Creating Joy and Meaning for the Dementia Patient: A Caregiver’s Guide to Connection and Hope
By: Ronda Parsons
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: July 22, 2015
The role of a caretaker, particularly that of one in the throes of Alzheimer’s or other serious dementias, can be an extremely stressful and daunting one. It’s a role that if one had to choose, most would walk away from, most likely run. The emotional roller coaster of Ronda Parsons life was evident, but instead of riding it in fear, she decided to find joy in her journey. She prefaces Nan’s story, for it is ultimately hers, by stating that dealing with a severe dementia was a “demanding reality that can bring the most loving caretaker to their emotional breaking point.” Ronda’s and Nan’s journey was penned in a comforting, almost lyrical manner, but I saw flashes of anger, frustration, if not tears in certain situations.
For Ronda, as with many people I know, it was one of those “someone has to do it moments” when she took over responsibility for her mother-in-law’s care. Her beloved Nan had “lost her ability to connect the dots,” a task that now shifted to others. For Ronda the realization that helping and watching “someone you love slowly change and slip away is unfathomably sad and frightening.” What could have continued to be a desperate situation somehow became one of joy. For anyone who has ever received a call from a nursing home or other care facility asking for assistance in controlling or calming a loved one, it can truly make one’s heart turn to stone. I’ve been the recipient of some of those and my heart sank as I read a brief recounting of one.
Ronda’s recounting of their journey was a pensive one for me, but also a learning experience. It altered the way I looked at the treatment, the caretaker, and someone like Nan, a “gentle soul seated in a Geri-Chair.” It wasn’t a book that I was planning on racing through, although it would have been an easy task. I watched, listened, and learned through their loving experience with dementia. No, it wasn’t a cake walk, but when Ronda learned that she “possessed the power to alter the tempo and undercurrent of [their] relationship,” it was my wake-up call. I began to move forward, looking instead not at my needs in relationship to the afflicted, but rather theirs in relationship to mine.
Instead of becoming what Ronda dubbed a “champion of self-pity,” which any family member could be I carefully read what she had to say. Her dictate was that “You must decide how you will behave.” Indeed we have choices in life and how we conduct ourselves is one of them. In her dealings with Nan, she developed her Moment by Moment technique, one I will keep in mind if I once again find myself in a caretaker position. Little snippets such as “don’t try to drag them back into your world” will really hit home for those who need assurance.
Somewhere in the middle of the book the word “brilliant” came to mind. No, this is not a textbook nor was it ever intended to be one. It’s a book that speaks to the heart of the caretaker, giving them a soul-saving method to continue on their journey. Ronda’s statement that her “primary goal in all I do for Nan is to maintain her health and dignity.” This could be a mission statement, but certainly a must and can do for anyone. The conversational style made it quite easy to read and the book was extremely well-written. At the end of each chapter are “Insights,” brief statements I learned and will learn from.