By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions
The wife of John Mackey, who stands out as one of the greatest tight ends in professional football, provided some valuable tips for individuals caring for a loved one with dementia during one of the sessions last week at the Argentum 2017 Senior Living Executive Conference in Nashville.
John played for the Baltimore Colts and the San Diego Chargers and helped propel the Colts to two Super Bowl appearances. He was the second tight end to be elected to the National Football League’s Hall of Fame. Mike Ditka was the first. John is credited with helping to redefine the tight end position.
John also served as the first president of the NFL Players Association. He died in 2011 at the age of 69 after suffering for years from frontal temporal dementia.
His wife, Sylvia Mackey, provided insights from her experience serving as caregiver for her husband. They had met while both were attending Syracuse University.
Here is what caught my attention:
She found facing the truth to be beneficial. “I was making up reasons why he was acting so strange. I wanted to believe he was just depressed.” Getting the diagnosis equaled relief.
In facing the situation, frustration and anger are self-defeating. As a caregiver, “I learned that I am no longer dealing with the person I love as he used to be.”
Despite a preconceived notion to the contrary, she found support groups to be uplifting. She learned that she was not alone and that she needed to be creative. She discovered ways to handle her husband. She mentioned the creative way she was able to convince her husband to take a shower. Since he retained a high degree of respect for the National Football League, she would tell him it was NFL Shower Day.
Preparation and patience are everything.
She learned the importance of calmly redirecting her husband. Try to keep your loved ones active with the things they can still do for as long as they can. For instance, she would let John go up and down the stairs 15 to 20 times a day to get the mail. It was a much better approach than being confrontational and trying to remind him that he had already gotten the mail. Besides, he was benefiting from exercise.
Laugher is good for both you and your loved one. There is nothing wrong with laughing about some of the funny things your loved one does.
Very likely, there will come a time when your loved one will become totally dependent on you, yet your loved one will show no appreciation. She noted that John lived without knowing and believing that anything was wrong.
As a caregiver, you must be a self-preservationist, both physically and mentally.
So you can be at peace with yourself, it is important to accept your loved one as they are and to keep in mind that you cannot cure the disease.
John’s situation and Sylvia’s advocacy were instrumental in the adoption of the “88 Plan” by the National Football League Players Association. The plan provides financial support to former NFL players who require assistance with living in the later years of life.
John wore jersey number 88 while playing for the Colts.