimpse of not only what it is like for me, but also for others who are taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Smart phones have been a blessing for my family. I send photos to family members so they can see what mom is up to. It may just be her sitting somewhere smiling, but it also could be her sporting a pretty hat while playing dress up with my kids.
I have sent videos of my mom dancing, something that she rarely did when my sister and I were growing up, but she can’t get enough of it now. If the music is on, she is either trying to sing to it or dancing to it or both! I also have sent videos of her talking, just so my sister and mom’s brothers can hear her voice. Sometimes that is just what they need, just to hear her voice again, and though what she says may not make sense, it doesn’t matter. The sound of her voice is music to us.
We have tried to use Facetime to connect as well. I Facetimed with my sister on her birthday last year. I was asking my mom to say hello to her daughter and I said, “Say hi, Mom!” Her sweet, happy response was, “Hi, Mom!” It made my sister’s day just to see her face, hear her voice, and have her say “I love you.” So much happiness, so many tears, all at the same time.
I have connected not only with family but also with strangers. Because I have been very open and honest with my situation and feelings, I have had countless messages from people through Facebook asking for help and advice on how to handle situations with family members who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. They don’t know what to do and are desperate for help. They have turned to me, and I have shared my opinions or told my story or redirected them to an organization like their local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Recently I reconnected with a friend from college. Unfortunately, she also is dealing with being a caretaker for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. At first we reconnected through Facebook but now we also are texting. Unless you have been or are a caretaker, you never truly understand what it is like- the agony, the heart break, stress and desperation you feel and the grieving that you go through, not to mention the patience that you must have - what a lesson in patience!
Through texting, we are able to immediately connect with each other. Sure, we could pick up the phone and talk, but sometimes texting is a better option. The other day she and her husband were in the hospital trying to get her mother-in-law to take some medical tests that had to be done. In typical Alzheimer’s fashion, her mother-in-law was refusing to have them done. She was explaining to them that she was fine and wasn’t sure why she was there. (Sound familiar to anyone out there? I know it did to me.) They didn’t know what to do. They needed someone to help them, someone who had gone through the same things. That person was me.
Knowing someone who is going through what you are facing is a blessing. It helps take a little of the weight off your shoulders, if only for the moment. The few words that I offered helped. I simply said that there was no reasoning with a patient who has Alzheimer’s. They might as well wait and try again tomorrow. Fighting with and trying to force her mother-in-law was not going to work. She would simply continue to fight them. Take a deep breath, relax and let it go, I advised. Tomorrow is a new day.
These few sentences were all my friend needed. She knew that I had been through what they were going through. Often the answers, the reality, that make sense to us in our rational world, make no sense to the person with Alzheimer’s. They are at the mercy of the ever changing world created within their minds, a world with its own reality. If the rules of their reality demand that they refuse help, and if you can let it go and take care of it later, then do that. Sometimes it is only a matter of minutes before the person with Alzheimer’s has a new reality, one that allows cooperation. Other times it may take hours, sometimes a day. Remember the patience requirement? Be patient, try again when your loved one is ready.
To all of you out there trying to get through the day, through the seemingly impossible situation you have to deal with, remember that this too shall pass. Remember, too, that this is the ultimate test of love and patience. You can do it. And remember that there are others out there going through the same things. You are not alone. Use your resources to find those other people. Call the Alzheimer’s Association. Surf the web and find a chat room or blog that you can follow. Text a friend or family member. We are out here waiting to offer a helpful word, a hug, a text. Find us and connect.