As Leeza Gibbons wrote in her book, Take Your Oxygen First, "If you're caring for someone with Alzheimer's and you've never lost your temper with the person - just wait. You will." To that I add: If you don't, then either you're a saint or you're incredibly out of touch with your feelings.
I was a caregiver for seven long years for Dr. Edward Theodoru, my beloved Romanian soul mate of 30 years. In the early and mid-stages of his dementia I did many things I was later not proud of. At all.
Ed had a short temper and as his Alzheimer's progressed he began losing his temper more often. He got angry and yelled at me frequently. At that time I wasn't aware that yelling back was not a good solution. I later learned that quickly changing the subject would lead to a better outcome.
Another behavior I was later sorry for was that I corrected him when he said things that were either not true or else total nonsense. One example was when he told me he had talked to his father the preceding evening. Since Ed was 93 at the time, this obviously was not true. Instead of just agreeing and changing the subject, I felt compelled to correct him.
I said, "No, Ed that's not possible. Your father is dead." He got very upset. I was sorry to see him suffer and after several seconds I realized that wasn't the best way to handle the situation. I said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I was mixed up. I'm sure you talked to him." He relaxed and his hurt expression faded away.
A final example of what I later realized was total thoughtlessness was that I frequently asked him if he remembered some event or person. When I arrived to visit, the first thing I usually asked was, "Do you remember what you had for lunch today?" Most of the time he responded by saying he hadn't had lunch that day. Since I knew he'd had lunch, I tried to prompt him to remember. Eventually I stopped doing this, too.
I was proud of myself when I finally learned to stop these ridiculous behaviors and interact with him on his level -- not mine. It made me feel closer to him and it clearly made him more relaxed and contented. Although it was difficult for me to master the new approaches, when I finally did our relationship blossomed again and life with him was much more peaceful and emotionally rewarding.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.
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