This article originally appeared on MariaShriver.com in 2015 but was removed when they migrated their site.
Make no mistake, living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia is no easy task. However, people diagnosed with the disease are finding ways to fight back and live a positive life.
Laurie Scherrer is one of these extraordinary people. She was diagnosed at the early age of 55 with early onset Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal Dementia.
Laurie went through her time of depression as a result of her diagnosis, but as she tells us, she eventually realized that “It (Alzheimer’s) didn’t end my life, it changed my life.”
Laurie and her husband Roy have developed ways to “live positively,” with dementia. On a daily basis they work hard as she says “to find out what’s causing the ups and downs,” and then take steps to overcome the challenges.
Doctors don’t hand families a manual upon diagnosis, so they “Had to learn by trial and error how to accomplish things.” Laurie further explains, “Whether it’s a trip, whether it’s a night out with friends, we’re preparing.”
To help make those times with friends and family more successful, they found it’s best to share the diagnosis with others. “By sharing it with people, they now understand,” Laurie explains. This empowers family and friends to assist when needed.
Their process of preparation, along with enabling family and friends to help, was evident on a recent vacation they took to the island of Bonaire in the south Caribbean.
“I started packing one month before our trip,” Laurie shares. She donned outfits and had Roy take pictures. Then one week before the trip, she was able to reference these pictures to make sure these outfits were ready for packing. As a result, she was able to overcome an obstacle that may have stumbled her otherwise.
They specifically chose Bonaire due to the ability to dive from shore. This allowed Laurie to avoid the confusion that would likely come from sharing a dive boat with a bunch of strangers.
Coordinating the trip with a group of friends who were also going on a dive trip to Bonaire, and finding a dive instructor, Dave, who has experience teaching people with physical disabilities were other ways they avoided possible difficulties.
As a result, Laurie “felt very comfortable that he (Dave) would be aware to help if I was in any kind of stress.” After successfully completing her first dive with Roy and Dave by her side, she was confident to dive more.
This time, friends Ray and Tom stepped in to help make Laurie’s subsequent 6 dives successful! “It was so awesome to go diving again.”
“Because of them (family and friends) pitching in I was able to have a fabulous time,” Laurie beams from ear to ear.
As Laurie will tell you, “preparation is key.” Each day brings a set of challenges for Laurie and Roy to live positively with dementia. By working one day at a time, and working through what that symptom does, and how they can overcome it allows them to live their life.
Things like following a recipe become harder as you’re required to bounce between ingredients and process. Laurie and Roy have even found a way to overcome this challenge by rewriting recipes to include the ingredients in the steps.
Even with new processes in place, the person with dementia will struggle to live positively without the support of family and friends. It’s this support person who arranges for a hotel room near the airport to avoid a long drive, or who puts the dive equipment together when the person with dementia is struggling.
“You can live positively with dementia, provided you and your care partner listen and watch for the challenges and changes, and take steps to tackle them early,” Laurie emphasizes.
To learn more about Laurie, visit her website at Dementia Daze.
You can watch my original interview with Laurie here: Living Positively with Dementia Daze with Laurie Scherrer
Or, you can listen to it via The Alzheimer’s Podcast below:
Download the MP3 by clicking the icon on the player above.
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