Alzheimer’s. En nuestra comunidad, we don’t really like to talk about it. We will say that they are “mal de la cabeza” or are not “cuerda” anymore. But we need to face this disease as Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than non-Latinos to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
A lot of it has to do with our lifestyle. Ustedes saben que nuestra comida es riquísima, but it also comes with its consequences. Our community tends to have higher blood pressure, which directly links to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke — these ailments are just a bridge towards Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
We should really be more aware of this disease, especially since Latinos are prone to seeing Alzheimer’s symptoms seven years earlier than non-Latinos.
So, yes, we understand what Alzheimer’s is and its reality, but what happens when a loved one is already facing this stark reality?
Well, for one, it’s okay to be flooded with a million emotions once the diagnosis is confirmed. But then what?
Below you can find what to do when a loved one has Alzheimer’s and how to make them feel more comfortable.
Most of the time, they are unaware of their actions. They may, sometimes, sense that they are no longer in the state they were used to, but those moments are short-lived. They will repeat themselves all day, and that’s okay. Your job is to make sure you don’t demean or dehumanize them. I promise you that it doesn’t cost anything to have the same conversation five times in a row. And for the love of everything that’s good, don’t tell them that they’ve been repeating themselves. Be kind. Listen to them. Act surprised every time they repeat the same thing again — just show them the care and love they once showed you.
Talk about what they know
People with Alzheimer’s will often revert to a certain period of their lives and talk about those moments, even if it isn’t any longer a current reality. However, go with it. Learn about what made them tick during those times.
My tia abuela, who has dementia and is one of my favorite people in this world, once started talking about poetry and her favorite poet. Before her diagnosis, I was unaware she loved the arts as I do, so it was a pure moment to speak to her about it. Even if she wasn’t going to remember after that day, it was still worth every second. You’ll learn to cherish these tiny events. And, again, it’s about making them feel comfortable.
Take it easy
Don’t put the weight of their care all on your shoulders. In fact, it isn’t recommended. It is painful to watch a loved one deteriorate before your eyes, both physically and mentally, so the extra help should be welcomed. It can also be exhausting. So, take turns with family members, friends, or trained professionals. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love them enough. On the contrary, you care so much for them that you want their care to be top-notch at all times.