Alzheimer's blog

Alzheimer's caregivers can love more by caring less

By Angela Lunde July 27, 2011

Getting my hair colored has become one of my most pleasurable events — and not so much because I hope covering my gray helps me look 10 years younger. It's more about the joy I feel while sitting in the chair for two uninterrupted hours of dozing off and paging through magazines I just can't bring myself to buy at the grocery store — "Us Weekly," "People," "OK! Magazine".

At today's salon visit, I came upon an article in "O, The Oprah Magazine" that got me thinking about you, the readers of my blog. The article, written by Martha Beck, is titled, "How to Love More by Caring Less."

In the article, Martha Beck describes the concept that loving without caring is a useful approach. I was intrigued by this idea and wondered if it translated in any way to the turbulent nature of loving and caring for a person with Alzheimer's. I realize, though, that it's the "without caring" that probably seems illogical to many of us.

As Alzheimer's caregivers, many of you would probably say that to care for someone means to prepare meals, assist with feeding, dressing and personal hygiene, manage medications, orchestrate appointments and so on. But Beck would say that care can also mean being weighed down by cares.

In my experience, Alzheimer's caregivers are often invested physically and emotionally in the caring around day to day tasks and the challenging behaviors their loved ones with the disease can exhibit. Common behaviors in a person with Alzheimer's can include agitation, apathy, delusions, paranoia, and sleep problems to name some. And caregivers care that their loved one is confused, agitated or unable to sleep.

For many Alzheimer's caregivers, when they care, emotions such as worry, frustration, guilt and agitation are often an unwelcome outcome of caring — and that, I believe, is when unconditional love can get buried. Beck writes, "Unlike 'caring', the word love has no such range of meaning: Love is pure acceptance." So, to love, maybe we do need to care less.

As I read the article, I contemplated if Alzheimer's caregivers can find a way to "un-care" about challenging behaviors their loved ones exhibit and care less about day to day caregiving. I'm not saying that caregivers should be complacent in their responsibilities, I'm just saying that by caring less, there's limited emotional investment in the results of caregiving tasks or the behaviors of the person with the disease.

If we accept Beck's idea that it's possible to love more if we care less, then I guess we can all stop trying so hard and breathe a bit of relief, right? And if you don't buy into her idea, then may I suggest you make an appointment soon to spend a couple hours sitting in a chair at the hair salon — no doubt, a simple way to love (yourself) more.

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Jul. 27, 2011