Book review: Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Photo courtesy of Quill Driver books

Your mother scared the daylights out of you last week.

She said she was going for a quick walk but when she didn’t return three hours later, you went looking for her. You were frantic, she was confused, you were embarrassed. She has early-stage Alzheimer’s and you’re trying to cope but things are getting worse for her. Things are getting worse for you.

You never thought you’d have to be a parent to your parent, but here you are. And in the new book “Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver” by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer with Pierre A. Lehu, there’s some help.

Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s may be a burden and there may be joy in it, but however you see it, you’re not alone. Dr. Ruth says there are 15 million people caring for a parent, partner, spouse or relative in the U.S. That amounts to more than $183 billion of unpaid care each year.

And that can be overwhelming.

For starters, the authors say, don’t “draw lines in the sand.” Remain flexible, figure out other ways to do what needs doing, and never turn down offers of help; even delegating the tiniest chores will feel like a relief.

“Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, but it mustn’t claim two victims,” the authors say. Ignoring that may lead to caregiver burnout.

Recognize that your feelings are probably going haywire. You may have crushing guilt, anger or sadness. You might feel lonely, shameful or depressed. Maybe you’re filled with grief. Don’t repress those feelings; instead, manage them by preparing for or deflecting them. Preparing early for other inevitabilities will help, too.

Teach children and grandchildren to adapt, and learn how to get siblings to pitch in. Find a good lawyer. Know how to deal with combativeness, frustration and when it’s time to seek new accommodations.

Let’s lay this on the table: Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver includes information on sex. You’d be disappointed if it didn’t, wouldn’t you? But it is not the focus of the book.

With extreme sensitivity, Westheimer and Lehu offer comfort and direction for caregivers who want to avoid being overwhelmed by their situations. They tackle personal and practical info for caregivers, as well as insight on how the patient might be feeling. I liked the individual stories included here, and the authors’ advice seems sound—even when the advice is to ask a professional.

Overall, this is one of those books you hope you’ll never need, but you’ll be glad you’ve got it if you do. For boomers, elders, and caregivers now and in the (possible) future, it sheds a lot of light.

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