I’m grateful for the many ways in which “Living with Alzheimer’s” has been easier for us than it is for many others. One of those that I don’t often talk about is our family relationships. Two weeks ago, our son, Kevin, came for a visit which prompts me to correct that.
In our initial conversations after her diagnosis, Kate and I discussed when we should tell our children and our friends. She was firm in her desire not to tell anyone until much later. For some time, I felt that knowing the diagnosis led me to make the most of the remaining quality time we would have. I still believe that was the most important benefit of getting the diagnosis. Prior to that, we had a strong relationship. We enjoyed life and each other, but at that moment, I knew our lives were about to change radically. Every moment we had together became precious. I wanted our children to have the same experience. On the third anniversary of her diagnosis (January 21, 2014), I arranged a conference call with Jesse and Kevin to break the news.
As I had hoped, they have taken advantage of that knowledge. They’ve been able to follow the progression of Kate’s dementia and enjoy many special moments with her. Although they both live out of state, they have kept up with frequent phone calls and periodic visits. In addition, I’ve been able to share other details of our lives via this blog.
I found the benefits were not only for them but for Kate and me as well. It was still early in our journey. My stress was minimal. I didn’t need much support. With the passage of time, Kate has declined, and the responsibilities as her caregiver have introduced significantly more stress. That has made the relationship with our children even more important.
I’ve read about other families’ experiences with Alzheimer’s and the problems that can also arise. It’s not unusual to hear about conflicts that occur when aging parents and their children feel differently about things like driving, whether to engage outside help or move to a place where they have better access to care for existing or potential health issues. Even before Kate’s diagnosis, I wanted our children to be partners in this last stage of our lives. Letting them know about Kate was an important step in that direction.
Six years later, I feel that was definitely the right decision. Their calls and visits have brought us closer together. They are well-informed of the ups and downs in our lives. They know about any health issues that arise. They know the strengths and weaknesses of our various caregivers and how in-home care is working out. When I thought it was time to make a move to a continuing care retirement community (or life plan community), I let them know what I was thinking and asked for their thoughts.
Jesse and Kevin also feel free to ask me questions about things I may not have mentioned. On a recent phone call, Jesse asked if I had thought about whether I would move or stay in our current place after Kate’s death. I told her that I had and would plan to remain here. I explained that I wouldn’t want to buy another house nor would I want to leave the support I find here.
While Kevin was here, he asked if I had noticed any changes in my driving as I had aged. I mentioned that I am more easily distracted than in the past. I have to be more careful when I use the controls for the audio system and temperature. When I don’t, it is easy for me to drift to the right or left. I also mentioned my only interest in getting a new car would be to have the new safety features like the blind spot alert. He saw an example of that when I started to change lanes and the driver of a car about to pass us honked his horn.
They have been very supportive of my role as caregiver for their mother, and I have been receptive to their thoughts. As a gerontologist, Kevin has a special interest. That has also led to my asking him questions about his own perspective based on his professional experience with other seniors. Thus far, we haven’t had any conflicts, and I don’t expect any because of the nature of our relationship.
Kevin’s recent visit and Jesse’s visit a few weeks before that came at a time of transition from one caregiver to another. They had an opportunity to see firsthand how things were going. My stress is greater now. Along with that, my blood pressure has been somewhat higher than usual. I’ve found myself getting behind on many things. Sometimes I fail to look at my calendar. That leads to missing appointments. I don’t respond as quickly to emails; and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I don’t post as frequently. In fact, I began this post a couple of days after Keven left. That was almost two weeks ago.
During Kevin’s visit, I relaxed more. He and I went out for lunch several times and had good conversations. In a way, it was like taking a vacation. Since then, I’ve felt more at ease, and my blood pressure has been normal. That seems to confirm my belief that stress was affecting me. It also boosts my confidence that I can find ways to minimize its impact.
The impact of our family goes beyond our relationship with our children. Kate and I both have brothers and spouses that live out of state. Because of that and the pandemic, we have had less personal contact, but they stay in touch by phone and have been very supportive.
Interpersonal relationships with family, friends, colleagues and even strangers have always been important to me, but the support from our family has been especially significant. I am grateful.