N – Note that I take your words literally, so avoid teasing and sarcasm.
In the early stage of memory loss, mom would sometimes take “just kidding” comments quite literally. Likewise, when mom reached what was thought to be the stage of “moderately severe” memory loss, it seemed that her ability to understand and appreciate sarcastic humor and irony disappeared too. This was especially noticeable in social “table talk” situations.
Teasing and sarcasm are part and parcel of family gatherings such as Thanksgiving. We like to tell stories on one another and kid each other about silly things we’ve done lately. We sometimes use tongue in cheek jesting during our bantering around the table. Mom always had a quiet sense of humor–she would appreciate a good joke, but usually was not the one to tell it. She’d smile at the kids. But now, while she herself could often say something witty, there was no understanding of the “punch line” to someone else’s joke and a blank look at any attempt at humor.
Turning off the humor at the table isn’t the answer, but understanding how our loved one with dementia might be processing the conversation can be helpful in making the conversation inclusive for them too. Our bigger family dinners (e.g. Thanksgiving and birthdays) were the most confusing for my sweet mom. She would sometimes leave the table and go to the quietness of her room. When that would happen, family would go in an visit her one on one. She enjoyed that experience much more.
Another helpful tactic was to do something mom enjoyed at the table. Working on a puzzle or coloring became a unifying factor in conversation for her.
O – Own up to your mistakes in caregiving, but don’t beat yourself up about them. Mercy is new every morning.
I freely admit to making a lot of mistakes in caregiving. I recall days when my voice carried more than a little annoyance in it and harsh words would fly. Days when I was anxious and weary and my facial expressions did not communicate Christ-like love and compassion. There were times when I would confuse mom by asking if she remembered something when I knew full well that she couldn’t–or, similarly, when I would expect her to remember something we had already talked about. One of the hidden grace gifts of Alzheimer’s is that momma wouldn’t stay hurt and mad at me for long. She would soon forget my blunders and I would have another opportunity for a do-over in caregiving.
Likewise, in other relationships, there were times when I did not express my appreciation freely enough. I’m thinking of a time when I made my sister feel bad about how she handled a caregiving situation, rather than being gracious and knowing she did what she thought was best when she was taking a turn at caring for our mom. It’s sometimes easier to see the mistakes and failure of others than it is to see the same problem in our own lives.
It’s a wonderful thing for me as a believer in Christ to know that His steadfast love for me will never cease. Never. Ever. His mercy will never come to an end. Never. Ever. I praise God for His faithfulness in providing a daily (constant) supply of love and mercy. Knowing and believing the truth expressed in Lamentations 3:22-24 helped me through many times when I felt like a dismal failure as a caregiving daughter.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22–24)