Today’s Solutions: May 25, 2024

Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle was 58 when she heard that her husband, Harrison, had Alzheimer’s disease. ­Harrison—”Hob” to friends—was 72. Suddenly, the Hoblitzelles had to rethink their plans for a carefree old age. The disease progression that followed was difficult. Years after her husband’s death, Olivia is very clear about it: Alzheimer’s is one of the worst illnesses there is, she says. It is disheartening, lengthy, exhausting and heartbreaking.

She wrote a compelling book about her husband’s degeneration, Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows. In spite of everything, it is a book about love and life. Hob and Olivia decided early on that there was no point in clinging to their old life. The only way to deal with the last phase of Hob’s life was to greet it with compassionate attention and love.

In her book, Hoblitzelle offers tips for partners, children and friends of the person with dementia. These are based in part on her experience as a psychotherapist and as a colleague of author and mindfulness training pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn’s.

1 Accept the disease and the changes it brings with it, as frightening as they may be. It will help you tolerate the sadness..

2 Don’t isolate yourself; instead, ask for help from family, friends, dementia organizations, spiritual counselors or therapists.

3 Remember the positive things you and the person with ­dementia had before in your relationship. Those loving moments form the thread that connects you.

4 Put yourself in the shoes of the person suffering from ­dementia. Imagine how upsetting it must be to lose so much. This openness and compassion will bind you to each other.

5 Find an outlet through which to express heavy emotions, such as frustration, anger and sorrow. It helps channel your feelings constructively.

6 It’s true what they say: Keep laughing. Humor lightens the difficult moments.

7 Continue to involve the person with dementia in conversations, and realize that you are the one who must begin those conversations. Touch is one of the nicest ways to include someone.

8 Adjust your rhythm to that of the person with dementia. That will make things more restful for both of you.

9 Because someone with dementia constantly forgets things, it’s important to be reassuring and validate him or her for doing things right.

10 Keep telling fun, positive stories from the past. You have become the guardian of his or her treasured history and memories.

Find out more: Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows: A Couple’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s, by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle (Tarcher)


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