Periodically, I like to reflect on how I feel about Kate, our relationship, and the way things are going. The fact that it has been seven years since her diagnosis prompts me to do that now. The medical community uses a one to ten scale for patients to indicate their pain level. If I were to apply this scale to my feelings about the way things are going, I would probably say an 8. Kate and I are both in good moods right now. Both her mood and her state with respect to her Alzheimer’s influence my mood significantly. She has been in a particularly good mood for some time now. If that were the only factor in my mood, I would have said a 10. The fact that I notice more and more symptoms of her decline brings the rating down a couple of points.
During the past seven years, Kate has experienced more irritability than before. That was concentrated over a fairly lengthy period of time. The good thing is that it was neither intense nor constant. It was mild and relatively infrequent. I am never sure how much her behavior is influenced by mine, but I have made some changes over the couple of years or so that could have played a role in her showing less irritability.
In the past, we have often engaged in humorous banter that originally worked to lessen the seriousness of emerging problems. Kate has always recognized my OCD tendencies. As a result of my gradually taking charge of so many aspects of her life, she would tease me about how “anal” I am. I always responded light-heartedly in a way that encouraged her expressions of concern about my desire to keep her clothes clean, to see that she wore her yard clothes when she worked outside, to suggest that she change when I saw that what she was wearing was inappropriate for an event we were attending, and lots of other things .
I think this served us well for quite a while. Over time, however, her teasing seemed to display a more serious tone. I decided not to encourage this kind of banter any longer. I also made some important behavioral changes. I eased up significantly on what she wears. For the most part, I let her wear whatever she wants when she is working outside. I have also tried to be clever when she is about to wear something outside that really concerns me. For example, I bought her a new winter coat for everyday wear. When she was about to wear it to do her yard work, I told her I had something that would be even better for her. I told her it was a good warm coat. She accepted that. I bought a couple of pairs of new shoes and keep them in my closet. I bring them out for her whenever I think she should wear something a little nicer than the ones she wears every day. In the evening or the morning before she is up, I locate them and put them back in my closet. I do the same with her pants.
One other change is that I increased our conversation about our relationship. I encouraged talking about how long we have been married and emphasized all of the good things we have experienced over that time. None of this was something we had not done before. The difference was talking about it more with a deliberate attempt to facilitate good feelings about our relationship. For example, on occasions when she needs help getting her clothes on, she usually thanks me. Instead of casually saying, “You’re welcome. Glad to help,” I might look at her and very deliberately say, “I’m glad to do it. You know we’re really a team.” I’ve emphasized the fact that we are doing these things together. She has responded well to the idea of our being partners in everything. I, of course, see this as being partners in her Alzheimer’s. I don’t believe she thinks of that at all. I believe she looks at it as simply the kind of partnership that makes for a good marriage. She’s right, of course, but I also see a special connection to her diagnosis that she no longer sees.
I am not saying that my changes have made the difference in her happiness. That may only be a part. Kate has declined during this time period and become more dependent. Thus she is more accepting of my help in just about every area of her life. I do believe, however, that these changes have meant fewer bases for conflict, especially over clothes. It has also fostered more happy moments. We both like that.