Five Top Tips When Caring for One You Love

TIP 1: Trust your own judgment ... you are the only expert. No one else knows this person you care for as you do. No one can tell what the best care is or why something is happening as well as you.

TIP 2: While you are learning how to change, how to serve, and how to help, give yourself as much devotion as you give the person you look after. This echoes my earlier post The Caregiver’s First Commandment.

These tips come from Frena Gray-Davidson in her book Alzheimer’s Disease Frequently Asked Questions: Making Sense of the Journey, which came out a year or so after my wife Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1997. Of the many books I read I put this one in the top five. Ms. Gray-Davidson, a professional caregiver, blends the practical needs with the spiritual issues in a way that helped me get centered on the tasks facing us. My experience tells me that if these spiritual issues aren’t addressed, it could leave the caregiver and care receiver crippled.

TIP 3: Pay close attention to your spiritual life and allow it to help you through this rite of passage. Spiritual life does not refer to any particular religion or discipline but to a profound sense of being that supports you at the deepest level … If you do all you can to feed the spiritual—through pursuing serenity, meditation, prayer, the peace of nature, therapy—you can avoid falling into constant crisis.

Ms. Gray-Davidson says: “The process of Alzheimer’s disease is connected with losses, difficulties, and agonies. The central difficulty, however, and one that has been largely ignored by Alzheimer’s professionals, is the crisis of dysfunctional caregiving. It is not that Alzheimer’s disease itself is so unrelentingly consuming; what are so destructive are the difficult emotional issues that Alzheimer’s raises and that many people do not address.”

“There is no ‘why?’ that can be answered. The most useful question you can ask yourself is not ‘why?’ but ‘how?’ ‘How am I to undertake this journey?’ ‘How shall I learn what to do?’ ‘How shall I cope?’ … If your life is one of avoidance, blame, and denial about important issues, this passage will be unbearably painful, but if you face it through, you can find great joy even within the pain.”

TIP 4: Keep a journal in which you are as truthful as you can be. As well as being a useful outlet for unmentionable feelings, a journal will gradually accumulate your knowledge and help you see how your journey progresses.

“Like any other task, becoming an Alzheimer’s caregiver requires you to learn special skills. This book will teach you much of what you need to know and lead you toward the changes you may have to undergo. Amazingly enough, if you are willing to make those changes and learn those skills … You will find strengths you did not imagine you had, and they will be there for you to draw on the rest of your life.”

Interestingly, I think many of her insights could be applied to a wide variety of caregiving situations other than Alzheimer’s.

She continues: “Nothing, of course, removes all the darkness of the journey. No one could ever say that Alzheimer’s is a good disease, and that is not the message of this book. The message is that the destructive gloom-and-doom approach gets us nowhere and gives us nothing … Negativity and despair usually cover up the fact that a caregiver is refusing to change and is actually addicted to the stress of caregiving.”

TIP 5: Laugh whenever you can, hug as much as you can, and remember that love is the only useful management tool.

Wrapping up, I’m offering Alzheimer’s Disease Frequently Asked Questions for my next book giveaway. Here are some quick rules if you want to sign up for this drawing:

  • Anyone is eligible, whether you subscribe to my newsletter or not. Simply send an email to between this Friday and next Wednesday, May 11, by 11:59 PM EDT. Indicate that you would like to be included in this month’s book giveaway. It will help me if you put in the subject line: BOOK GIVEAWAY.
  • One person—maybe you!—will be selected at random from those entering. I will send you a confirmation email on Thursday, May 12. You will have 48 hours to respond to my email. If I don’t hear back from you by then, someone else will be selected at random.
  • For more details, click Book Giveaway.

One last comment from Ms. Gray-Davidson: “This book is not about the nuts-and-bolts of Alzheimer’s caregiving—although there are enough of those in these pages to build a battleship. It is about the ways in which you may deepen your own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love.”

If you’re not the lucky one to win this book drawing, it could be well worth your investment to buy the book.

Oh, one other thing: Amazon has a new feature called AmazonSmile in which they will give a small percentage of your purchase to the charity of your choice. I signed up for the Alzheimer’s Association, and will make all my future buys via this feature.


P.S. I returned my manuscript on Monday to Paraclete Press’s editor. A lot of changes and tightening are making our story even stronger. It’s still coming out next fall, but I’m not sure which month.

P.P.S. If you’d like to receive my free weekly posts, you can by clicking here.