The other day a friend and I were talking about how our emotions affect us physically. We are amused and we laugh: we are sad and we cry, we are frightened and gasp, and so on. Yet we forget that there are more serious affects. A cardiologist asks patients presenting with palpitations what is going on in their lives. Depression slows blood flow to the brain, and stress increases cortisol levels, narrowing the blood vessels. Prolonged stress and depression affects blood flow to the brain and doubles the risk of developing dementia.
One of the most important Scriptures says, ‘Above everything else, guard your heart; for it is the source of life’s consequences.’ (Proverbs 4:23, CJB). It’s particularly important to remember if you are caring for a loved one with dementia.
At a conference a couple of years ago, a couple in their late seventies stopped to talk at a table where my books on dementia were on display. She asked which one might help her best, because her husband had been diagnosed with vascular dementia, and she was not very good at caring for him. She looked an anxious little lady. He was tall, standing behind her and looking over her head at me.
‘Is that true?’ I asked him with a smile. ‘No, not at all,’ he said, smiling back, ‘she’s very good at caring for me.’ ‘Did you hear that?’ I asked. ‘Yes, but he would say that, wouldn’t he,’ she answered. Her feeling was so strong she took it to be fact, ignoring the evidence.
I asked, ‘Would you say you are doing the best you can?’ ‘Oh yes, I am,’ she replied, nodding her head, ‘I am.’
‘Does God expect anyone to do more than their best?’ I asked, and she thought about it before replying, ‘No, He doesn’t, because no-one can do more than their best.’
‘You are doing your best, and God knows that you can’t do more than that,’ I reflected back to her.
Then I told her how every caregiver feels inadequate, because there is no training for dementia care, and no template because each case is different; a mixture of the pathology – the disease, and the personality of the individual. It’s a journey through unknown territory, and the most important aspect of care is the love the caregiver has for the person with dementia. ‘I’ve never thought of it that way’ she said thoughtfully. Then she added a little sentence that spoke volumes: ‘My brother always said I was behind in catching up.’ (The sort of brother, I thought, that might have benefited from a clip around the ear.) This time, for the moment at least, she had ‘caught up’ and saw how important the love she felt for her husband was in her care of him, and that God, who sees everything, approved of her doing her best.
The aim of the book, Dementia: Pathways to Hope is to help bring understanding and point out the pathways to hope. Also, to tell the stories of people who have found hope – and even joy, in lives impacted by dementia. It’s available at https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/shop/dementia-pathways-to-hope