When Jerry was first diagnosed, he was immediately "retired" from work, declared 100% disabled, and "put out to pasture" so to speak. He was 50 years old. I can't tell you what that does to a man whose self worth was calculated on how many sales he got that month. Jerry always loved to play golf. With his long, tall frame, his swing was natural. So, trying to be all positive he decided to become a ranger at the golf course. We were not members of any club, but being a ranger gave him golf privileges. He was in heaven. Unfortunately, within 6 months, he was unable to do the job. A ranger is the guy who times everyone's start so that golfers don't rush each other. During that 6 months, Jerry became a part of a bunch of wonderful buddies. They all decided that they weren't going to let Jerry go down without a fight, so they made him an "honorary" ranger. So he wouldn't feel pitied, his job was to fill the divits with sand on hole number 3. (Believe me, I filled many a hole. It became our Sunday evening date.)
I can't tell you what that meant to me for these guys to rally around him. So often, when a person gets diagnosed with Alzheimer disease or dementia, they are "written off". Imagine if that were you. One day you are a viable part of a community of friends. They next day you've become forgotten. Not cool. At first, when I saw this happening, I was pretty bent out of shape. After all, Jerry was still a person of value even though he would sometimes get confused. Grrrrrrrr! Most of the rangers took it upon themselves to include Jerry in a foresome atleast once a week. I am so endebted to them for their compassion. (Besides, he hit the longest drive and they would play off of it. Ha!)
One day an old acquaintance from our church was approached by one of the rangers. The ranger asked, "You guys ARE taking care of Jerry aren't you?" The guys responded by saying, "Jerry? He's got dementia. He can't play golf." To this day, it still bothers me. After I had a little talk with my daughter about it, she reminded me that some people don't really know how to react. They just need educating. So I am here to tell you. Alzheimer people have feelings, need to feel included, need to feel valued, need to contribute. (atleast while they are able.)
I met a neighbor this morning whose dear friend has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease. They had shared a literary club for years. After a few months, her friend didn't want to come anymore. She told them she couldn't read and she felt bad coming if she couldn't host once in a while. But those women wouldn't take no for answer. They each alternate picking her up and bringing her to club...whether she's read the book or not. You see she needed to feel included and valued. Afterall, what was more important, the book or the relationships?
An Alzheimer person soon loses his ability to initiate an activity. They soon cannot use a phone even to answer it, much less dial it. So they sit. If Alzheimer folks are left alone, they will become isolated, depressed, and probably decline faster. This is the time for friends and communities to step up to the plate. Be a friend and stay a friend. You'll be glad you did.