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Robin Harris

The greatest gift you can give your loved one is your time and a listening ear. Sometimes, all your loved one wants to do is to share thoughts and stories from a time he or she does remember, so create that space for your loved one by listening to these memories. You can learn a lot about who your loved one is and who he or she was.

Robin Harris is a photographerwho lost her father, James, to Alzheimer’s.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2003 and passed away in 2008. He was a strong man, dedicated to his wife and children, and watching him slowly wither away was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. Everything changed when he was driving to church one day, just as he did every Sunday. Normally, he could have driven this route blindfolded, but this time, he couldn’t remember where he was going. The route became unfamiliar and scary, and he immediately headed home.

When my father took a tumble trying to work on something around the house, his fear that he was losing his ability to complete everyday tasks became debilitating, and he retreated within himself. As he began to leave us mentally, I too started to leave him. My unfamiliarity with and fear of this disease caused me to disengage from him, and that will always be my biggest regret. While I watched my other siblings spend time with him, I could not handle this experience. I was a new mother at the time and spent more energy on my new baby than with my father, even though my father needed me the most. Watching the man who raised me and the strongest person I knew act like a helpless child made me feel lost. This experience taught me that there are many steps Alzheimer’s caregivers can take to better understand this disease and spend time with their loved ones:

  • ENGAGE: Don’t retreat within yourself because you feel uncomfortable; this experience is not just about you. Take those feelings, and let them fuel you to spend more time with your loved one, because every moment counts! Take a walk together, play cards, listen to music or paint.
  • GET EDUCATED: I retreated from my feelings because I didn’t understand this disease and what was happening to my father. Knowledge brings strength. When I reached out to my local Alzheimer’s chapter, I started learning more about the disease. Their website is full of helpful information, as well as classes, workshops and panel discussions that you can attend.
  • DON’T BE JUDGMENTAL: This is a difficult time for you and your loved one, so don’t judge your loved one or yourself. Own the feelings you are having, and be OK with this journey; you are in it together.
  • LISTEN: The greatest gift you can give your loved one is your time and a listening ear. Sometimes, all your loved one wants to do is to share thoughts and stories from a time he or she does remember, so create that space for your loved one by listening to these memories. You can learn a lot about who your loved one is and who he or she was.
  • TAKE A LOT OF PHOTOS: I am a professional photographer and take photos of people and their loved ones all the time, but I wish there were more photos of my dad and I. Moments with your loved ones should be captured, so take as many photos as possible.
  • SHARE YOUR STORY: When you share your story and experiences with the world, you are not only growing as an individual, but you are also educating others and helping them grow. Knowing you are not alone on this journey is comforting and helps you build strength as you reflect on your experience.

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