The Ten Absolutes

Absolute Seven: Never say, “You can't!”… Instead Find Out What They Can Do!

I got home from work one day and the house smelled really funny. I could tell from the look on my Mom's face that something was very wrong. “I was going to surprise you and fix supper. But I think I messed it up,” she told me. I went into the kitchen and on the stove was a blackened saucepan with four really strange-looking eggs. Apparently, she had tried to boil some eggs, but the pan had gone dry and the eggs burned before she noticed. We were both lucky that she finally did notice the pan, and was able to turn it off. Fortunately, I was well-trained enough to know not to fuss with her about the pan or the eggs. I just said, “Well let's just go out to eat at that diner we like.”

I wish I could tell you I never left her alone again. That incident should have been a big red flag that she shouldn't be alone. Unfortunately, I left her alone many times after that. While she never tried to cook again, she was nevertheless alone. It was actually several years before I even considered having her cognitively evaluated.

Absolute #7says, Never say “You can't…” and instead find out what they can do - and there are a lot of things your loved one can do! How quickly our loved one can enter the “You Can't” world and the standard response is to tell them what they can't do and try to extract a promise from them that they won't do it again. Somehow we seem to assume that they can truly ‘give up their disease' and actually remember that they made a promise - as if it were an optional disease process.

Our responsibility as caregivers is to focus on our loved ones' abilities, not their disabilities. We need to help them discover the things they can do well, and to provide those activities and introduce the environments where they can excel. This is an important responsibility for every caregiver, and the one that is often overlooked. Actually, we have the responsibility to find these activities and to provide a means for them to have opportunities like these included in their lives on a daily basis. The appropriate response to navigating this disease process and journey is to focus on them. It is critical to provide what they need, and a sense of purpose (which we all need!) so our loved ones have meaning and value in life.