Even dealing with dementia, there are still reasons to smile

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Alzheimer’s disease is the pits. Yet, even in the midst of all the pain, frustration and anger, there is sometimes the funny.

Oh sure, the humor isn’t the hilarious, laugh-out-loud kind, but it certainly can make you smile or relieve the mundane that is so much of a caregiver’s world.

It’s OK to find the funny in your situation.

Laughter isn’t a sign of disdain or disrespect for the person you are caring for, but rather it’s a coping mechanism that can help you get through difficult days. The funny isn’t the person, it’s the bizarre twists and turns that are part of this awful disease. So, go ahead, find the dementia funny and embrace it. The laughter will help, even if ever so slightly.

I know this firsthand. Funny things happen all the time with my own mother who is in the moderately severe stage of Alzheimer’s. Take a recent incident that left my sister and me — as well as the staff of my mom’s assisted living center — chuckling.

Although we moved her months ago, Mom has been experiencing ongoing adjustment issues. She needed a morning task that would get her out of her unit and mixing with people. Mom loves to help, so the resident nurse came up with the idea that Mom could assist with the laundry.

Perfect! Mom had always loved doing laundry — especially folding clothes just out of a warm dryer.

My sister provided a big stack of towels and a new laundry basket. Then, three or four mornings a week one of the staff requested mom come to the laundry room to help fold towels — the same basket of towels every time.

All went well for a few weeks. Mom was extremely proud of her folding accomplishments and the fact that the staff made a big deal over her. I’d say everyone was feeling a bit smug because we had devised a great way to get Mom involved. Mission accomplished!

Then one day, the jig was up.

Although she finds it very hard to convey her thoughts, that morning Mom took one look at the basket and proclaimed in a loud, exasperated voice, “Oh, for goodness sake, I just folded those same towels yesterday!” And with that, she turned on her heals, grabbed her walker and returned to her room in a huff.

It was the longest sentence Mom had uttered in ages.

Mom’s outburst did indeed give us all a chuckle. We’d assumed she was way beyond seeing through our little ruse. However, the joke was on us.

When I asked her about it later, Mom just waved her hand and rolled her eyes. She had the last laugh.

Nancy Wurtzel writes about making big changes at midlife. Her column, Dating Dementia, covers topics such as relationships, single-parenting, empty nests, baby boomer issues, families, dating and caring for aging parents. She is based in Minneapolis.

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