Gary Chapman — Keeping love alive as memories fade: Book review

Book review by Debbie Hemmens

I never thought I could get so excited about a book on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia, but this book has revolutionised my thinking, had me in tears and given me such hope for if I ever had to find myself caring for someone with AD.

In fact, I have made a summary of how to express the love languages and given copies to those who are caring for people with AD
There are many relationship challenges that families must navigate during the painful course of AD. Love is a choice! We choose daily to continue with the actions of love even when we land upon unchosen pathways.

Many feel lost on this journey when their partner fails to recognise who they are. Our deepest emotional need is to love and be loved. The authors of this book believe that when we become incapable of giving love, we are still capable of receiving love.

God wants everyone to experience His love and then share it with everyone we encounter. When we receive God’s love, we are empowered out of selfish ways to love even those who do not, or cannot love us.

Changing the future
Love really can change the future. Do you know that connecting relationally and creating happiness for another person literally reduces stress, brain inflammation and body inflammation for both people? People live longer when fed a constant diet of love. It lowers blood pressure and is a lot of fun along the way.

When we choose to do something for the benefit of the other person, this is ‘hesed’ love. Chapman says it is a blend of love and loyalty with a level of faithfulness that can always be counted on.

The love languages, with a myriad of ways of expressing them, can be seen as, love tools that can help soothe unmet emotional needs. Simple gestures like holding hands, playing music from their younger years, getting the person an ice-cream on a cone, telling them you love them, reading to them, watching a favourite movie together, rubbing their arms or feet can all help a person feel very loved and wanted.

We can make an intentional choice to experience the joy of a person’s presence, whether they recognise us or not. Sometimes they are only able to live in the moment, with no memory of the past and no thought of the future. Some people will have memories of the very distant past.

Ask God to give you an endless supply of love for the person.

The relational damage can be described as an unravelling tapestry. Nothing can stop it as it’s incurable, but intentional love is powerful and worth applying even with the inevitable unravelling.

Chapman wrote a book on the five love languages many years ago. He suggests, along with the other authors, to express all five to the patient in the hope that they will receive on some level. The five love languages are: physical affection, loving words, acts of service, quality time and gifts.

When it comes to giving gifts, one of the best gifts is an ipod loaded with music from the person’s teen and young adult years. Music is a vital tool as it bypasses the thinking part of the brain and goes straight to the mood centre. It can help care partners manage the behaviour and daily care of a person with AD. It can be calming and joy producing. Certain types can be used with certain times of the day and daily routines.

Much of the relational trauma that occurs with AD happens because the person with the disease loses the ability to manage his of her side of the relationship. Short of unfaithfulness, there is probably no stronger test of marital love than AD. It complicates love relationships.

Feeling of being loved persists
The deep need for love does not disappear with the diagnosis of dementia. The feeling of being loved can persist even after the actions or words that delivered the love messages are forgotten.

The love languages can still get through. It’s a fantastic, positive challenge to those who are carers, to love in all the ways to make sure something gets through to the person with AD. What a privilege to be in that position.

Expressing love with the five love languages gives you endless ideas and opportunities that will feed you and the person with AD. The carer will not live with regrets as they have managed to pour love out in many creative ways. They can keep hope alive and know they have played a very significant role until death separates.

The fear of AD among older persons is greater then the fear of cancer, and many pull away from those with AD because of an unconscious fear that they will get it too. This leaves us with many lonely and neglected people. Depending on the cognitive decline, this can make the person’s journey with AD a very painful one. We need to speak truth into the situation for both sides, catch our thoughts and get on with the loving actions that we are all capable of giving.

We need to make the most of every day, make each day the best it can be. Invest in people, relationships and connection more than anything else.

In her book, Creating Moments of Joy, Jolene Brackey wrote: “We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day for those who have dementia, but it is perfectly attainable to create perfectly wonderful moments – moments that put smiles on their faces, a twinkle in their eyes, or trigger memories. Five minutes later, they won’t remember what you did or said, but the feeling you left with them will linger.”

“My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment.” (From the movie Still Alice)

This book is a source of great help, support, reassurance and encouragement, with loads of practical advice and ideas to ease the journey of dementia and AD for both the patient and the caregiver.

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