Making Changes to Deal with Stress

Before starting this post, I remembered that I had dealt with this topic almost a year ago It was instructive to read them again. I found them to fit with my more recent ones involving my blood pressure and stress.

At that time, I noted that my stress was increasing but felt it was lighter than that of many other caregivers. (I continue to believe that.) Then I commented on several factors that might explain why I felt that way. In addition, I outlined what I was doing for stress control.  (If you care to read them, go to  the “Archives” to the right of this post. Select 2019 and then September and scroll to September 1 and 2, “Thinking about Stress.)

Stress is a bigger issue now, and there is every reason to believe that the source is not going to diminish. The recent experience with my blood pressure suggests it is time to make a few changes. My own awareness of the stress the day before taking any BP readings was a clear sign of a problem. Then my overreaction to the readings themselves suggests not only the stress but my OCD tendency in action. As they say, “It’s time to pivot.”

In my previous post and quite a few others I have mentioned my “caregiver’s toolbox” of ways to the problems I confront with Kate. Except in the two posts mentioned above, I’ve said little about the “toolbox” I use to help me with my own problems. Until now, I haven’t had to search for any new tools.

One of those is joining a caregiver support group. I have always intended to join and one in particular appealed to me. It is one of a variety of activities sponsored by a local Alzheimer’s Café. I have been out there twice in the past 2-3 years, once by myself and once with Kate. I have also had several phone conversations with their director and one or two others on the staff. I have received their monthly newsletter since my first phone contact with them.

Until now, I hadn’t participated for two reasons. The primary reason was that I didn’t feel the need. My stress was minimal and quite manageable. Because of my prior and current experiences with dementia and caregiving, I didn’t have a special need to get information about caregiving per se. I did need social contact but was getting that in a variety of other ways. The second reason is that the times of their support groups and men’s coffee group didn’t fit my personal schedule nor that of our sitters.

My recent blood pressure episode and covid made a difference. My stress is greater, and the activities at the café are now via Zoom. That means I can connect right here at home. To be sure, it is not like being together physically, but it is a start.

One of the first things I did after meeting with my doctor about my blood pressure was to join the men’s coffee club. They meet in the morning the second and fourth Friday of each month. I met with them right away and will do so again next week. There were about eight of us. One other person also attended for the first time.

We had a good conversation. It is somewhat like a support group in that there were periodic references to dementia, caregiving, and our personal situations. That was particularly true in our introductions. Most of those attending were in the caregiving role now although one or two had already lost their spouses to dementia. The rest of the meeting was just a time to chat. The group has a leader who attempts to see that no one dominates.

On the whole, I enjoyed the people and will definitely be back next week unless it is one of those mornings when Kate is up early. That is likely to occur once in a while. Next Thursday I will have my first meeting with the support group. If it meets my expectations, I will continue it.

That leads me to another important step I’ve taken. I talked with the agency that provides our in-home care about adding another 4-hour shift on Thursday. That is up from the three afternoons a week we have had the past three years. We began this past Thursday, but the agency is short-handed because of covid; therefore, they don’t yet have anyone who can come regularly on that day. They are working on it and have arranged for the same person who came this week to come next week as well.

Joining the men’s group and support group as well as adding more in-home care is something that people often suggest to caregivers, but there is something else that has been at least as important for me if not more important. That involves how I manage my time. I’m making changes in that area as well. That will require a little more explanation. I’ll do that in another post.

Four Good Days in a Row

Except for a few moments, Kate and I have had four good days in a row. She has been in a good humor. Saturday and Sunday she got up late but was not reluctant to get ready for the day. We had late lunches at the same restaurant both days. She rested part of each afternoon. Here are several of our notable experiences.

After getting home from lunch about 3:00 Sunday, she rested until about 5:00 when she began an extended conversation that started with “Who are you?” She wasn’t frightened. She just wanted to know my name. Early in our conversation she said something about her mother that evolved into a long “conversation” about young people and parents. It began by her saying something about things her mother taught her but soon she focused on young people who were beginning to get into trouble. This went on for at least 30 minutes during which time the emphasis shifted to ways she could help children stay out of trouble. It involved working not only with the children themselves but also with their parents. There were several things she wanted us to do together.

The only rough edge of the day came around bedtime. Everything was going well until she called me to her bedside and wanted my help but wouldn’t tell me what she wanted. She started running her fingers through her hair and said, “Think.” I said, “You want me to run my fingers through your hair.” She frowned. I told her I was going to take my shower and would return. Very sternly, She said, “You will come back.” It is not common for her to be as irritated with me as she was; however, it is common for her to believe I know what she wants without telling me. I think this arises from delusions she has had in which I was present.

After my shower, she had apparently forgotten what she wanted, but she asked me what she “should do now.” She said something about the other people. This is another frequent occurrence, especially after she goes to bed. I think that is a direct result of her getting in bed earlier than she used to and not being able to use her iPad. She really doesn’t have anything to do. I told her we were the only people here and that “they” would be here tomorrow. That didn’t help. Then I told her I wanted to read something to her and brought in The Velveteen Rabbit. As in previous readings, she was at ease when I finished and said she was sleepy and was soon asleep.

Monday and Tuesday were similar to the weekend except that Kate was up early both days. That meant I spent a little more time with her, but we had pleasant moments looking at photo books. On both days we took a break and sat close together on the sofa listening to music. It was unusual in that we hardy spoke a word. We simply enjoyed the music and being together.

Monday night after dinner, I put on some YouTube music for her. After 45 minutes, she wanted to know what she should be doing. I was concerned that I might be overdoing my reading of The Velveteen Rabbit, but I tried it anyway. It was close to a repeat of the previous nights. The difference was that after reading to her, I took my shower. Not long after I returned to the bedroom, she wanted to know what she could do. I read The Velveteen Rabbit again. She relaxed and went to sleep.

Yesterday afternoon, we had a special time listening to the music of the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. We sat on the sofa for almost an hour with my arm around her and her head on my shoulder . She didn’t go to sleep and seemed to be following the music. She frequently tapped her fingers on my leg in time with the music.

It is interesting that although we didn’t talk, she didn’t experience any delusions. That may have been because she was “living in the moment” and not letting her mind wander to other things. That was reinforced by an experience after the music. She was tired and rested on the sofa. Less than an hour later, she got up and was concerned about things she was supposed to be gathering to take someplace. This must have been a result of a dream she had had or simply that her brain was thinking about something she couldn’t convey to me. She wanted my help in finding things. We walked into the kitchen. Then she wanted to go outside. We walked around the back yard until she got too hot.

I suggested that she get back in the house and relax a bit. I took her to her recliner where she rested with her bear in her arms until it was time for dinner.

After being in bed about two hours, she asked what she should do. I told her I was about to come to bed, and I would read a bedtime story for both of us. She liked the idea. I read The Velveteen Rabbit again. I noticed that she seemed to be relaxing as I read. When I finished, she was already asleep.

How Long Can The Velveteen Rabbit Last?

I know there is no end to the challenges that Kate and I experience. “Living with Alzheimer’s” isn’t something that gets easier along the way. I do wonder what will remain in my “caregiver’s toolbox” in the months ahead. My guided tours of our house with a focus on pictures of her parents and grandparents and other items from her parents’ home are no longer as effective as they were only a couple of months ago. I also find that I need to come up with new commentary related to the various family photo books in order to engage her attention.

Then there’s The Velveteen Rabbit. That something I haven’t relied on too heavily though it has come to the rescue 4-5 times over the past few days. She never gives any indication she has heard it before, but that’s true for other things that no longer have the same appeal. At the rate I am using it, I should soon find out how long it works. In the meantime, I’ll continue to pull it out when I feel the need.

That shouldn’t be long. Kate’s changes come about surprisingly quickly. One minute all is well, and the next she is disturbed about something. That happened two nights ago. The day had gone well and we had a nice takeout dinner. Then she was ready to go (home). We jumped in the car and drove for thirty minutes before getting home again. As usual, we went directly to the bathroom to brush teeth. That’s the first step in our nightly routine. She was in a good humor and brushing teeth was no problem. The next step is to take her nightly meds. That, too, went smoothly.

The final step is getting her out of her clothes and into her night clothes. That’s where I ran into a problem. It is pretty common for her to ask why she has to take off her clothes, but this time she simply got in bed with her clothes on. Not anticipating a problem, I told her I wanted to get her night clothes on before I took my shower. She said, “I’ll do it later.”  I knew that wouldn’t happen. In the first place, she wouldn’t know where to get what she needs or how to handle the nighttime underwear. I encouraged her to let me help her change for the night. She didn’t want any part of it. I saw immediately that it was going to be a losing cause. I backed away and told her I would take my shower. Each of us was annoyed by the other.

When I finished my shower, and as though I were going after my weapon for battle, I got The Velveteen Rabbit once again. When I got back, I said, “I thought it might be nice if we read a bedtime story.” Then I proceeded to read the book just as though we had never had the earlier clash. Like the past few readings, she didn’t show any sign of interest or approval when I started. By the end, however, she was a different person. At least for the time being, the Rabbit still works.

We talked a few moments about how much we both like the book. Then I said, “Well, it looks like it’s time for bed. I’ll be glad to help you change into your night clothes.” That was all it took (and, of course, TVR). It took no more than five minutes to get her changed and back in bed. Best of all, we were both in a good mood. That’s always a nice way to end the day.