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Published November 17, 2012, 11:35 PM

Minding Our Elders: Humor essential therapy even with Alzheimer’s

DEAR CAROL: My grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease, so my mom shows me your column a lot. I love Gramps and would never want to hurt him, but sometimes he says and does things that are funny, even though he can’t help it.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease, so my mom shows me your column a lot.

I love Gramps and would never want to hurt him, but sometimes he says and does things that are funny, even though he can’t help it. Also, when I help him sometimes things go wrong, but it ends up being funny because no one gets hurt. I’m never disrespectful to him, but if I tell friends about something he did like when he told my aunt to her face that she was too fat, my mom gets mad. She says I shouldn’t laugh at him. I’m not really laughing at Gramps. I’m just telling a friend about a funny situation. Is this disrespectful? – Jody

DEAR JODY: We all need humor, particularly during hard times. You aren’t laughing at your grandfather, you are laughing at the way his disease makes him blurt out words that otherwise would be filtered or behave in ways that can be amusing. It’s a matter of being clear to your friend that you’re laughing at the situation, not at your grandfather.

There are many moments when we are caring for our elders that could be in viewed one of two ways – funny or upsetting. One personal example is the time I tried to save the nursing home staff trouble by moving my dad, who was fast slipping into sleep mode, from his lift chair to his bed.

I was able to help Dad to a standing position and place his hands on his walker. Unfortunately, my well-meaning action came close to disaster when Dad let go of his walker after just a few steps. He started collapsing on the spot. I responded by yanking him by the back of his pants and propelling both of us toward the nearby bed. We landed safely, but Dad lay crosswise on top of me. He was sleeping deeply and I was pinned. I called for help and was soon rescued by two staff members who saw at a glance that no one was hurt. That freed them to see the scene as almost slapstick comedy, and they took advantage of the situation to laugh heartily. I laughed as well and knew my dad, if he were awake, would have laughed with us. No disrespect was meant toward anyone. We just chose to see the humor in an otherwise tough situation.

Humor is healing. As long as you know the difference between making fun of your grandfather as a person and laughing at his sometimes outrageous behavior, you should be fine. Your mom is rightly trying to protect her father’s dignity, but I imagine she also tells her friends some amusing stories about his behavior. She just wants you to know that it’s unkind to make fun of people. However, finding the lighter side of the human condition in all of us is essential therapy.

You sound mature to me, Jody. Perhaps if you show your mom this column, it will help. Tell her that you have a hard time accepting these changes in Gramps and that you need some way to lighten things up. You also need to share your pain with your friends. I think she’ll understand.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.

She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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