Caring Currents

Four Ways Hope Can Help See You Through Dementia Caregiving This Year

Last updated: Jan 05, 2010

Almost There
Image by BaylorBear78 used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

How did you greet the news that a massive, reliable [study] ( discounts ginkgo biloba as a way to prevent cognitive decline or slow Alzheimer's-like memory impairment? Were you disappointed that yet another hopeful Alzheimer's "cure" has proven to be so much ado about nothing?

Hope is a powerful drug -- not only for those beset by disease, but for those who care for them. Losing hope, that buoying belief in the possibility of something better, makes an already-stressed caregiver's road so much the rougher.

That's why hope is worth holding onto, even while caring for someone with a disease like Alzheimer's, where the decline is progressive and the ultimate prognosis is terminal.

Consider -- please! -- these four ways hope can help an Alzheimer's caregiver this new year:

  • 1. Know that while you may not be able to count on a better outcome, you can still hope for a better tomorrow. As in literally tomorrow, the day after today. Invest your optimism in the small, concrete ways that can make the activities of daily living easier on you and contribute to an emotional temperature that helps your loved one feel secure and therefore calmer.

  • 2. Think of hope as your protective vitamin. Hopefulness is calming --- and your heart, stress level, and head need calm. Science conducted by pioneering physician Jerome Groopman and others has shown that having positive expectations (the foundation of hope) can actually block pain by releasing endorphins. You'll feel physically better if you can look for pinpricks of light within the black.

  • 3. Balance hopefulness with pragmatism. They're not opposites; they're complements. All pie-in-the-sky optimism and no realism will mean you're bound to be disappointed. Better to find facts, seek multiple opinions, stay open minded -- these things can ground your hope and inspire fresh ways of looking at a problem. The new evidence on ginkgo looks bleak, for example, but that's not the only way to [slow cognitive decline] ( A blend of hopefulness and pragmatism will take you most easily through the day.

  • 4. Nourish hopes beyond those for the disease. In other words, don't save up all your hope for your loved one; reserve some for yourself. You matter tremendously. Your hopes represent a kind of goal-setting. What are your hopes just for you in the coming year? To be more patient? To reconnect with old friends? To find the buds amid the snows? Define your hopes as the first step to realizing them.