How many of you drive your car forward down the road while looking almost exclusively in the rearview mirror? I’m guessing that you are all raising your hands and saying, “Not me!” Thank God! Now I don’t have to ask all of you to stay off the road until I get home safely. Anyhow, why is it necessary to look forward while driving forward? Perhaps an aversion to car accidents?

What does this have to do with an article written for older adults and their families? EVERYTHING! As a former family caregiver that now works as a professional caregiver and someone that is connected with MANY families affected by Dementia, I repeatedly hear statements such as “I hate this disease”, “I am so angry watching my loved one’s name life / memories / intelligence being stolen from them”, “I hate what this disease is doing to loved one’s name”, “I am so depressed / heartbroken about what this disease is doing to loved one’s name”, and the list goes on. Please hear what I am saying: I am not dismissing emotions, because the grief that is felt as our loved ones change has to be processed. What I am saying is that I think many people are trying to be caregivers and support their loved ones while frequently looking at what used to be.

My mother was a woman that underestimated her own intelligence. She was brilliant and brutal at things like Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, crossword puzzles, presidential trivia, and football. My mother had so much information about the presidents of this country as well as their families memorized that if I wanted to know something about a president, I would call my mother before searching the Internet. She was truly THAT knowledgeable! Then my mother had a stroke, developed Vascular Dementia, and everything changed….

As my mother’s brain failure progressed, she rapidly lost these abilities and while I grieved I realized I could not focus my attention on wondering why this dreaded condition of Dementia exists or on what was being lost. I decided the why would have to be solved by the researchers, because I was called to be her caregiver. I decided if I focused on what was being lost, I would end up looking in the rearview mirror at what was. In the end, I chose to accept the change (I did not say like, because like and accept are two very different things) and create the Best New Normal ( that I could for my mother.

As our loved ones deteriorate, becoming less and less able to care for themselves, they absolutely have to have us focused on them in the present. We cannot focus on the past or worse yet, try to focus on the past and the present, because we cannot deal with the present while our primary focus is anywhere but the present. Caregiving, in addition to potentially being very stressful, requires a tremendous amount of focus and effort on the present and only the present.

Blessings on you caregivers, remembering to look forward, because your loved ones need you as their advocate and caregiver.

Forward in the Rearview Mirror