Have you ever ridden into a box canyon? It is difficult to see the way out and the walls threaten to cut one off from all that is normal.
Caring for a loved one challenged with dementia can feel like that. It is wearing. For those who cannot afford help it can be exhausting and frightening. All who provide care in these circumstances, paid or unpaid, need aid themselves.
Dementia is not a specific disease, according to Mayo Clinic. Rather, it “describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning”. The caregivers in such a situation become the providers of necessary daily functioning for those who seem unable.
The Mayo Clinic Staff continues with advice to caregivers in such circumstances: “Providing for a person with dementia is physically and emotionally demanding. Often the primary caregiver is a spouse or other family member. Feelings of anger and guilt, frustration and discouragement, worry, grief, and social isolation are common. If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia: 1) Ask friends or other family members for help when you need it; 2) Take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual health”.
Perhaps focusing on this last point, spiritual health, would help in great measure to meet the physical and emotional needs of anyone caring for those exhibiting dementia. But how does one achieve “spiritual health”?
For me, it includes addressing fears by gaining a sense of God’s infinite love for us.
Unaddressed, fear can block our recognition of needed answers in giving care, it can overwhelm us in apprehension for our own safety, and plummet one into a sense of depression.
But when fear is spiritually overcome the practical impact can be liberating. The perfect example of this was when Christ Jesus, whose fearlessness consistently brought healing, encountered a tragically insane Gadarene man called Legion. Despite this man’s miscreant reputation, self-destructive tendencies, and social isolation, Jesus spoke with him normally and showed his Christly love for one who’d probably never received such restorative attention. That fearless care not only calmed him but cured him permanently.
Could this be possible today? Yes. Even the Mayo report allows, “Some causes of dementia may be reversible”. So, why shouldn’t a caregiver, expressing sufficient spiritual love, not only overcome his or her own fear but extend this sense of God’s love to the one being cared for such that the condition may abate? Over many years in the periodicals of my church there are accounts of various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, being reversed through a spiritual understanding of God’s healing love.
Many in the business of extending care to humanity have found strength in a more divine motivation for doing their work. I find this statement from a seminal writing on the relationship between spirituality and health encouraging: “It is proverbial that Florence Nightingale and other philanthropists engaged in humane labors have been able to undergo without sinking fatigues and exposures which ordinary people could not endure. The explanation lies in the support which they derived from the divine law, rising above the human. The spiritual demand, quelling the material, supplies energy and endurance surpassing all other aids, and forestalls the penalty which our beliefs would attach to our best deeds.” (S cience and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, p. 385)
Filled with love for God and mankind, divine inspiration can lead us out of the box canyon of apprehension, lifting our thoughts above the shadowy dimensions of caregiving, and brightening the way of those in our charge.
This article will be published in the Arizona Silver Belt Newspaper, August 5, 2015.