Lessons Learned: One man’s journey as an Alzheimer’s caregiver
- Published: 22 February 2016
It was about 3 a.m. on a blustery winter’s night. Jeanne woke up screaming. “This isn’t our home. This is Bill’s home.” Bill was her former husband from whom she had divorced over 25 years earlier. I tried everything to convince her that this was indeed our home. I showed her our wedding vows hanging over our bed. I took her out to the hall where the walls were lined the many pictures of our combined family, but nothing would allay her doubts. Working with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is counter-intuitive. Logic doesn’t work.
Finally, out of sheer desperation and exhaustion, I agreed. “You’re right, this isn’t our home. We need to go.” We bundled up on that blustery winter night and got into the car. We drove around Colrain for a few minutes and returned home. As we were pulling into our driveway, I commented, “It will be so nice to get into our own bed again.” She smiled in agreement. We are only limited by our imagination.
I had to repeat that drama several more times. As I saw her getting agitated, looking around, I would say, “This isn’t our home. We need to leave,” and we would. Again and again we would return home, and all would be well, until the next time.
My greatest fear was the day I would see her and she wouldn’t know who I was. Intellectually I understood that the memory of an AD patient slowly rewinds, almost like peeling an onion. Emotionally, I knew that I would be devastated. Fortunately, that day never came.
The percentage of AD caregivers suffering from depression is very high. It is essential, if only for your own survival, to understand that you cannot do this alone. You MUST get help. There are support groups, family and friends, skilled- and faith-based counseling. I tried going to caregiver support groups, which are very effective for many people; however, I heard all these gut wrenching stories and I realized that I didn’t want to hear the end of the story. For me, one-on-one counseling was most effective, and it kept me sane.
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