I’ve been Kate’s caregiver for more than twelve years, and the more experience I get, the more strongly I believe that love has played a critical role in our relationship. Anyone can give attention to someone with dementia, but it is easier when you love someone. For that reason, I suspect that a spouse has a potential advantage over other caregivers.
Love can be a great motivator. As Bryan Adams’ song, “When You Love Someone” says,
When you love someone,
You’ll do anything.
You’ll do all the crazy things
That you can’t explain.
You’ll give up everything,
And you’ll never let them down.
You’ll be more compassionate
And more understanding.
And you’ll always be there
For the one you love.
The recipients of care also benefit from being loved. They are happier.
Ours has always been a loving relationship, but love has played a more significant part in our marriage since her diagnosis. In the beginning, it didn’t require much effort on my part. We had agreed in the first few weeks to devote ourselves to enjoying life and each other as long as possible. That was easy because we found pleasure in the same things – movies, theater, music, dining out, and travel. My responsibility was simply to arrange an active lifestyle that included all of these.
After her diagnosis, I felt an intense desire to be with her as much as possible. I immediately started having lunch with her every day. I was also transitioning into retirement, so I started taking the afternoon off. That enabled us to spend much more time together than we had had previously.
All of the activities and time together further strengthened our relationship. In some ways, it was like a long honeymoon. We were simply binging on things that had meant so much to us in the past, and we were doing it together.
Of course, Alzheimer’s has required significant changes in our lives. At first, Kate had several activities that she could do on her own. One of those was her computer. She worked many hours a day on that task. She worked mostly on a family photo album. She was never able to finish it because she lost her ability to use the computer. When she was no longer able to do that, I gave her an iPad which was her only self-initiated activity until the pandemic hit in 2020. Since then, I have had to assume greater responsibility for keeping her occupied.
Along the way, it became harder for her to remember my name or that I am her husband. Fortunately, she continued to recognize me as someone she knows, likes, and trusts. During this phase, I began to place greater emphasis on expressing my love for her. I did, and still do, that in several ways throughout the day.
I greet her enthusiastically when she wakes up in the morning. I tell her how glad I am to see her and remind her that we met in college and have been married for 60 very happy years. I talk about our children and grandchildren. I also mention how thankful I am that we both went to TCU. If we hadn’t, we would not have met.
I have a similar routine when I return home after lunch. As I open the door, I say something like, “Hello, I’m home. I’m looking for Kate. I wonder where she could be?” I continue talking as I walk to her, and I often see a smile on her face. Then I kneel beside her and tell her how much I like that smile and that I missed her.
Recently, I did something a little different. I whistled “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” As I walked toward her, I could see the smile emerging on her face. That’s the way she expresses her love for me.
As I have noted in a previous post, our evenings are the most romantic part of our day. We are both more relaxed than at any other time. We appreciate our time alone.
Love can’t stop the progression of Kate’s Alzheimer’s, but I believe being loved, and receiving attention from our primary caregiver, as well as the staff and residents of our retirement community have played an important role in the happiness she enjoys while “Living with Alzheimer’s.” That makes me happy too.