Kate’s Dependence on Me

As Kate has moves from one stage of her Alzheimer’s to another, there is never a clean break in her behavior. It is always a gradual process in which she gradually begins to stop doing things she did before or starts doing things that she didn’t do before. I do, however, have moments when I recognize that the change has become a fundamental shift from the way the was before to a new state. That is the way I feel about her present state of dependence on me.

She continues to assert her independence at times when I help her with daily activities like getting out of bed, helping her dress, holding her hand as she goes up or down stairs, and a host of other little things. The difference now is that they often take me by surprise because they are so much less frequent than in the past. The present norm is that I assist her with almost everything. Yesterday was a good example.

It was Wednesday, another afternoon for the sitter. I always feel under more pressure on those days because I want to let Kate sleep as long as I can but also give her as much time as possible so that we can get to lunch and return home in time to meet the sitter. Generally, she needs about forty-five minutes to an hour to get ready if she doesn’t take a shower. As I reported previously, she didn’t get up at all before I left on Monday. That has occurred only two or three times in the past, but it is hard for me to be sure when to wake her.

Yesterday, I wanted to leave for lunch about 11:30. With that in mind, I started playing some soft music about 10:30. At 10:45, I went in to wake her. I found she was awake but still resting happily. I could tell by the smile on her face that she was in a good mood. I sat down on the bed, and we chatted a few minutes. I told her I would like to take her to lunch and asked if she would like that. She smiled and said she did, but she was still very relaxed though I wouldn’t say groggy or confused. I changed the music to the musical Annie. She likes that, and it’s very upbeat and cheerful. I left to get her clothes.

When I returned, she hadn’t moved. I told her gently it was time to get up and she extended her hand for me to help her sit up. Then she said, “What now?” (She often needs me to tell her step-by-step what to do.) I suggested she go to the bathroom and that I would show her where it was. I helped her out of bed and led her there. She wasn’t sure what to do when she reached the door. I pointed to the toilet and said, “Toilet first.” When she was finished, she said, “What now?” I told her to wash her hands and brush her teeth. She has forgotten that she has a soap dispenser and how to use it. I asked her to put her hand under the nozzle. She didn’t understand. I showed her with my hand. She still didn’t understand. I took her hand and held it, gave her some soap, and told her to put her hands under the faucet and rub them together. She is also forgetting about using her toothbrush. Sometimes she just puts toothpaste on her finger and rubs in on her teeth. I picked up her toothbrush, put toothpaste on it, ran in under the faucet and gave it to her. I won’t go through the routine for dressing, but it is very similar. I guide and help her step by step. The only time she made any effort to assert her independence was while she was dressing, and that was minimal.

Her dependence is also expressed in her feelings about me. She needs me. When I returned home in the afternoon, she was lying awake on the sofa. Mary was seated in a chair across from her. When she saw me, she smiled and started to sit up. She said, “You’re one of my favorite people.” I went over and helped her to her feet. Mary said goodbye and turned to leave. Kate called to her and asked her to wait a minute. Mary turned around, and Kate put her hand on my shoulder and said, “He’s a nice man. A really nice man.” I don’t know if she recognized me as her husband at that moment, but she does sense that I am important to her. This goes along with her other comments about feeling “safe” with me.

As soon as Mary left, she wanted to know what we were going to do. I told her we would go to dinner. Before leaving, she looked at several family photos on top of our entertainment center. I walked over and looked along with her. Then she said, “Will you take me home?” She continues to think we are in someone else’s home. It isn’t constant. We talk about our home and things she likes, but she moves back and forth between knowing it’s our home and thinking it’s not. It is a challenge for me to know exactly what to say at any given moment. Sometimes I play along. Sometimes I don’t. For example, she was disappointed when we got home from dinner. She had wanted to go “home.” In that case, I told it was our home, and I would show her some of the things she likes about it. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t mention any dissatisfaction once she was inside.

Another sign of her dependence is how much she needs my help staying occupied. That is something that has a greater impact on my personal time. Last night is another good example. Our general after dinner routine is for me to watch the evening news while she works on her iPad. As I have noted previously, it is getting harder to her to work her puzzles. She needs my help. Last night and several other nights recently, I have gone back and forth between my chair and hers to help her. That makes it a challenge to watch the news. After doing that several times last night, she put her iPad down and sat there looking somewhat frustrated. I suggested that we look at one of her photo books. We sat on the sofa and went through most of the “Big Sister” album. She was interested, but it was unusually difficult for her to recognize or remember “key players” – her, her brother, her mother, and her father. Even in photos that were side by side, she found it difficult to identify her brother and her father. She did better recognizing herself and her mother, but far from consistently. I tried to explain that the book focused on her and her brother and that if she just guessed who the boy was in a picture, she would be right if she said her brother. She could never have grasped that. As a consequence, I had to identify the people in almost every picture. Before we finished, I went to take my shower while she continued going through the album. She still seems to derive pleasure from looking at the pictures even though she doesn’t know who the people are. I am grateful for that but can’t help wondering how long it will last. I have always made an effort to go through the albums with her. It is something we both enjoy, but it is also nice for her to be able to enjoy them by herself.

My feeling about Kate’s increasing dependence is much the same as it has always been. Some of it makes caring for her easier, but it comes at a price. I would like her to be as independent as she can for as long as she can. She likes to be independent. I think that is true for most of us. It is sad to see her having to depend on me so heavily.

Something New, A Sign of Things to Come?

Yesterday was my day for Rotary, and that means the Monday sitter, Cindy. As I typically do, I went to wake Kate about an hour before she arrived. I turned on an album of cello adagios a short time before going to the room. When I got to her bedside, she was sound asleep. I said good morning to her softly. She didn’t respond at all until I sat down on the bed beside her. She looked at me and smiled but didn’t say anything. I explained that it was my Rotary day. I also reminded her that Cindy was the person who takes her to lunch. Then I told her I would like to help her get dressed before Cindy arrived. She indicated that she didn’t want to get up. I asked if she wouldn’t prefer that I help her get ready rather than Cindy. She said, “I can dress myself.” She wanted to rest.

I left the room and came back about two or three other times. We went through a similar conversation with the same results. She said she wasn’t getting up. By then it was close to 11:45. I felt that my only choice was to leave her and let Cindy take care of getting her up later. When Cindy arrived, I took her into the room to let Kate know that she was here. Kate greeted her with a smile and said she was glad to see her. While they talked, I left.

When I got home four hours later, I saw that Cindy was sitting in the family room alone. Kate was still in bed. Cindy said that she had gone in several times to see if Kate wanted to get up. She said she wanted to stay in bed. I chatted with Cindy a few minutes and then went to check on Kate.

She was awake. At first, she didn’t appear to recognize me. I said, “Are you glad to see me?” She said, “Yes,” but without a great sound of relief. At that point, I knew she had been in bed for at least nineteen hours without having gone to the bathroom. I’ve heard other caregivers’ reports of a variety of “toileting” or “hygiene” issues. Fortunately, we have had only minimal experiences with bladder control. This time it was bladder and bowels. It could have been worse. She didn’t have diarrhea.

I said, “I bet you would like to go to the bathroom. I’ll take you.” She didn’t hesitate. She sat up and sat on the bed. Before helping her up, I said, “I’ll be glad to help you. Do you know you I am?” Rather firmly, she said, “Yes, you’re part of the family.” I said, “Do you know the relationship?” She said she didn’t, and I told her. She said, “Oh.”

I took her to the bathroom and prepared the shower for her. I didn’t have to coax her. She was ready. She took a long shower. While she was showering, I put the sheets and night gown in the washer.

When she was finished, she wanted me to help her dry off. Because she had been in bed so long, I thought she would not want to get in bed after her shower, but she did. She relaxed in bed for about thirty minutes before I got her to dress for dinner. At that point she seemed quite normal and even referred to me as her husband. We went to dinner at Chalupas. I was surprised that she didn’t eat all of her food after not having eaten since dinner the previous night.

We came back to the house and had a very nice evening with the news, iPad, and music before turning in at our regular time. The day ended as though nothing of significance had happened. I was concerned that she might have trouble going to sleep, but she didn’t. She is still sleeping as I finish this post.

Having reflected on yesterday’s experience, I imagine that she wanted to go to the bathroom but didn’t know where it was and didn’t feel comfortable having Cindy help her getting to the bathroom, showering, and getting dressed. Before she got in the shower, I asked Kate if she had been scared. She indicated she had. It had to have been an uncomfortable experience for her. I’m puzzled by the fact that she didn’t call for me. Cindy went in several times, but she probably couldn’t remember Cindy was there for long after she went back to the family room. She must have felt alone and didn’t know what to do. I suspect she was awake the whole time. I hope this doesn’t happen again. If it does, I hope I am here.

Thoughts about Anticipatory Grief

Just about everyone has some awareness of grief that occurs after death of a family member or friend. Much has been written about it, but most of us don’t think of anticipatory grief that occurs before death. There seems to be agreement that not everyone experiences this kind of grief, and I imagine that is a difficult issue to measure. It’s something many people have never thought about, and, thus, are not likely to recognize or say they are experiencing or have experienced it.

As you might expect, I am in touch with a lot of caregivers of people with dementia. Anticipatory grief is a topic that comes up periodically. It is easy to see how the concept would be relevant for this group because of the lengthy span of time between diagnosis and death. Many people view the diagnosis as a “death sentence.” Since there is no current cure for the disease, I understand this thinking. My personal preference, however, has been to focus on the positive side and concentrate on the value of the remaining time that Kate and I have to enjoy life and each other. Having said that, I must admit that the diagnosis did serve as a wake-up call that life does not go on forever. We know this anyway, but the diagnosis of dementia is usually a significant signal that death is sooner than we had expected.

Lynne Eldridge, M.D. (https://www.verywellhealth.com/understanding-anticipatory-grief-and-symptoms-2248855) talks about the nature of anticipatory grief, and, like most authorities, is careful to acknowledge that “everyone grieves differently.” She suggests that such grief can be like a roller coaster ride with all its ups and downs. It’s not constant. With that in mind, she identifies the following symptoms one might experience.

  • Sadness and tearfulness
  • Fear of death itself and the changes that will accompany it
  • Irritability and anger
  • Loneliness
  • A desire to talk
  • Anxiety,
  • Guilt
  • Intense concern for the person dying
  • Rehearsal of the death – visualizing what your life will be like
  • Physical problems – sleep and memory, and
  • Fear of loss, compassion, and concern among children facing death of a parent

Recently, I have wondered if I’m experiencing this grief and, if not, if and when will it occur. This has led me to think about the symptoms listed above as well as the degree to which I experience them. Here are my thoughts.

I quickly eliminated the following signs: irritability and anger, loneliness, desire to talk, and guilt. I may a bit more irritable because I often feel more rushed than usual. If so, it is minimal, and I don’t feel lonely or guilty at all. I do like to talk, but that was true long before Kate was diagnosed.

I experience each of the remaining symptoms to a greater or lesser degree. Here is how I would rank them in terms of their intensity.

I often feel sadness and occasionally experience tearfulness, especially at services for friends who have died. There have also been a number of moments when I choked up while talking with someone about Kate. This has been true since her diagnosis. As her Alzheimer’s has progressed, I have felt sadness each time we did something that was or I thought would be the last time. That includes our international travel as well as trips to New York City, Chautauqua, and our children’s homes. In addition, my eyes often fill with tears during my happy/sad moments with Kate. One that comes to mind is when she asked, “Would you consider marrying me?” during a conversation at a local restaurant about a year ago, but there have been many others.

The sadness I am talking about is not lasting. It is momentary, but I have sensed a greater degree of sadness recently that relates directly to Kate’s decline over the past few weeks (months?). I have experienced hospice with three of our parents, and my current feelings are more like those except for the clearer reality of impending death associated with their situations. With Kate, I also continue to have uplifting experiences that prevent the sadness from being a problem. Nonetheless, there is a real difference in the way I feel now. I think that relates to some of the other symptoms listed above.

I don’t think the word “fear” best describes my feelings, but I don’t want to face what lies ahead for us. When the time comes, I am sure I will handle the situation as I have done in the past. I think the word “anxiety” is a better word than “fear” to describe my feelings. This seems like a very natural response for a spouse whose loved one is entering this stage.

I often think about life after Kate’s passing. I don’t know how someone in my position could avoid that. This will be the most dramatic change of my life since we married, and it’s a permanent one. At the same time, I know many people, including my father, who adapted well after the loss of a spouse. I believe that I, too, will adapt.

I wake up more often at night and have difficulty getting back to sleep. I also sense that my memory has been affected by the demands of caregiving. To date, neither of these has been a serious problem. I’m not sure what to expect in the future.

When I think of each one of these symptoms, I would say none comes close to the feeling of sadness in terms of intensity. There is no denying, however, that I experience anticipatory grief. The question is “How will I handle it?” I am optimistic, but I also believe it won’t be easy.

Creating Happy Moments

As I have mentioned before, I have two primary goals in caring for Kate: To keep her safe and to keep her happy. For the most part neither of those goals has been especially challenging. I am, however, finding it more difficult to keep her happy. I think that is only natural with the progression of Alzheimer’s. In the early stages, Kate could easily entertain herself. Apart from the routine activities in which we were involved together or those with her friends, she had three different things she did on her own. The one that occupied the largest portion of her time was her yard. Weather permitting, she sometimes spent as long as five or six hours in a day tending to her plants and shrubs. As the shrubbery began to die from her excessive pruning (“pulling leaves”), she gave up working in the yard two or three ago.

She also edited photos on her computer for what she intended to be a photo book of our family. Although she wanted to include a good bit of text to provide a fuller account of our lives, she never wrote anything. Instead, she would often say to me when we were talking about our lives together, “Remember that. That goes in the book.” Though less frequent now, she still says that occasionally. Originally, she spent as much or more time on the computer as she did in the yard, but it became increasingly difficult for her to operate. That dropped out of her life about four or five years ago.

That left her with her iPad on which she works jigsaw puzzles. In recent years, she has spent up to seven or eight hours a day on that. Now she is encountering much more difficulty. I fear that ability will soon be gone. That requires me to spend more time entertaining her. Yesterday was a good example.

When she woke up, she was not as warm and friendly as she sometimes is. She joked with me, but it grew out of a feeling I had rushed heer and took on a more serious, than humorous, tone. I often joke with her, but I back off in situations like that. My joking tends to exacerbate the problem. Knowing that we would soon leave for lunch, I didn’t say much. I simply responded to her needs in getting dressed. I knew I could depend on the car ride of about twenty minutes and could play music all the way to lunch.  We didn’t talk much at all in the car. When we did, it involved references to the music. Once we were at the restaurant, she was fine.

When we returned home, she wanted to work on her iPad. I joined her in the family room and put on some music she would enjoy. After an hour or so, she asked for my help. As soon as I started to help, it was clear that she was more confused than usual. It wasn’t that she had pressed the wrong button. Somehow she thought she was supposed to spell someone’s name and couldn’t do it because there were only scattered puzzle pieces on the screen. She didn’t see any letters. I tried to explain, but she didn’t understand. She kept talking as though there was another person in the house (a woman). She thought her name was Carol. When I couldn’t help, I suggested that she take a break from her puzzles and look at one of her photo albums. It wasn’t long before she was engaged with the photos in the Big Sister album.

We did that for a little while, but I was on my knees beside her chair and got tired. I suggested we move to the sofa where I could sit next to her. She enjoys looking at her albums by herself, but she seems to appreciate them more when I do it with her. That is because I am able to identify all the people and situations. I fill in lots of information she couldn’t remember on her own. It was a happy moment for both of us, and we went through the entire 140 pages.

We had a similar experience after dinner. On several occasions lately, I have played the soundtrack from the movie Annie. It’s an album that we both enjoy. That prompted me to look for the movie on YouTube. I found it, and we watched a portion of it a couple of nights ago. Last night, I turned it on again. Kate was interested but started working puzzles on her iPad. It wasn’t long before she needed my help. She was having a similar problem to the one she had earlier in the afternoon. She didn’t now what to do with the scattered puzzle pieces. When I pulled up a new puzzle, she was worried that she might “mess things up.” I felt sad for her since she obviously recognized that she does mess things up. I assured her she wouldn’t create a problem but decided once again to take a break from the iPad and look at another photo album.

The one I chose was a book focusing on her father’s family. It is a book that we have looked at many times and contains information starting with her grandparents. Because she was already confused, I decided not to read everything. I simply gave her an abbreviated version of the text. I told her about her grandparents moving to Texas with their families, getting married, having children and ultimately moving to Fort Worth where Kate was born. She hadn’t remembered a thing about this album. She thanked me profusely for telling her and said she had never known these things before. As we went through the album, she told me she wanted me to remember that “for the book.” She looked at me very seriously and said, “I want you to help me with this. I want it to be very good. Don’t let me mess it up.” I told her I would, but, of course, I know that she will never be able to create the book she has wanted to make for so long. My heart went out to her when she expressed her fear that she might mess up the book if she did it on her own. Even at this late stage in her Alzheimer’s, she knows she has a problem.

The video had been playing all the time we were looking at the pictures. Although she was excited about looking at more photos, she was beginning to tire. Then one of the songs in Annie caught her attention. We both started watching, and I began to give her a commentary on what we were seeing. That seemed to help her understand what was going on, and she enjoyed the rest of the movie.

Thus, we ended the day on a happy note. It was a day that was punctuated by ups and downs in Kate’s mood, but each time I was able to lift her up with the aid of music, photos, and a video. It reminds me again of how fortunate Kate and I are. I think about the people living with Alzheimer’s who aren’t entertained all day, who have caregivers that have other responsibilities that prevent the kind of continuous care that Kate receives. I also think about the people with dementia who don’t respond to such entertainment in the same way that Kate does. It has to be so hard for their caregivers.

Something New

About 7:30 yesterday morning, I noticed on the video cam that Kate was sitting up in bed. She had stern look on her face. I asked if she wanted to go to the bathroom. She said no. I said, “What would you like to do? I would be glad to help.” She motioned me to sit in the chair beside the bed and said, “You start.” I said, “Start what?” She said quite firmly, “You know.” I told her I really didn’t and that maybe she had just had a dream about something. She was emphatic that she wasn’t dreaming. Again, she told me “to start.” I told her I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to say. She said, “Then why are you here?” That led me to take another approach. I told her my name and her name. Then I proceeded to tell her about our meeting and our courtship at TCU. I gave her a synopsis of our getting married, going to graduate school, jobs, having children, and the places we had lived right to the present. As I talked, she started smiling. Her mood began to change. When I got to the end of my story, I said, “We’ve been happily married for fifty-six years, and I love you very much.” She smiled and said, “I love you too.”

I gave her a hug and asked what she would like to do now. She said, “I don’t know.” I told her it was just 8:00 and that she usually liked to sleep a little longer. She told me that is what she wanted to do. I pulled back the cover, and she got back in bed. She slept until 10:00 when she got up for good. She was in a good mood and expressed no confusion at all. She was ready to go early enough that we were able to spend some time at Panera before going to lunch. I will never know what caused her to be irritated with me when she first woke up. I just hope it doesn’t happen again. If it does, I will probably take the same approach, that is, just talk about things that get her to think about the good times we have had.

How I’m Feeling

Considering Kate’s recent changes, it’s fair to ask how I’m doing. Let me try to answer that. By now, you know that I am bound to say, “remarkably well,” but it’s more complicated than that. Like Kate’s spirits, mine go up and down in about the same proportion as hers. As I have said before, “When she’s happy, I’m happy.” That implies there are times when she is not happy. That is true for both of us.

After Kate’s unusually happy day a couple of days ago, yesterday and the day before have been a little different. It’s not that she was sad or depressed. She wasn’t. It was that the symptoms of her Alzheimer’s seemed to be more evident. There wasn’t anything new. She just seemed more like she was drifting away, somewhat distant. That was particularly true last night.

At dinner, she asked my name several times and asked what I like people to call me. I said, “Richard.” She asked if that is what she should call me. I told her that would be fine. When she asked, she did so in the very natural way she usually does. What was different was that my name didn’t seem to register with her at all. It didn’t seem any more familiar than the name of the restaurant at which we were eating.

Our evening after dinner was also a little different. She was very tired and wanted to rest about 7:30. I suggested she could get ready for bed. At first, she just wanted to rest on the sofa. I told her it was getting close to bedtime, and it might be better to get ready. After getting into bed, she asked my name in much the same way she had done at dinner. After two or three times, I asked if she knew how we were related. She didn’t. When I told her we were married, she couldn’t believe it. I gave her a little information about our courtship and our wedding. That seemed to ring a bell, but she soon asked my name again. I told her and didn’t say anything more.

She has been gradually drifting way over the past few weeks. That means more moments of sadness for me. Like all things, I knew this would happen eventually, but it is the reality that has the greatest impact. I know that Kate’s condition will only get worse.

The good news is that I have a lot of things to keep me occupied. This blog is one of them. I am editing a book of emails I wrote under my dad’s name the last few years of his life. I am also writing an article for someone else’s blog. I am active on Twitter and with the United Way, Rotary, and the health foundation on whose board I served for nine years. In addition, I donate platelets every 3-4 weeks.

Of course, my primary role is that of Kate’s care partner. While that involves stress, it also incorporates a considerable amount of pleasure. I am thinking specifically of all the social contacts we have in connection with our meals and the many ways in which music plays a role in our lives. Beyond that, I derive satisfaction from helping Kate get through each day. She can’t do it on her own. I am glad to be here for her.

On balance, I believe that I am doing “remarkably well,” but there is no question that there is more sadness in my life as I watch her decline. I can work to minimize it, but I can’t escape it.

The Most Predictable Time of the Day

I’m never quite sure what Kate will be like when she wakes up. Confusion is common. A number of times she has been very disturbed. Sometimes she appears perfectly normal. That is, she doesn’t appear confused until she asks, “Where are we?” Sometimes she seems wide awake and happy. Other times, she acts like I am about to interfere with her rest. She is usually right about that.

Mornings represent a striking contrast with our evenings. She almost always feels completely at ease. I can’t identify a precise time this happens. I know it starts much earlier in the day when we leave the house. That is true whether we leave at 9:30 or 10:00 for Panera or closer to noon for lunch.

In her second book, Dementia with Dignity, Judy Cornish devotes the major portion of her book to “mood” and its relevance for those who care for people with dementia. She talks about the ability of PWD to read their caregivers moods. Having learned the importance the senses of PWD, I don’t find that surprising. This ability has significant implications for relating to PWD. Caregivers face many things they cannot control. It’s frustrating. Controlling mood, however, is something that caregivers can, at least to some extent, control. Whatever the caregiver’s mood, the PWD can read that and is more likely mimic it. If the caregiver is uneasy, the PWD is likely to become uneasy as well.

In earlier posts, I have suggested that Kate becomes more relaxed throughout the day. I have attributed that to the accumulation of information that makes her feel comfortable. She may not be any better at remembering the names of people and places, but she senses a lot of things with which she is familiar from the past. Cornish’s views on mood are making me think more carefully about my role as a “manager” of them. I am more sensitive to the fact that I can play a role in making her more or less at ease.

When I think about it, I believe our everyday experiences tell us one person’s mood can affect someone else. I have often said in this blog that “When Kate is happy, I am happy.” That isn’t unique to the relationship of caregivers and PWD. That is true for spouses, for parents and their children, or even for one stranger encountering another.

There are at least two important differences, however, in the relationship of a caregiver and the PWD. First, the PWD has lost her rational ability to control her emotions or to work with someone else to do so. Second, the caregiver is the one who is “officially” in charge. If any changes are to be made, it is the caregiver’s responsibility to make them.

In relationships between spouses, we generally expect  both people to have sufficient rational ability to play a role in maintaining the appropriate moods (though we know that isn’t always the case). The same is true for strangers. It’s a bit different with parents and children. In this case, parents are in charge, and part of their responsibility is teaching their children learn rational ways to behave in social relationships. Children can learn. PWD can’t.

With these things in mind, I believe I have unconsciously assumed that management of Kate’s mood is part of my caregiving role. I wasn’t aware that my own mood might be making a difference in hers. Well, to be honest, I have felt that coming in to wake her in the morning has sometimes made her grumpy. That seems legitimate. If were sleeping soundly and didn’t see any reason to get up, I might be grumpy too. That is why I started waking her up so gently. I usually play music that I know she enjoys for 15-30 minutes before making an effort to rouse her. Even then, I wake her gently and allow plenty of time to avoid my rushing her.

Following this procedure seems to work, but not always. That is when I have to work harder not to push. I try to be very careful in the way I speak to her. I am as calm and relaxed as I can be. There are times when I say, “You don’t have to rush. You have plenty of time.” She sometimes doubts me and says somewhat gruffly, “Are you sure?” I continue to be calm, and her mood begins to change. It isn’t unusual for her to apologize for the way she spoke to me.

This isn’t always easy for a caregiver. For many, it’s very hard. That’s because our emotions often play such a key role in how we respond to things that irritate us. The role of a caregiver demands a greater emphasis on our rational skills than our roles in other relationships. We have to double our efforts. Our loved ones cannot do it. They have lost those skills.

Let’s go back to the fact that Kate’s mood is at its best in the evening. I believe creating that mood starts in the morning when she gets up. It’s no challenge at all if she wakes up in a good mood. There is little work to be done except to reinforce it throughout the day. If she is grumpy, however, it’s going to require a rational control of my responses in order to shift her mood. I am grateful she responds so easily. I love the reward of a good mood that peaks in the evening. It’s a great way to end the day.

An Experiment and Unintended Consequences

The word “experiment” means a trial of some kind. For those of us with a background in research, it usually suggests a rather formalized methodology to determine the relationship among a set of “variables.” Most experiments are not of this nature. They are much less formal (and, therefore, less controlled) experiments that all of use to solve problems we face in everyday life. Caregivers do a lot of this. I am no exception. Let me tell you about an experiment I conducted two nights ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m concerned about Kate’s sedentary lifestyle. She doesn’t exercise, and over the past year we have become less active. Now it is getting harder for her to get out of a seat of almost any kind, especially a low one. She walks slowly as though she might be in pain. She tells me she is not feeling pain. I think she is just becoming stiff. We know that she has arthritis in her knees. I’ve been looking for ways to keep her more active physically in order to postpone the day when she needs a wheelchair.

I thought she would enjoy and benefit from some time in our spa. Over the past two years, she has shown no interest in getting in the pool or spa. It’s actually stronger than that. She has resisted the idea, and I haven’t pushed her. I decided I needed to try a different approach. Knowing that she can no longer fit in her old swimsuits, I ordered one online last week. It arrived on Friday. Now all I needed to do was find a way to get her to put it on and get in the spa.

As we arrived home from dinner Sunday night, I told her I wanted her to help me with something when we went in. She said she would. Once inside, I gave her the swimsuit. I told her I had bought it and wanted her to try it on to see if it fit. She agreed. I felt a small measure of success, but the bigger problem might be getting her in the water.

She put on the suit, and I told her I wanted to put on mine as well. I explained that I wanted to experiment with something in the spa and needed her help. She didn’t protest. Getting in the spa required care, but was not too difficult. At first, I tried to help her step down to a step about ten inches from the surface of the water. She was quite nervous. I gave up on that and suggested she sit on the edge of the spa. From there I was able to help her sit on the step and then slide over to the seated area.

Once she was in the spa she was relaxed and started talking. She loved looking around her backyard where she used to spend much of her time tending to her plants. The water was also a comfortable temperature. I showed her how she could move her legs as though she were riding a bicycle. I commented about its being an easy way to exercise her joints. She agreed but only moved her legs for a moment. We spent about an hour talking. Any number of times she said that we ought to do this more often. My experiment was working better than I hoped. I was thinking that next time I could get her to move a little more.

When we were ready to go in, I got out first with the intent of extending my hands to her and helping her get out. She was frightened again and unable to follow my instructions. I finally got her in a seated position on the step inside the spa and on top of the seating area. The problem then was her not having enough strength to get up on her own and my not having enough strength to pull her up without a little help from her. She was too frightened to do anything. I got her to roll over onto the deck of the pool. That is when I discovered how hard it is to get her up when she is flat on the floor and emotional as well. I had another idea. I thought it would be easier if I took it one step at a time. I got on my hands and knees and asked if she could do that. If so, I might be able to lift her. She couldn’t understand what I wanted her to do. I can’t remember exactly what worked, but I got her up after several tries. So much for my bright idea of the spa for exercise.

I haven’t given up totally on the idea. I think it might be easier and safer if we used the pool instead. We have four steps at the shallow end. It should be much easier for her to walk down the steps with my assistance. We could do the same on the way out. I’m going to think about it a little more. I’m not quite ready to try again.

Making Plans

We face important decisions at every stage of our lives. It’s no surprise that seniors confront them as well. Some decisions are more significant than others. For example, when should I retire? What will I do after retirement? Sooner or later (we always hope the latter) we face things like giving up driving. That’s a big one. Few people want that. It’s a critical sign that we are giving up some of our independence.

An even bigger one is where we live as we age. It’s no secret that most of us want to continue living in our own homes. As our population ages, there is a growing effort to support seniors in their effort to accomplish just that. As with so many things, finances play a key role in such decisions. The combination of personal preference and finances accounts for the fact that most seniors do live in their own homes. At the same time, there are increasing options available for those who might feel the need to do otherwise.

I will turn 79 one month from today. That was the age of my parents when they talked with Kate and me about moving from West Palm Beach to Knoxville. We encouraged them, and they moved here in 1994. They lived in their own apartment. It worked out well for us and for them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom was probably showing the early signs of dementia before then. Four years later, she was diagnosed here in Knoxville. I suspect their age and their health situations were strong motivators in their move. They loved South Florida and wouldn’t have wanted to leave otherwise.

At my age and with Kate’s Alzheimer’s, I find myself in a similar situation. For several years, I have thought about our options. Kate and I have lived in Knoxville for 48 years. We have invested our lives in this area. I find it difficult to think about moving away. On the other hand, Kate and I long ago agreed that we wanted to make life as easy for our children as possible with respect to their care for us. There is no way to relieve them of all responsibility, but there are ways to make it easier.

One of those would be to move closer to them. Right away that becomes a problem. Our daughter lives in Memphis, our son in Lubbock. If we move close to one, we are much farther from the other. Despite that, Kate has always wanted to go back to Texas, and our son is in the elder care business. He is a care manager who works with seniors and their children to meet the needs of both the parents and their children. He is familiar with all the senior resources that are available in the Lubbock area. If we were going anywhere, that sounds like a perfect option.

I’ve thought about this a long time and have mentioned it to both of our children, but I’ve never taken any steps to explore moving out of our current home. During the past six to eight months as Kate has declined, I have become increasingly concerned about what would happen to her if something unexpected happened to me. Could this be the same motivation that influenced my parents’ move?

For years, I have been reasonably familiar with Knoxville’s continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) as well as the independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities (including memory care). I haven’t seriously considered any of them for Kate and me, but I have felt three of the CCRCs were possibilities for us should we ever have the desire or need.

Two or three months ago, I decided I should get more specific information about one of the CCRCs I believed was most suitable for us. Each week I meant to call but never got around to it. In the meantime, Kate’s condition has noticeably declined. Two weeks ago, I decided I needed to take action. I called for an appointment. Two days later, I spent almost three hours with the marketing director and one of his staff. They took me through all the details of their community and what it has to offer. Because I have visited several residents over the years, I was familiar with some things, but there were many things I didn’t know. One of those was about a new building that will be completed sometime during the first quarter of 2021. All but three of the apartments were pre-sold. Nothing was available among the existing buildings.

I took several days to think about it. Then I arranged another meeting with the intention of making a deposit on one of three apartments that were still on the market. I met with them again, got a little additional information, and wrote a check for the deposit. I have thirty days to make a final decision. If I decide to go ahead, I will have to put down a larger down payment. If I decide this is not for us, they will return the deposit. Until then, I plan to weigh all the benefits and potential downsides. My friend Mark Harrington once told me that when he is facing a choice like this he flips a coin to determine which way to go. Then he sleeps on it overnight before making a commitment. If he feels comfortable with the decision the next morning, he commits himself. If not, he looks to the other option. In a way, that is what I am doing with my decision. I’ll see how I feel at the end of thirty days.

Thoughts on Caregiving and Stress

One of the major topics among caregivers and the professionals who provide services to them and to their loved ones is caregiver “burnout.” Marty Schreiber, the author of My Two Elaines and a former governor of Wisconsin, is a very active speaker at many conferences and workshops across the country. He vividly presents his story of trying to “do it all” himself and the toll it took on him. He encourages caregivers to care for themselves and to recognize and seek help when it is needed.

I share his views and have worked hard to minimize my own stress. I watched my dad deteriorate as he cared for my mom. I am much like Dad, but I am not resistant to bringing in help.

At one time or another, almost all of my friends have asked how I am doing and if I am getting help. I appreciate their concern. I am concerned as well. I do, however, believe that I am doing quite well. That’s not to say I don’t experience stress. I do, and it’s increasing. The good news is I’ve been able to manage it pretty well. Let me explain.

My stress seems to come from two distinctly different sources. One is the sheer number of responsibilities I have. The other is a psychological one that relates to watching Kate lose one ability after another with the knowledge that it only gets worse. In this post, I will discuss the stress arising from my responsibilities as Kate’s caregiver.

The 36-Hour Day is, perhaps, the best-known resource for families who are caring for someone with dementia. As the title conveys, the responsibility for caring for a loved one with dementia requires more time than anyone has available. The responsibilities increase as our loved ones decline. If we try to do everything, something has to give, that is, some things will go undone. Often that means caregivers neglect to take care of themselves. Up to now, that has not been a major problem for me. There are several reasons.

One is that I have help. I engaged sitters for Kate a year and eight months ago. I have someone with her three afternoons a week, four hours each time. That enables me to get to my Rotary meetings, to the Y, run errands, and meet with friends. In addition, I have help with house cleaning and the yard. That means I can focus my attention on Kate.

I don’t participate in a support group, but I feel I get support in a variety of other ways. I have two longtime friends from college with whom I am in daily contact by email. One lives close enough to us that we are able to get together several times a year. We have other friends who are close enough for us to make daytrips to see them as well.

Regular readers of this blog know that we eat out for all meals but breakfast and attend live performances like the music nights at Casa Bella and local theater productions. They are both beneficial for Kate and for me. We are not socially isolated. We have church friends and staff that check in on us. I am on a steering committee at United Way and meet with them monthly. I meet for coffee with Mark Harrington every Friday after finishing at the Y. In addition, I stay in touch one or two other friends who are caregivers. I shouldn’t fail to mention this blog and my involvement with Twitter. All of these keep my mind occupied as well as having therapeutic value for me.

In addition, my responsibilities as a caregiver have not been as daunting as those of most others. Quite a few people our age are dealing with other health issues along with dementia. Apart from an occasional cold, neither Kate nor I has had any other health problems to deal with.

Some caregivers face a variety of problem behaviors from their loved ones. Although Kate has been more irritable than she was before Alzheimer’s, she is good-natured, loving, and most appreciative of what I do for her. It would be much harder for me to cope if she were not.

Finally, I believe my past experience with caregiving has helped me. I am now in my thirtieth consecutive year of caregiving. Most of that was with our four parents and my dad’s significant other. Some of that involved overlapping care of three at a time. Fortunately, we had fulltime professional care for both of Kate’s parents. Each of our parents’ situations was different and helped to sensitize me to a broad range of issues. I haven’t felt that I was caught off guard when Kate was diagnosed.

All of this is to say that I haven’t experienced the same degree of stress that faces so many caregivers. I am very fortunate. As I write this particular post, I should note that my stress is at its greatest level. I find myself slipping to take care of a wide range of obligations. Most of them are inconsequential. For example, I had purchased tickets for us to attend a local variety production of Broadway music at one of our local theaters this past Sunday. It is something we would have enjoyed, and we had no other obligations. I simply forgot to put it on my calendar, so we missed it. There are other things that relate to the maintenance of the house that get less attention than they deserve. I have plans to address them a little at a time over the next year. As Kate declines further, I will retain additional help and will likely participate in one or two support groups, but, for now, my stress is still at a manageable level. I am grateful for the concern and support I receive from those around me.