June may be official Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, but for dementia caregivers, Alzheimer’s makes its presence known every hour, minute and second of the day. Alzheimer’s Awareness moments breathlessly rob our loved ones and ourselves of emotions and memories, of sanity and self.
Alzheimer’s, like time, knows no hour.
It impacts nearly everyone I know, with the sheer, blunt force of a torpedo. Just this week, I’ve added two new recipients to the list. An old hiking buddy whom I hadn’t seen in years is now conducting clinical research for Alzheimer’s. And a close friend, who lost his father to Alzheimer’s last year is struggling with his mother’s recent dementia diagnosis.
Life with Alzheimer’s is seconds and inches.
DID YOU KNOW: An estimated 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and that’s expected to reach 131.5 million in 2050
I have another confession: I love to clean.
It wasn’t always like this.
In the jetsetting days of my past, I cleaned my own house for a while. Twenty-two hundred square feet. Three bedrooms. Two baths. A weekly two-hour obligation that bred bitterness. In time, my husband hired a cleaning service. I didn’t object.
When I left that career to care for my mother, the housekeeper was the first budget cut. I floundered for months in this new life, adrift and rudderless, struggling with the unsalaried turmoil of dementia caregiving. I had lost my identity.
Gradually, mundane tasks moved me out of the rabbit hole of depression. I meditated while washing dishes. I delighted in folding laundry. I cleaned with passion, scrubbing the souls of my house and myself. And in the process, I found that caregiving is my purpose.
When mom could no longer care for her beagle, Louie, I found him a new family. Mom asked about him every day for a few weeks until his memory melted into Alzheimer’s oblivion.
Six months later, my beloved golden retriever of fourteen years passed away. Even after a year, I still talk to Casey every day.
Although mom will never again be a full-time pet parent, she’s found great joy as a surrogate pet mom. Friends bring their dogs by for a walk along the beach. We “borrowed” a golden retriever from a neighbor for an afternoon. We may even foster a dog this summer.
Pet therapy isn’t just for seniors. My caregiving menu now includes petsitting and animal shelter volunteering.
We tell pets our darkest secrets. They see us as we really are. And they still love us unconditionally.