The 40th President of the United States, the late Ronald Reagan, lived with Alzheimer’s disease over the final decade of his life. After announcing his diagnosis in 1994, he spent most of his life outside of the public eye, but one account of how he spent some of his time may resonate with family caregivers.
“He will rake leaves for hours, not realizing that they are being surreptitiously replenished by his Secret Service men,” Reagan biographer Edmund Morris reported about the former President’s preferred activity during the later stages of his journey with Alzheimer’s disease.
If the thought of the actor turned politician—perhaps the most famous of all Alzheimer’s sufferers—raking leaves for hours and hours sounds more like work than an enjoyable activity, perhaps you could be missing the point. It seems likely that instead of looking at the act as a chore, those closest to him—his family and his security detail—viewed this time spent doing yard work as an activity that brought Reagan some amount of joy.
For fellow Hollywood icon Rita Hayworth, creating art became a source of joy when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 62. “I think she started painting in the early stages of her disease,” said daughter and caregiver Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. “She loved it. It brought her peace.”
We talk a lot about joy when it comes to living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It is true that joyful moments can transform a loved one living with the disease—at least for a period of time—and can even counterbalance difficult times.
As a caregiver, what can you do to unlock moments of joy for your loved one? For starters, get rid of any preconceived notions you have about what a moment of joy can be. As long as the activity is safe and relatively stress-free, a moment of joy can come from almost anything. Even though you know your loved one better than anyone else, you might be surprised what you may find when you make an active effort to identify potential moments of joy.
You can also learn more about creating moments of joy—for both your loved one and yourself—by downloading the St. John’s Joy Plan. This useful tool will help you unlock joyful moments each and every day.