Wise Advice from Dr. Ruth on Alzheimer’s Caregiving

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
“Somewhere inside me a fire burns to help people overcome their problems.” So says the spirited, renowned sex and relationship therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, in her new book, Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver: How to Care for Your Loved One Without Getting Overwhelmed . . . and Without Doing It All Yourself.

I must admit I was more than a little skeptical when I picked it up. I wondered how Dr. Ruth could possibly know about Alzheimer’s caregiving, how anything about sex belonged in this book, and how inappropriate her trademark sense of humor would be when writing about this serious topic.

After reading the book, however, I concluded that it’s one of the best I’ve ever read on Alzheimer’s caregiving. And I’ve read a lot. No, it doesn’t have any humor and yes, there’s a brief section on sex that is entirely appropriate.

In the introduction, Dr. Ruth writes, “The purpose of this book is to make carrying that weight [of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s] a little more tolerable.” She succeeds fully in accomplishing that mission.

When I recently asked her how she became passionate enough about this topic to write a book on it, she told me she has friends whose spouses have Alzheimer’s. “It’s so sad,” she said. “These caregivers need help to keep their morale up. They needn’t feel guilty if they go out to a movie or do other things for themselves.”

She took everything she knows about behavioral therapy and applied it to Alzheimer’s caregiving in Part One, Advice from Dr. Ruth. In Part Two, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, she presents information she’s gleaned from friends and acquaintances, her own research and communications with experts in the field. Although she says, “Thankfully, I have not had to deal with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s,” from reading this book one would assume she has had several years of experience doing just that.

This guide, written with Pierre A. Lahu, Westheimer’s “minister of communications” for more than 31 years, is jam-packed with practical, hands-on, down-to-earth information designed to help caregivers function in their new roles and take care of themselves. But it doesn’t just advise them what to do, it includes detailed explanations of how to do it.

Part One covers topics such as how to help yourself, how to deal with your feelings, and getting professional help when feelings begin to interfere with normal activities. It also discusses how to have your own life when taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s and specific issues that arise when taking care of a spouse, a parent or other relative with dementia. In addition, there is information about helping children and grandchildren cope and how to deal with professional caregivers, including detailed tips on how to hire an in-home caregiver.
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