The Art of Creating Joy inside Alzheimer’s

smallProShot2In shuttling back and forth to medical appointments with my Mom, I’ve noticed spontaneous moments of pure joy. From watching a Blue Jay in a tree near our parked car to witnessing sweet delight when a child waves back — my mother keeps reaching out from inside Alzheimer’s, even as it lurks upon her. There’s no denying that watching my mother battle Alzheimer’s is bittersweet. My heart aches over the utter disarray it creates and my heart leaps over the simplicity it spotlights. I stay informed of the current research to the best of my ability, I advocate for other families, and I pray earnestly for eradication of this awful disease that is often viewed as hopelessly terminal. Yet, there are so many hope-filled Blue Jay imagemoments to be seized, and celebrated, along the path of loving someone through Alzheimer’s. Today’s guest blogger spends her time engaged in the art of creating joy for those living through it.  Julie Bigham got in touch with us after attending a seminar featuring the author of The 36-Hour Day.

Julie’s insight and compassion provide a refreshing dose of hope:

I remember my parents’ final conversation after dad’s stroke. Mom asked if he was planning to leave her and he simply stated ‘no’.  Soon after, he slipped into a coma and then he was gone.  Leaving the hospital I reflected back over the previous 24 hours and realized that we were blessed in dad’s passing. I’ve seen families grieve in death, but worse are the faces of those dealing with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. They watch in disbelief as a parent fumbles to hide their fading mind, search for courage to make hard decisions, deal with guilt over caregiver inadequacy and helplessness — all while dealing with their own loss. My desire when encountering distressed families is to help them find joy during these final years, months, weeks or even moments, when things seem so hopeless.

  photo 1   Over the last 20 years I’ve participated in training focused on Alzheimer’s education, and while packed with information, not one has been more insightful than the recent ‘Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Related Dementias: the Science and Art of Care’. This ‘care’ focused program, put together by the Memory Center in Charlotte, NC brought together a diverse group of professionals and caregivers alike, all in agreement that even though we really aren’t much closer to solving the puzzle of Alzheimer’s than we were in the early 1900’s, there is hope.

     There is hope in prevention as we learn to live healthier as well as hope in diagnostic tools, medications and therapies being tested. However, the cumulative belief is that patients and families facing Alzheimer’s need a holistic, relationship focused approach to care. Centers such as the MemoryCenter in Charlotte are providing just that.  They are training and empowering family caregivers.  Rather than handing out medication to manage behaviors, they are encouraging care that seeks to find and eliminate the cause of the behavior. They are managing care for AD patients, somewhat virtually, to eliminate useless hospitalizations, control rising medical costs and decrease frustration for all.

     The ‘care’ focused program Keynote speaker and author of The 36-Hour DayDr. Peter Rabins, shared statistics showing improved outcomes for patients when ‘pleasant event’ therapy is used. So, as we look to science for a cure in the future, we can provide families and patients with hope for the present. New options for in-home care such as Home Instead Senior Care provide aides who are certified in Alzheimer’s Care, are relationship rather than task focused and dedicated to keeping clients calm, healthy, happy and engaged in life, for as long as possible. Home Instead also reaches out to provide education and training for family caregivers to encourage a team approach to care for Alzheimer’s clients.

     It is my desire as we fight this good fight to give hope through training and education, to caregivers and family members in the ‘art’ of creating moments of joy. To enhance the quality of life of our clients is to assure that not one warm hug, simple smile or tiny chuckle is ever lost in caring for those we love.  

Keeping with tradition here at Hope Matters, Julie Bigham closed her message with a whimsical tidbit about herself: clemson
Although serious about missions, her blood ‘runneth ORANGE for Clemson Tiger football. Julie and her husband don’t miss a single game!

Julie Bigham serves as Training and Education Coordinator for Home Instead Senior Care in Charlotte, NC. She gained a real heart for those with dementia while working as an Activity Director in long term care, and loves sharing her experiences while training in-home caregivers. She holds a BA in Missions (Urban Ministry) and a Certificate in Gerontology. Julie voluntarily provides AD education to community organizations upon request as part of her ministry.

Get in touch with Julie:
Email –
Facebook – Juls Bigham


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