Who is more to blame?

One of the things that is a continuing issue is the attribution of responsibility for things that happen. This is just as true with Dad as it is with Kate. This deserves a word of explanation. This past Sunday we got back home from taking Brian to New York. A simple experience on the subway illustrates the problem. We used Metrocards. When we were going on our first ride, I went through to show Brian and Kate how to slide the card and walk through the turnstile. Then Brian went through. Kate tried twice, and it didn’t work. I immediately thought she had done something wrong, and the expression on my face obviously showed my displeasure and also said something that that had just cost $7.50 for one ride on a $10.00 Metrocard. Later in the trip I made a mistake by directing us to the subway going the wrong direction which led to our having to exit and come through the turnstiles again. In other words, I had just wasted $7.50 by not being more careful.

Experiences like this leave me with a guilty feeling. I know that I should be more understanding because of her Alzheimer’s, but I sometimes act like she can actually help what she is doing. I think I referenced a word that she wished I would never say again – “Remember . . .” Her point was that this reminds her that she can’t remember and I should also remember that she can’t remember.

When someone who relates to another person who has dementia he is continuously face with a judgment of how much responsibility to put on the patient. I have been good at assuming that when Kate leaves the gate to the patio open, fails to lock the sliding glass doors from the house to the patio, or puts dishes in the dishwasher in places that seem inappropriate to me, she does these things because of her Alzheimer’s. In other words, I do not attribute responsibility to her and don’t mention these things to her. While I can’t at the moment think of other good examples, there are many of them that come up throughout a typical day.

My point in this rambling is that the caregiver has the burden of treating the person with the knowledge that he or she can’t help doing what they do. It is better for the patient and for the caregiver. Both parties feel bad when the caregiver emphasizes the disabilities of the patient. This happens most often with my Dad when I ask if he is going to eat something that is on the left side of his plate where he can’t see. He will say, “Where, I don’t see it.” I should know that he can’t see it and simply put the food where he can see it.”

All this reminds me of the expression, “Who’s the crazy one?” when someone behaves like the crazy person is sane. “Who’s the one with the problem– the one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or the caregiver who acts like he has forgotten that there are things the person with Alzheimer’s can’t do.”