Working with people suffering from dementia was a profession Lynda Markut decided to pursue early on in her career. She started out as a social worker for seniors and worked with families who were struggling with loved ones that developed dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
And although she certainly had all the education and training needed to help others, it was a different story when her own parents were diagnosed with dementia. “When you see your parents suffer, you become part of the picture and not a person from the outside,” she said. “Then you have to develop your own coping mechanisms to get through this time in their life and your own.”
Lynda’s father Victor died in 1986 and her mother Helen passed in 2001 and although Lynda was using her book knowledge and college education to work directly with families dealing with these devastating diseases, it was her parents who taught her the very personal side of what it was like to go through the slow progression of losing someone you love. One coping mechanism Lynda adopted was seeing the humor in situations, no matter what was happening. “Many times people ask me how you can see humor when you deal with someone suffering with dementia,” she said. “But I found, especially with my mother, humor can keep you going and it really did connect me and my mom. She was a very funny person her entire life and I found if there was humor between us, there was still a connection.”
All too often, Lynda encounters people dealing with a parent or spouse with dementia and they have lost all joy for life. “I try and tell them that you have to accept your loved one as they are now,” she said. “And many times, the person suffering from dementia sees their loved one so serious and then they start to worry. It can become a vicious cycle.”
Lynda remembers one time deciding to make bread with her mom. “This was a recipe my mother made practically her entire life,” she said. “She knew this recipe by heart.” But when Lynda asked her mom to start putting the ingredients together, it was clear she was confused. “I started arguing with her but then it came to me that her brain was broken,” said Lynda. “I mean, if you see someone with a broken leg, you aren’t going to ask them to go running with you. But of course, you can’t see a broken brain.”
That was when Lynda decided the only way she was going to be able to effectively cope with her mom having dementia was to accept whatever each day brought, which meant slowing down and noticing the little things in life. “One time, we were sitting on the porch watching the wind blow in a corn field,” she said. “We were raised on a farm so crops and gardening were very important to my parents. My mother said, ‘Isn’t the wind in the corn beautiful.” I had never looked at it like that before. But she was right and I doubt we would have ever had that moment if Mom didn’t have dementia, because I doubt I would have taken the time to just sit there and enjoy that time together.”
Today, Lynda continues her work helping caregivers cope with losing a loved one through dementia and is the education and family support coordinator for the Alzhiemer’s Association of Southeastern Wisconsin. She provides education about dementia within corporations, social service agencies and health organizations, and she continues her work with family caregivers throughout the 11 counties surrounding Milwaukee.
She has also co-authored a book with Anatole Crane titled, Dementia Caregivers Share Their Stories; A Support Group in a Book and it is a must read for anyone dealing with a loved one suffering from this debilitating disease. Through her career as a social worker, Lynda has taken the stories of 28 caregivers and recorded their personal experiences and emotions, intertwining them with facts and suggestions about dementia. This guidebook is helpful for anyone facing the challenges and rewards of care giving, no matter what the circumstances. It documents the feelings and emotions of those who have walked this path and gives helpful advice and suggestions on not only how to cope, but also ways to reach out to find others who can help them along this journey.
In addition, Lynda will sharing her experiences first hand when she comes to Rhinelander as the featured speaker at the Memories and Melodies Alzheimer’s Association benefit dinner. This will be held Sat., April 20, from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at Holiday Acres Resort, 4060 S. Shore Dr. in Rhinelander. The cost is $40 per person or $75 per couple. Those wishing to attend can call (715) 362-7779 or visit alz.org/gwwi to register on line.