The 36-Hour Day!
Being a caregiver when your spouse has Alzheimers Disease is one of the hardest jobs imaginable. And if you currently find yourself in that position, you may benefit from some of the things I have learned after more than fourteen years of caring for Alzheimer’s residents. From anxiety, frustration, and restlessness to wandering, stubbornness, and aggression, you can learn how to manage the circumstances that cause these feelings and be better able to deal with them when they occur.
Anxiety & Frustration
If you are the caregiver to a spouse with Alzheimer’s, chances are that anxiety and frustration are a big part of your daily life. People with Alzheimer’s often feel helpless, and little things can cause significant amounts of worry. Figuring out what circumstances trigger these feelings is essential to reducing your spouse’s anxiety level. While I know what I am about to suggest may seem contrary to how you have always interacted with your loved one, please know that the wise use of “little white lies” can vastly improve the quality of life for both you and your spouse. For instance, if your spouse says, “I want to see my mother now – she was just here.” Even though his mother died years ago, resist the urge to correct him. Instead, say she is out shopping or visiting a relative in another state. Then get out the photo album and redirect him with pleasant memories.
Restlessness & Wandering
Living with and caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s can make you feel as if you are babysitting a two-year-old. Depression, boredom, confusion, and sickness can cause your loved one to become restless, wander, or pace. He may follow you around, clinging and asking questions over and over again. Boredom may increase his suspicions and / or delusions. He may continually try to leave the house and insist he has to go home. He may have a hard time following television or believe that what is happening on television is happening right outside. Constantly having to manage and redirect a spouse under these circumstances can be overwhelmingly difficult. So before you become exhausted, find an Alzheimer’s Day Care Center where your spouse can spend some time during the week. And while your spouse is at day care, get to an Alzheimer’s support group. Not only can you learn helpful tips from others who have been in your shoes, your feelings of isolation and loneliness can be helped immensely once you understand that you are not alone. Finally, there are many homecare agencies in our area that can help support your care giving efforts at home. Spend the money and take advantage of their services!
Stubbornness & Lack of Cooperation
Sometimes the only way an Alzheimer’s sufferer can feel any control at all is when they are being stubborn and uncooperative. While it can be difficult to remember, and even harder to stop yourself, never scold your spouse. When your spouse is acting uncooperative, the first course of action is simply to back off and try again later. If that doesn’t work, get creative. Don’t ask “yes or no questions.” Instead just say, “It’s time to eat, honey.”
If he won’t take his medications, show him an official looking doctor’s order that he can read. Keep many copies! Strategies like this take the target off of you (for a change). Also, never underestimate the cooperation building power of bribery. Music, ice cream, snacks, going for a walk or a car ride, really anything your spouse enjoys can be used to gain compliance.
Anger & Aggression
Unfortunately, anger and aggression are very common tendencies for people with Alzheimer’s. Always beware of, and back away from, physical aggression. Chances are your spouse will not remember the incident when he calms down. But be proactive in your efforts to create an environment that does not foster aggressive behavior. Always try to speak in a soothing voice (not baby talk!). Keep the environment quiet and don’t take verbal aggression personally. It is just the disease talking. As mentioned earlier, try never to disagree with or correct your spouse. Go with the flow of the moment and gently redirect him. If your spouse’s aggressive behavior becomes more frequent, keep a log of the times, places, and circumstances that it occurs. Share this information with your doctor.
One Critical Question
Caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s is a one way to earn your Angel’s Wings. But before you exhaust yourself completely, or end up sick in the hospital, please ask yourself the following question. Would placing your loved one in a Memory Care Community be better for both of you? Memory care residents get professional care and medical attention. They enjoy activities and socialization that redirect their restlessness, boredom, and anxiety. And they live in a loving, happy environment that is both safe and secure. At the same time, you get your life back. You can once again plan your own daily activities, and you may actually start sleeping through the night again! Your health will improve and your caregiving abilities will be stronger than ever. Consider this quote from Ann Harleman, author of An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for family, “My husband is still sometimes mean and angry with the staff but never now with me. Because I’m no longer his caregiver, I’m no longer implicated in his illness. His resentment, his despair, his shame – these no longer extend to me. Our bodies don’t connect, so our hearts can!”