Alzheimer’s, dementia: Pastor shares lessons learned

As a minister for more than 40 years, Huntsville native Mike Glenn walked through the valley of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with many families through the years.

But he admits that until you face it personally it is truly hard to understand what a family goes through.

“Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is totally consuming,” said Glenn, pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and more than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Glenn was one of them, forced to make one hard decision after another for his mother following his father’s death and his mother’s diagnosis of dementia.

Glenn writes about his experience in “Coffee with Mom: Caring for a Parent with Dementia,” recently published by B&H Publishing. His hope is the book will provide encouragement to families who are walking down a similar path and help them realize they’re not alone.

“Sometimes the only thing you want to know is that you’re not alone in the world,” he said. “I hope by telling my mom’s story you’ll understand there are lots of people who are walking the same road.”

The book is based on a series of tweets Glenn posted following his daily meeting with his mother, Barbara Glenn, over coffee after she moved from her home in Huntsville to a retirement and memory care center near his church.

Daily process

“Sometimes those visits were funny. Other times they were painful beyond belief,” he noted.

The tweets, he said, were a way “to deal with the funny but painful daily process of dealing with Mom and her illness.

The tweets found a life of their own and the book followed from there,” he said.

The book was released nearly a year after his mother passed away in July 2018.

Glenn said having coffee with his mother was “hilarious, humiliating, warm, freezing cold, angry, touching, loving and brutal” but a year after her death, “I would give anything to have another cup of coffee with her this morning.”

One of the things he learned from his experience was the importance of having conversations about the subject early.

“I had the gift of my dad telling me how he wanted things done,” should he die before his wife, Glenn said.

“I had the peace of knowing I was doing what dad wanted,” he said.

Talk about specifics

Glenn encourages older adults to tell children what they want while they are able to make those decisions.

“Tell your children what you want done (for specific situations),” he said. “If they know what mom or dad wanted it will give them peace in difficult situations.”

In the book Glenn acknowledged, “One of the hardest things about dealing with a parent who has Alzheimer’s is there’s never a clear-cut answer on what to do next. Even if you know ‘what’ to do, knowing ‘when’ to do it is just as baffling. As a caregiver you’re constantly dealing with ‘on one hand’ and ‘then on the other hand.’”

In his book Glenn reminds readers when caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia, “in the end you have to live with yourself. If you can remember in all of the craziness of the disease the only thing that really matters is knowing you did the best you could, you’ll be fine. Less than that is hard to live with.”

Glenn said his desire for the book is that everyone who reads it “would understand the great privilege it is to care for your parents. I was very honored to be able to care for my mom.

“I hope the book will spark some conversations in the family to start talking about the hard choices that life may require of each of us,” he said. “I would want people to understand God is good and God is faithful — even in the toughest of times.”

Podcast discussion

This week’s TAB News podcast provides tips and resources for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s.

Listen to the podcast at or wherever you get your podcasts. (Baptist Press, TAB)