Originally published as part of the Alzheimer's Association -- Western Carolina Chapter's E-News on November 7, 2018.
Lani Lawrence and her partner Nels have been together for thirteen years. When Nels began having trouble with everyday tasks like finances, scheduling, and remembering to turn off the stove, she turned to a friend for help. “She had gone through Alzheimer’s disease with her husband, and suggested getting Nels checked”.
After an initial consultation with a neurologist, both Lani and Nels went through an interview process. “Nels went through a battery of tests: spatial, directional.” He then went on to have PET and CAT scans, showing signs of probable dementia with Lewy bodies. He received his official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in January of this year. “His life has changed drastically; he can’t work or drive. All he wants to do is work, but he can’t. He gets sad about his day-to-day life. He doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything productive”.
Lani’s life has been “completely turned around...I work full time, and have a side gig at home. I take care of the bills, take of him, drive him around”. The number one thing she’s learned from her experience as Nels’ caregiver is that he is very attentive to her moods. “I try to be calm and patient when things are not good because I know he can’t help it. I have to learn to be calm, learn to dig deep and try to keep my emotions under control”. She has also learned to take time for herself; that taking care of yourself is of the utmost importance so you can be there for them. The caregiving experience can also be incredibly sad. “The sadness, it’s part of it. It’s just reality. You’re so sad because the person you’ve known and loved for a long long time is different. I look in his face and I see a pure person there. He looks at me and it’s his pure self. It’s a needy pure self. My father had Alzheimer’s, one of the things I remember, I look back at pictures, his pure essence shows in his face”.
Nels and Lani have received a wonderful amount of support from their friends and family. “They have been incredibly compassionate towards us both, and fabulous in helping us out”. They have also taken advantage of the programs and support groups in their local Piedmont area that the Alzheimer’s Association offers. They participate in “Minds in Motion”, an educational program, as well as a support group for caregivers and the person diagnosed. “Nels really likes to go to the group, he’s all about support groups.”
Lani’s advice for caregivers that are newer to their role: “Get support from anyone you can: support groups, friends. I don’t mind talking about it because it helps me. Other caregivers are helpful to talk to because they give advice”. Her definition of caregiving is that she’ll do anything to make Nels comfortable and safe, to make sure he’s not frustrated or sad.
“That’s what a caregiver does. I love him.”