Because Kate and I have lived joyfully while
“Living with Alzheimer’s, one might think that stress is not an issue for me. That
would be wrong. The only time I have been relatively free of stress was in the
first few years after her diagnosis. At that time, the key stressor was
juggling my responsibilities between Kate and my dad who was in skilled
nursing. Since then, stress has gradually increased.
Since Kate’s diagnosis 12 ½ years ago, I’ve
learned a number of things about stress and how to deal with it. One of those
is that it is impossible to avoid. It’s a natural part of caring for someone
with dementia. The best I can do is to find ways to manage it.
In the early days, that was easy. Shortly
after Kate’s diagnosis, we decided that we would enjoy life and each other for
as long as possible. That simple decision led to our binging on the things we
had enjoyed throughout our marriage – movies, theater, musical events, eating
out, and travel. Pleasure was a central part of our lives and helped both of us
As Kate’s Alzheimer’s progressed, I needed to
spend more time with her and felt less comfortable leaving her alone. At the
same time, stress was increasing. That led to my engaging in-home care three
years after her diagnosis. For a little more than three years, we had help four
hours a day for three days a week. That gave me time to run errands and get to
the YMCA for exercise.
The past two and a half years, she has
required total care. That resulted in my increasing our in-home care to eight
hours a day seven days a week. Despite that, my responsibilities increased
significantly, and that was accompanied by more stress. Fortunately, I’ve been
able to manage it pretty well,
I put a high priority on a healthy lifestyle.
Except for my days in graduate school and the first few years I taught, my
adult life has involved exercise. Since Kate’s diagnosis, I have needed it more.
I used to work out at the YMCA three mornings a week. I stopped when I felt I
could no longer leave Kate alone in the morning. That is when I took up walking
every day. After our move to a life plan retirement community, I replaced
walking for workouts in our wellness center downstairs. I get up between 4:30
and 5:00 five days a week and do stretching exercises for 25-30 minutes before going
to the wellness center. I ride the seated elliptical for fifty minutes averaging
a little over eight miles a day.
I have also taken up deep breathing. I do that
periodically each day including the time I am exercising. I’ve made a number of
other lifestyle changes that are helpful. One of those is to avoid rushing. I
realized that I was rushing to get to the gym as well as going about my daily
household chores like fixing breakfast, washing, folding, and putting away
laundry. That doesn’t make much sense now that I am retired. I deliberately began
to slow down as I go about my daily routine. In addition, I take breaks during
the day and have reduced my emailing, activity on social media, and writing
I pay attention to my diet. I maintain a high-protein,
low-carb diet with an abundance of fish, vegetables, and recently, nuts and
fruit. Sleep is also important to me. Fortunately, Kate sleeps through the
night. That enables me to get between 7 and 7 ½ hours sleep.
By far the most effective way I have found to
deal with stress is to be as socially active as I can. I do this in a variety
I follow a daily schedule that includes contact
with other people than Kate and our caregivers. That is a lot easier now that
we are in a retirement community. Three days a week, I eat lunch in a café
downstairs. I don’t think I have eaten alone more than once or twice since we
moved here. The other four days of the week I eat off the grounds. One of those
days is with my Rotary club. The other three days, I eat alone; however, I eat
in restaurants where I have eaten for several years and know some of the staff,
and I frequently run into friends.
Our afternoon and evening routine includes 30-40 minutes at a café on the grounds where Kate has ice cream. It is also a time to run into other residents, and most of them stop to chat for a few minutes. In addition, we eat dinner in the dining room five nights a week and in a café downstairs the other two nights. These provide additional opportunities for Kate and me to engage in additional contact with residents and staff. That is good for both of us.
Part of my weekly routine is getting together with friends for coffee. Every Friday, I meet a friend who worked for me ten years before using his computer skills to launch out on his own. We have kept up ever since he left. I meet with another group every Saturday. All three were neighbors before our move two and a half years ago. One of them recently moved to our retirement community.
I stay in contact by phone and/or email with longtime friends and family. This includes my undergraduate sociology professor and mentor who turns 101 in September. I also stay in touch with four other college friends as well as three grammar school friends.
I maintain relationships with several
organizations with which I have been involved for many years. Those include the
United Way, Rotary, our church, our local symphony orchestra, and a local
Apart from these social connections, I
participate in three different caregiver support groups. One of those is a
group for husbands taking care of their wives with dementia. Another is a mixed
group of husbands and wives who are caring for a spouse with dementia. The
third group is a group of husbands and wives caring for spouses with any
illness that requires regular care. The first group meets twice a month. The
other two meet once a month.
Of course, the most important stress-relieving relationship I have is with Kate. Some readers may be surprised that I can say that at this late stage of her Alzheimer’s. To be sure, we don’t relate in many of the ways we could before Alzheimer’s entered our lives, but not a day goes by without our having “Happy Moments.” They serve as the best stress reducer I can find. I savor every “Happy Moment” I have with her. I can’t eliminate stress, but I have a lot of things that help me manage it as effectively as possible. I am grateful.
I thought I had finished this post yesterday morning, but since then I have had three different experiences I would like to add. Each one involves a “Happy Moment” with Kate. The first occurred yesterday just before leaving for lunch. She was smiling, and I told her what a beautiful smile she has. Then I said, “And you are beautiful. I love you.” The expression on her face changed immediately as she almost broke into tears. I can’t say precisely what that meant, but to me, it was very touching to see her so moved.
The second one occurred after I got home. I
walked over to her and kneeled beside her chair. I told her how happy I was to
see her and how much I missed her while I was gone. She gave me a smile and
whispered, “I love you.” That is a rare event. More typically, she expresses
her feelings with her facial expressions as she did before I left.
The third occurred this morning. She was awake early and in a cheerful mood and talking. That doesn’t happen very often. She is usually very subdued and rarely speaks until the afternoon. On days like today, I sit up in bed beside her and enjoy being with her. We had a good conversation even though I couldn’t understand a word she said. The important thing was that we were connecting. It was a very special moment.
Each of these is a good example of the kinds
of “Happy Moments” we experience on a daily basis. They don’t happen all day,
but they occur often enough that they boost my spirits knowing that our relationship
still means a lot to both of us.