Another Caregiver Mistake, But a Successful Recovery

I work hard to respond appropriately to the challenging moments that Kate and I face. Sometimes, however, I find myself getting caught in a trap from which it is hard to escape. We had one of those experiences Sunday night after returning from Nashville.

Kate wanted to get ready for bed soon after we got home. Everything went smoothly until she had taken off her clothes. I was ready to help her with her underwear and night gown. Before we could take that step, she got into bed. I asked her to sit on the side of the bed so that I could help her dress. She said she would “in a minute.” I gave her a few minutes and tried again. She didn’t move. In the next few minutes, I explained that I wanted to help her get ready for bed before taking a shower. That meant nothing to her. I showed her the underwear and night gown and told her I would take my shower while she got herself ready for bed. That made her angry.

Then I suggested we take a step back and talk to each other more respectfully. The way she spoke to me changed immediately. She spoke to me in the same tone of voice in which I had spoken to her. In fact, it almost sounded like she was mimicking me. This began a very civil twenty-minute conversation in which she complimented me on the way I handled helping her dress. She was also very clear that I had spoken to her like I was ordering her and didn’t like my efforts to control her. While I was trying not to do that, I realized I was giving her “orders.” I apologized.

She continued to talk, but I found what she said to be confusing. She talked about “the woman.” At first, I thought she wanted me to get the woman to help her. Then I thought she wanted me to show the woman how I did it. I never fully understood. When I asked who the woman was, she pointed to the ceiling. That has become a frequent gesture that is usually accompanied by her speaking to people she sees in her hallucinations.

The upshot of this conversation was that she expressed her willingness to get dressed, but she still didn’t make a move to get ready for me to help her dress for bed. All this had taken forty-five minutes. I told her I didn’t want to push her and that I was going to take a shower. I showed her the clothes and told her she could put them on when she was ready.

I knew that she wouldn’t move while I was gone and wondered how I would handle the situation when I finished my shower. I decided that I would come back to her and apologize because “I forgot to help you get ready for bed before taking my shower.” That is exactly what I did. She responded as I had hoped. She accepted my apology and said that was all right. She was happy and ready for bed in less than two or three minutes. Another crisis was over.

Looking back, I could probably have avoided the whole encounter if I had tried to divert her attention away from getting dressed for bed in the first place, or I could have let her rest in bed for a while and then tried again later. I think I was taken aback when she didn’t follow my instructions the way she usually does. She always asks me what she should do next as she undresses and the puts on her night clothes. The only thing different was that she lay down in bed before we finished. I spent too much time trying to get her to comply. That’s a losing proposition. This was a rare situation, but one I hope to avoid in the future.

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