Anyone who lives with dementia must learn to ride emotional roller coasters. The rises and dips, twists and turns, happen abruptly and without warning. Behaviors and moods of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can dramatically change in a split second.
Caregivers know the experience well! A smile instantly turns to a scowl. Cooperation suddenly pivots to conflict. Calm explodes into rage. Affection gives way to rejection. Coherence suddenly gets shattered by confusion.
Sometimes the ride is exhilarating as an unexpected smile or moment of recognition appears. Other times the ride takes a plunge into the abyss of grief or turns sharply toward more confusion. Then, there are periods when the journey plateaus and moves ahead with relative calm and predictability.
But riding roller coasters is exhausting, even dangerous! I’m still learning and sometimes all I can do is hold on for dear life and brace myself for the final plunge downward. Yet, I’ve learned a few lessons.
One, don’t ride the rollercoaster by yourself! I need other people with me. . .to hold onto. . .to scream with me. . .to comfort me! We need others to steady us enduring the ups and downs, the twists and turns. And, it’s comforting to know that others are on the ride with you.
Two, scream when you feel like it! Screams are laments. Laments are not only therapeutic; they are the forerunners of hope. They are the weeping of the night in preparation for the joy that comes in the morning.
Three, relish each moment rather than fear the next twist or turn or dip. Learning to live in the present moment isn’t easy but it’s the only real time for those with dementia. Each moment contains potential life, love, and connection. Grab it before it’s gone!
Four, reach out and touch! A gentle touch or embrace of the one trapped in dementia’s turbulence brings solace to both. Touch communicates when words fail and thoughts flee.
Five, look up! The roller coaster isn’t the total reality. The sun and stars remain in their course. There is a world beyond the tumult of the present.
Six, sing! Music harmonizes, calms, inspires, touches deep places in the heart when the brain falters.
Seven, laugh! As the poet Robert Frost said, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would go insane!”
Eight, trust the permanence of love! “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22). God’s love never ends. Neither does ours!
Love does more than survive roller coaster rides; love grows stronger through the ups and downs, the twists and turns. So, hold on tight to love!