By Barb Arland-Fye
Author Amy Neuzil wrote “Becoming an Alzheimer’s Caregiver: What I Learned from Caring for my Mom.”
“Becoming an Alzheimer’s Caregiver: What I learned from caring for my mom” by Amy Neuzil. Prospect Press (U.S., 2017). 224 pp. Available at www.amazon.com. Cost $8.85 print; Kindle, $1.99.
Amy Neuzil writes lovingly and honestly about lessons learned as a caregiver for her mom who lives with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuzil’s book, “Becoming an Alzheimer’s Caregiver: What I Learned from Caring for My Mom,” weaves compassionate storytelling into a resource guide that caregivers for a loved one with Alzheimer’s will want to keep close by. Equally important, Neuzil offers advice that applies to caregivers in general.
I chose to read her book as part of my research on caregivers for a series in The Catholic Messenger called “The Hopeful Household.” Her book offers wonderful, personal insights about what it means to be a caregiver and plentiful, helpful resources.
An estimated 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s and approximately 200,000 individuals younger than 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association (2018). Neuzil first noticed her mom’s memory struggles in 2001, five years before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Neuzil’s dad served as her mom’s primary caregiver, but Neuzil and her two sisters were very involved in their mom’s care until 2012, when she moved into a nursing home. Her family has learned a lot about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and appreciates the advice, education and strategies they have received from the Alzheimer’s Association and other resources.
“However, sometimes the best teachers were the mistakes we made because they forced us to look at a caregiving issue from a different angle. I would like to share with you what we learned through this journey of being Mom’s caregivers,” Neuzil writes. “It’s my sincerest wish that this book offers you guidance, support, and hope.”
The book’s chapters take readers through issues that arise with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, such as getting a diagnosis, communication strategies, disturbing behaviors and emotions, and caregiver survival.
“Educating yourself is one of the most effective things you can do as a caregiver to help your loved one,” she observes in a chapter titled “Knowledge is Power.”
In her chapter on communication strategies, Neuzil encourages caregivers to convey an unhurried, easygoing attitude with their loved one. By doing so, “You have a better chance of positively influencing the mood and tone of your loved one,” she says. One heart-tugging discovery: communication “goes much more smoothly when I try to live in Mom’s world with her.”
Neuzil and her family also discovered that if they responded to her mother’s repetitive questions and statements with patience, her mood generally stayed calm and pleasant. But if they called her out for repeating things or asking the same questions, she became more agitated.
I was struck by that advice because of its applicability to my family’s interaction with my 31-year-old son with autism. We know that if we converse with Colin in a calm, soothing voice he will respond much more positively than when we express exasperation and anger. He repeats questions, just as Neuzil’s mom did when she was more verbal. I’m more grateful, now, that Colin is verbal and improving his conversation skills, even when he sometimes asks people embarrassing questions!
In an e-mail interview with the author, I asked how being a caregiver has impacted her faith. She told me, “I think my life experiences have impacted my faith more than anything else. It seems to me that our past experiences can have a huge impact on how we deal with present challenges and those we have yet to face. Additionally, I’m sure that 30+ years of working in healthcare and hospice settings have played a big part in shaping my beliefs.
“We all face challenges in life and I can’t say mine have been any more challenging than anyone else’s. While I’ve not always recognized God’s gentle guiding presence in my life in the midst of challenging times, upon reflection I can point to people that have hugely impacted decisions I’ve made by their guiding presence and support. God was with me, working through the wonderful people that helped to support me through the most trying times. They served as examples of how we’re called to be Jesus’ hands and feet to our brothers and sisters in need.”
Now that’s caregiving.
(Barb Arland-Fye, editor of The Catholic Messenger, can be reached at email@example.com.)