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Marcia Gay Harden's comforting advice for people taking care of a sick loved one

By Leah Groth ; Updated May 03, 2018

Marcia Gay Harden is sharing some poignant advice on how to get through a bad day when you’re a caretaker to someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

The actress, who has written a book called “The Seasons of My Mother,” opens up about how she copes with her mother’s rapidly deteriorating health. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Harden’s approach is much more empathetic — and even those who don’t have a family member suffering from the illness can apply it to their own lives.

When asked about the moment her mother didn’t know who she was, Harden explained she simply took herself out of the equation and focused on trying to understand what her mom was going through.

“It wasn’t surprising, and it made me so full of compassion for her because I knew it must be difficult for her,” she said. “It made me understand what a great companion memory is. It’s our friend. It’s supposed to be there for us when we’re older. And that she didn’t even have that memory for me, there must be a certain loneliness that you can’t connect to people in the way that you used to.”

Harden’s mother was diagnosed with the chronic, incurable brain disorder eight years ago at the age of 72. Alzheimer’s disease is defined as a progressive loss of brain tissue and function. During the early stages, intellectual functions of memory and learning are impacted. Late-stage Alzheimer’s disease directly or indirectly affects other body systems — digestion, bowel control, neuromuscular function and sense of smell — leaving people unable to take care of themselves. Eventually people suffering from it will forget important people in their lives as well as themselves. Ultimately, it is fatal.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as many as 5.3 million men and women in the United States are living with the disease, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list it as the sixth most common cause of death. While increasing age is the most important risk factor for Alzheimer’s, genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors are also influential.

As you can imagine, taking care of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s isn’t easy, but Harden has learned something from her experiences with her mother: the importance of being in the moment. She explains that her mother can’t remember the past or imagine the future, two things most of us dwell on.

“When anyone is having a bad day, they are filled with going over what just happened that was so bad and what is going to happen in the future. And I think in a case like this you have to go, ‘Stop. Be in the moment right now,’” she said. “Who is in front of you? If you are the caregiver and it’s the Alzheimer’s patient, just hold their hand, just be with them and realize what an enormous gift you are giving them — a gift of comfort and love by being there and being in the moment.”

Her advice can be applied to anyone, even those who are only taking care of themselves. “If you aren’t with an Alzheimer’s patient and it’s just your own life going cuckoo, just be in the moment with yourself and give yourself that moment of love,” she concluded.

Harden’s advice may be simple, but her words are truly inspirational. For more of her wisdom, pick up a copy of “The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers,” available now.

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