By Lisa DavisThere is no cure for Alzheimer's disease—but that doesn't mean there's no reason for hope.
In honor of Alzheimer's Disease Awareness month, Leeza Gibbons has this message for all caregivers of loved ones ravaged by the disease: You're not alone. And you will get through it.
It's been more than 12 years since Gibbons, one of Sharecare's Top 10 Online Influencers in Alzheimer's Disease, learned her mother, Jean, had the disease, and nearly five years since she lost her mom to it. Gibbons has spent much of that time trying to make the lives of caregivers easier, including writing the book Take Your Oxygen First and establishing Leeza's Place, an online gathering place and resource center for families offering care for a sick or dying loved one.
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#1: Take care-of yourself
"The truth is, if you are caring for someone else, you're probably not caring for yourself and you may, in fact, be failing faster than your loved one," says Gibbons. "It's why I'm so passionate about being an advocate and raising awareness about the need to offer care for the caregiver."
So what can a caregiver do? "My mantra is Breathe, Believe, Receive-BBR. Just like CPR, I think this can save your life," says Gibbons.
"Breathe in ten purposeful breaths to slow down your heart rate, aid digestion and change your physiology until you can get a grip on the situation. Believe you will get through it, knowing you can call on strength of those who have walked this path before you. This is the time to believe in your higher power or your higher self, or to engage your optimism. And, finally, receive. Open up and receive the help that others can offer. Know that this is not a path you should walk alone."
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#2: Recognize reasons for hope
Gibbons sits on the board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRN), one of the country's leading centers of stem cell research. One recent study funded by CIRN showed that, in animals, transplanting stem cells into an area of the brain called the hippocampus improved memory. Another study is exploring potential links between diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Both research avenues hold hope of reducing the future toll of the disease.
#3: The heart is stronger than the disease
While we wait for scientists to figure out how to stop Alzheimer's disease, Gibbons says it's important to recognize the power of the heart to survive it. It took her a while to learn that lesson. Early in her mom's disease, she spent much of her visits with her mother on the phone or computer trying to find a way to stave off the inevitable. "I lost valuable time scrolling like a jammed computer when I could have been more present with Mom," she says.
But she eventually learned to be comfortable being silent-just being there. "I learned that a heart never forgets," she says. "Even though she may not have been able to call my name, my mother always knew love was in the room when I was there. And that was enough."
Lisa Davis is a deputy editor at Sharecare
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