Sadly, when caring for a loved one who is suffering from a form of dementia, one way or another depression is going to seep into your life. It's even worse if you're the primary caregiver; it may actually be sitting right in your lap!
Dementia and depression go hand in hand. As soon as you begin to notice behavioral changes, be prepared to have a conversation with the doctor as soon as possible.
Dementia alone can bring with it symptoms of depression. In this circumstance, the dementia from the depression and the dementia from the disease will stack themselves on top of each other. This may be why your loved one is a complete mess. Soon, if nothing is done to stem the tide, you will be too.
You can't control the dementia that is caused by the disease, but you can address the depression. This is when certain medications may become quite beneficial.
I was one of those caregivers who emphatically swore, at first, that I was going to make it my goal to keep my father as medicine-free as possible. However, I quickly learned that certain medications have their purpose in fighting the symptoms of diseases, in this case, Alzheimer's disease, which was what my dad suffered from. The bottom line? What was good for him was good for me.
There is no doubt that there's heartbreak and despair in watching your loved one dissipate. I would suggest that you keep your environment as cheerful as possible.
I know that some of you are shaking your heads and asking, "How?" Well, take it from a veteran; throughout the decade I spent caring for my dad and searching for ways to cope, I discovered some dos and don'ts.
Here's one: If you hope to sit down and occasionally have some hard-won time to yourself, don't put on a tear-jerker movie!
If you plan on spending the only two hours of peace you have watching "Brian's Song" or "The Notebook," think again for goodness sake! Yes, great movies, but do you really need all that sadness permeating your brain? Oh and don't forget about "Old Yeller" (Those animal stories always get to me).
Find something that's going to make you laugh out loud. I guarantee you'll feel better and when bedtime arrives, maybe you'll get some real shut-eye for a change. (One of my personal favorites is "My Blue Heaven," written by Nora Ephron and starring Steve Martin. That movie always makes me chuckle.)
Do the same thing when it comes to books. This is your "me" time, so choose something uplifting.
Unfortunately I'm a news junkie and, trust me, in today's world, I don't think there's anything more depressing on television.
My father gave me some advice many years ago. He said, "Son, always try to surround yourself with positive people." This is very hard to accomplish when you're caregiving 24/7, but use whatever options you have. I'm a firm believer in how laughter is the best medicine. There is a reason "Reader's Digest" has had a regular section on this in their magazines for decades.
If I'm going to hurt, I'd rather have the pain be caused by laughing too hard. Throughout our caregiving journeys we deal with enough doom and gloom. Try to bring some sunshine and humor into your life. Never forget to laugh.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book, "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," as well as "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness" can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.