Managing, Coping With Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms
Many years ago, I worked as a psychologist for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Toward the end of my last tour of duty, I visited Ryoanji, the famous Buddhist monastery and meditation rock garden in Kyoto, Japan. Although I found the rock garden cultivated a sense of calm stillness within me, I gained the greatest spiritual insight as I left.
Along the path there was a small sign reading “The Usual Path.” It was meant to direct tourists back to their destination. The sign did not read “The Right Path” or “The Only Path,” just “The Usual Path.”
Most tourists opted for the usual path. It was safe and predictable, while the unusual path was unfamiliar and filled with challenges. But ultimately both paths led to the same place. That small, unbiased sign in the Buddhist monastery garden has given me inspiration and courage on my alternative path as a person living with Alzheimer’s disease.
When first diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, it became crystal clear to me that I was no longer on “The Usual Path.” My journey now is unusual, unfamiliar and full of challenges — for both me and my loved ones. When first diagnosed, my life as I knew it, and the plans I had for it, changed. I have no idea how long my memory and cognitive functions will serve me.
My experience coping with Alzheimer’s disease is similar to others who have been diagnosed with this disease. Suddenly, I had to navigate life-insurance policies, trusts, wills, financial and long-term-care planning, early retirement, Social Security disability, state disability insurance, medical directives and compromised health — all at the same time. This journey has been nothing short of overwhelming and confounding.
The longer I am on this journey, the more I have a sense of urgency to live life to the fullest. I am “seizing the moment.” Ironically, I am happier now than I ever have been, mindful of the present moment rather than worrying about the future or brooding about the past. Prior to my Alzheimer’s diagnosis, much of my life was about striving for this or that and not really paying attention to the things I value most — my primary and secondary relationships, spirituality and health.
Being mindful of the present moment is a beneficial way to deal with the daily health and emotional challenges of this disease. The capability to live in the present moment deepens, develops and matures when there is an intention to pay attention. Daily walking (or some sort of exercise) also helps, because it is a deliberate exercise to strengthen body, mind and spirit.
My choice is to be a fighter and not a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. To have the energy to fight a good fight, I need to renew, rekindle and rediscover my inner spirit. And the only way I know to do this is by seizing the moment, cultivating stillness and quiet, avoiding stimuli and distractions and embracing the value and meaning of life. Because of Alzheimer’s, not in spite of it.