Last week I attended (virtually) a local support group. A new person from Los Angeles also joined us virtually. He’s caring for his father who doesn’t want to take a shower and wondered if any of us had encountered a similar experience. He was eager for any ideas that might help him solve his problem. The first thing I thought of was that caring for a parent presents a different and, perhaps, a greater challenge than when caring for a spouse.
It made me think about how important partnering with Kate had been in our relationship. The first two weeks after her diagnosis we talked a lot about how we wanted to respond. I don’t recall that we mentioned the topic of partnering. We simply tried to lay out a general way that, together, “We” could approach “Living with Alzheimer’s.”
We were already partners and were sensitive to our shared desire to make the most of whatever time remained to us. As time passed, it was clear that her Alzheimer’s made it impossible for her to carry out any plans. It was up to me as her caregiver to do that; however, I’ve always been mindful to treat her as a full partner. That has never been truer than during the six months since her return from the hospital.
On a daily basis, her paid caregivers and I have to do things that she doesn’t like for us to do. The role I play in this process is to put her at ease and comfort her. I often remind her that we need to help the caregiver. I explain that the best thing she can do is to remain calm and let the caregiver do her work. The caregiver and I both compliment and thank her for her cooperation. We do these things every day and every time. I am happy to report that she has made gradual progress. Even in the past week or so, she has been more cooperative than she has been for months.
Is this because she considers herself a partner in our effort to care for her? I can’t imagine that she does. I do believe that she is growing more accustomed to being moved about, changed, and lifted in and out of bed, her recliner, and her wheelchair, but I don’t believe that completely explains the difference. I think the way the caregivers and I have approached her has also played an important role in reducing her fear or irritation.
Let’s return to the shower issue of our friend in Los Angeles. His father is a retired naval officer. His role as a parent and his career have involved being in charge. It can be hard to give that up to one’s child even though they have reached full maturity and have children of their own. I imagine it is especially difficult for this man’s father.
This man wanted an idea he could use to get his father to shower. Developing a partner relationship requires time. You don’t just say let’s be partners and discover the other person becomes cooperative. I’m not suggesting that establishing a strong partnership with his father is unrealistic. I’m saying it is unlikely to happen overnight. It has to be cultivated. The father is still reasonably early in his dementia. Working out a partnership with his father could pay great dividends in the future. That is where I think caring for a spouse can be an advantage over caring for a parent. I emphasize “can be.” There are lots of marriages that are not ideal partnerships. There are also good marriages in which one person is more dominant than the other. Fortunately, Kate and I had a good working partnership before her diagnosis and have worked to continue that since then. It’s another of the advantages we have had while “Living with Alzheimer’s.”