Facing Dementia in Loved Ones

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Dementia strikes without regard for physical health or prior intelligence. This often creates fear and anxiety.

Recognizing Dementia

“We knew my mother had memory problems for some time, but she refused to acknowledge anything was wrong – and my dad covered for her.”

Justine Purtell says her mother has an “out-of-the-box” personality anyway, so when new quirks developed, Justine attributed it to age and her natural eccentricity.

“Denial burns away quickly in some families, but for us, it took time,” Justine says. 

As they sat in the airport after Justine’s father’s funeral, Justine watched her mom tie and untie her right shoe for a full half hour. 

“She barked at me when I asked if she needed help,” Justine says, “and continued to tie and untie. It was at that point I knew we had something serious on our hands – and she was coming home to live with my family. So began our journey.”

Facing the Fear of Dementia

Dementia strikes without regard for physical health or prior intelligence. This apparent randomness often creates fear and anxiety, and may cause friends and family to pull away from the affected individual.

“Some studies say people fear Alzheimer’s, which makes up 70 percent of cases of dementia, more than cancer and even death,” says Dr. John Dunlop, a physician specializing in geriatrics and author of Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia.

Sarah Smith shares the heartbreaking story of navigating her mother’s journey with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet Christ calls believers not to fear, but to love boldly. Scripture tells us that His heart is toward the hurting and most vulnerable among us. As those created in His image, we have a responsibility to honor one another and to care for others as Jesus cares for us.

We begin by recognizing how hard it can be to show signs of aging in a culture that prizes those with sharp minds, beauty and youth. Independence is a virtue; dependence is looked down upon. When a life-altering illness strikes, the afflicted are often moved to the margins of everyday life – hidden away in hospitals, care facilities or homes. What’s more, they are typically surrounded by doctors, nurses, techs and other virtual strangers.

Peace and Assurance

When dealing with dementia in another person, it’s a mistake to point out his or her forgetfulness, says John Swinton, author of Dementia: Living in the Memories of God. Swinton says we are all so much more than a diagnosis or a defect. Each and every individual represents a distinct life and human experiences. There is far, far more to each of us than sharp minds and youthful bodies.

We are all created in the image of God. No amount of neurological damage can alter that fact. And each person has a story. In facing dementia, remember that loved one’s story.

Even in the face of fading memories, Swinton says we can find peace and rest in the assurance that – regardless of confusion, loss and illness – God securely holds our true identity. We may someday forget our friends and family, even our Savior, but He is faithful. He never forgets.

Just as God holds our memories, each of us can help a person with dementia remember God’s faithfulness in the past, His presence in the midst of current trials and His promises for the future.

Finding Support

Dr. Amos Yong, author of The Bible, Disability, and The Church, refers to the young and healthy as “temporarily-able-bodied.” But if we live long enough, eventually we’ll all be disabled or dependent to some degree. And that’s when we’ll want our friends and family members to tell stories, break out photographs and bring us a slice of our favorite pie.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the impact of Alzheimer’s or dementia on family relationships, Focus on the Family has a staff of licensed professional counselors available who would welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Simply call 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. (Mountain Time) and a Family Help Center staff member will set up a free phone consult.

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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