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When my father began to slowly succumb to Alzheimer’s, one of the saddest things about it was our inability to talk about the situation as a family. His slow slide into darkness was the elephant in the room. We longed for him to be transparent about what was happening so that we could remove some of the anxiety for all of us, especially him.
As my dad moved into his mid-70s, his judgment and cognitive abilities began to rapidly decline. During summers, when our extended family lived in nearby homes and came together, my sisters and I devised a plan to ease my mother’s caregiving duties and keep him occupied. After breakfast, she’d send him down the road to one of my sisters, and after that he’d walk up the road to my house for more conversation and coffee. At some point during our chat, his shoulders would sag. “This is so hard,” he would say, tears filling his eyes, but he would never speak the name of his disease, would never acknowledge what was happening.
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And so we all sat, locked in our inability to truly find joy with my father in his final years. Maybe if we had done more homework, understood more about the disease, we would have been better at anticipating things and experimenting more.
A new approach
When I saw the book Living in the Moment: A Guide to Overcoming Challenges and Finding Moments of Joy in Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias by Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D., with Heather Millar, I was interested to learn how joy was even possible while watching a loved one being erased by such a cruel illness.
Landsverk, 61, a San Francisco-based doctor who is board certified in internal, geriatric and palliative care medicine, helps caregivers and families ease the journey with dementia and Alzheimer’s. As one of only about 3,500 full-time practicing geriatricians in the U.S., she addresses the most challenging medical, behavioral and financial/legal issues and is often the person called in to help work with families when other doctors or approaches have failed.
“It’s possible for elders and their families to live fulfilling lives after a dementia diagnosis,” Landsverk says. “I wrote this book to give families a straightforward map and toolbox for the road ahead.”