Love and Alzheimer's: It's Complicated

Amy Goyer describes loving someone with Alzheimer's as a choice and the most basic, simple kind of love.
Amy with Dad.

Valentine’s Day is coming up, but I have to admit,  Alzheimer’s complicates loving someone who is struggling to cope with the confusion of an ever-changing world.

Dad has always been very affectionate and supportive to me. When I was a child, he was my role model and comforter. When I became an adult, he showed his love by asking about my work or my car. He would even send me Valentine’s Day chocolates every year.

Now he often expresses anger and frustration toward me when I try to help him with the simplest things, like dressing or eating. Although I’m familiar, he doesn’t remember I’m his daughter. Recently, he told me to “go away and play with someone else.”

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While I know that these behaviors are the disease, not Daddy, they are still stressful and heartbreaking.

Many people withdraw from those who have dementia, saying it’s too painful or they don’t know what to do. They often say it doesn’t matter because that person’s memories have faded. But I believe that this is when true selfless love is tested — when we make the choice to actively love. Dad may not remember me, but I sure remember him and a lifetime of shared experiences. I can  blanket him with love as we navigate this rough journey.

Dad’s ability to connect may be hampered, but he can still give and receive love. He still takes care of me in his way, comforting me when I’m sad and giving me the best Daddy hugs ever. He lights up when he gets phone calls or greeting cards; he soaks up compliments and loving physical touch. Even if it’s just for a moment, the moments matter. His essence is still there.

Recently, as I sat next to him with my head on his shoulder and our arms intertwined, I asked if he was ready to go to bed. Usually, he’s anxious to do so, but he contentedly said, “No, I’m just fine right here with you.” He felt our heart connection, the simple comfort and security of being with someone who loves him. That’s what means the most to him now. And that fills up my heart, too.

Amy Goyer is AARP’s family and caregiving expert and the author of AARP’s Juggling Work and Caregiving. She spends most of her time in Phoenix, where she is caring for her dad, who lives with her. Follow Amy on Twitt er   @amygoyer   and   Facebook .

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