by francy Dickinson
Dear Francy; I am a lady that was widowed six years ago. I then was lucky enough to find a wonderful man and have now been remarried for four years. His first wife is still alive, they divorced. When we married, he had a pre-nup so he could shelter his children’s inheritance and I still have my home that I rent out. Now, he has Alzheimer’s and I am the one to care for him. His family does nothing and I do all his care giving. His Alzheimer’s is fast-moving and he has really pulled back into his past. He talks about his first family as if he is still with his first wife and children are at home. It has bothered me so much. I do adore him, I do know he loved me when we took our vows, but now I feel lonely and sad. How can I keep my mind on our relationship and not feel that I have been lost in his health battle?
Well welcome to the sad world of family/spouse caregiving. It is a hard road and you have so lovingly taken that road with him and I want to thank you for that. I personally fall into the second spouse and now caring for my husband,too. Unlike you I have been with him for 30 years and so we have a long-established relationship. But that does not change the feeling you get when your spouse is talking about his former family on a full-time basis as if his memory was yesterday and you never existed. It is a hard thing to listen to and very hurtful.
I know like myself, you understand that your husband is not thinking in a form of hurting you…nor is he thinking in a logical direction. His mind is moving into a web of thoughts that really have no direction, so what he believes or remembers and talks about is his own focus. How can both you and I stay on the path of care giving with love and spirit if we are constantly hurt by things that our spouses say to us?
I want you to know that I have thought about this very hard and I know that the George that is inside of my husband loved me from our first meeting, he spent years telling me how much he cared for me, supporting me in my endeavors, rejoicing in my up and helping me over my downs. He laid a foundation of love for me to stand on as I make my way – by his side- through Alzheimer’s. So I force myself to remember this basic fact…and as his health diminishes and he forgets our life together in bits and pieces and maybe even when he forgets my own name or face – I will have to be even stronger in my personal belief of love.
I know you have had less time to place down a foundation, but as you said, there was a foundation of love. You came into his life with joy and love and he rejoiced in his new life choice to be with you. You brought him a sense of security and unconditional love and that is a gift that is so special. Now, he slips..and your relationship is tested with health challenges that are so hard. It’s not something that gets better, its something that gets worse…and you are still there giving him love and support. What his family does for him is not your concern, life is like that, very few understand care giving till it’s right in their face. But you can do things to keep your own mind and heart strong.
IDEAS TO KEEP THE SPOUSE CARE GIVER STRONG DURING A JOURNEY WITH ALZHEIMER’S:
- Start your day with you…even if you are awakened, do not think of that as your start point. Attend to the situation and then regroup and start your day for you. Take a few minutes in or out of bed to breath deep and thank the universe for a day of peace and comfort. Go over a few things in your mind you have to do today for your spouse. Then make a plan of things for you to do for yourself today.
- Begin new morning rituals, give yourself time to take a shower and get dressed and always do something for your own self. A bit of lipstick, a shave with a razor instead of electric razor, a teeth whitener, a new hair do for both a man or woman.
- This idea of just coping each day is wrong. Wrong. You do not cope, you stay ahead of the curve with ideas, and creative problem solving. That is the way to make care giving fresh…solve problems. Dont take your spouses downfall that day to heart, think of how to change that downfall. Are they losing strength? Then a light walk in place with 2 cans of pumpkin(1# cans) one in each hand is how to give you and your spouse more muscle mass and usage. Are they stuck in 1964? Then turn on the TV to news and talk about the day’s news and today and what you have in mind for the day. You will bring them back into the present and give them something new to improve their pathways in their brain.
- Feel and act young. My husband is twenty years my senior and he is now fighting with his Alzheimer’s so I tend to fall into his life, his history, his mind set. But I am not him, I am me. I have my own memories and ideas and I live for today. That is how we age well….we live in the present. So, I am constantly bringing my Georgie into the now. We do a funny little thing and I say Milk was how much in 1975? and he will guess….milk is how much today? and he will guess…he is always amazed at the price changes. See I brought him out to me, there….that is what I do over and over again.
- I stay strong with my own aging. I have turned sixty. I am on a diet and losing weight, I have added a small exercise routine to recover from an auto accident and I force myself to spend money on my hair every other month. My hair is done with color and style…I don’t go out much…so I guess I am a great looking “at home” lady now. I am proud of how I look and I make sure George looks good too.
- I have cleared out my husbands closet to make his life today, not yesterday. He no longer wears his suits and ties each day, he has old jeans and old cords and they are out. I bought him newer clothes to give him an updated look of clean and tidy. If his underwear or shirts are looking old…out…and new ones come in the door. Man or woman, your senior in care needs to stay current and that keeps them “feeling” younger. Buy new clothes, get dressed with flair each day. No living in pajamas or house coats. Get your body in clothes that fit well and show off your body, or show you to get back in shape! I also do Georgie’s hair, I do it every six weeks and it is a light color to cover the gray. It makes his skin look healthy and he feels younger….”feels” that is a key here. How does someone feel about their own self? Make sure you and your spouse are keeping current and keeping their personal appearance up. If it takes a go out and get a hair cut and a pedicure it has to go in the budget and on the “out and about” list.
- Projects. When we work our day is filled with duties of our jobs, then we retire or become unwell and days just begin to melt into each other. OH NO – DO NOT LET YOURSELF THINK RETIRED. Think “what is on the schedule for today?” Have your spouse carry the laundry basket for you or fold for you, or push the vacuum around or dust, or refill the salt and pepper shakers or help you clean out the car, or give YOU a back rub, or neck rub. Ask them to bring you a glass of water, or tea or a banana. Keep your day filled with interaction. Do not take on all things…make your spouse function by keeping them busy with the abilities they have to use.
- Divide days up in the week and repeat the tasks each week. Monday, is office day for me so George sits up in my office and listens to a new audiobook on his MP3 player. Tuesday, is PT for me and so George gets me my morning tea and toast and I shower and get ready to go. Then he gets ready and before we go I make him do the ck of the front door. Wednesday, is our go to Grocery store day and he helps me with the list and the food and off we go. We take time to have a coffee at a coffee shop and I get him a pedicure for his toe nails or he walks around Radio Shack or Ace Hardware. It is our out and about day. If he is feeling good, we shop and then visit someone. Thursday, is our at home and rest day. He stays down and sleeps and I work around the house and in my office. Friday, is the finish all projects and keep the house clean day. George does the housework with me, he is in charge of vacuum and I do the rest. Saturday, is our wash clothes days and he carries the laundry and folds his own with my help. Sunday, is big breakfast and walk around the block day with a movie that evening and we start all over again. See? Each day has a plan that he is involved with and as he feels unwell we change it slightly but I try hard to stick with the plan…it makes each day special but feeling safe for the spouse in care.
- Former family day. I have a list of people on a piece of paper and he goes down the list each weekend so he can make calls without time limits on his cell phone. He calls his kids, his old friends, his old work mates and family. He calls 3 each weekend and then works down the list through the month. It gives him a sense of connection and his family a sense of his changing abilities. I do not make the calls, they are on his auto cell phone list and if he misses them, it is his decision. This has been a good program for him and I encourage it each weekend.
- Big chores, George is not thrilled to work outside or do the garbage, but they are still his chores. I ask him to help me with yard pick up and to empty the waste bins….he does it with a grudge, but he does it and I continue to include him. In between each of these chores is long times of rest for George and that is when I shine. I can get the dinner going, work in my office, make my own calls and stay connected with my own friends.
- I have friends that make me laugh. The ones that are down and droopy are gone. I only have time to spread my love and joy with a few friends on a quick touch base. So I have friends that listen to me and make me laugh about my life, then I listen to them and make them laugh about their life. I started a close relationship with a few new friends on Twitter. I adore them. Twitter is new to me, but I have friends that I touch base with in short amounts of time. Not half hour phone calls, but ten minute typing a few messages to a few folks and reading funny responses back. This connection is totally different from my past relationships. I have had friends that I traveled with, lunched with, shopped with and partied with…but those days are gone. I am here with George full time…so now I refresh myself with talking to a friend and feel the support. I have adapted my friendship to different terms and it has worked out brilliantly. See Creative Thinking….I just keep sharing it. It is the key to you feeling in powered and your spouse having a high quality of life.
- Who I am, is a direct reflection of how George is doing that day. If I am sick, he is down. If I am depressed or upset, he responds with anger or confusion. If I am desperate for quiet, he makes noise. But if I stay in charge of my own day and set about my own duties, he also follows my lead and gets involved. If I say, I am off to PT…he asks to go with me. If it is grocery day and I am up and asking him about food choices and where to have our coffee he is up and in the shower to leave with me. I am now the captain of our ship and instead of feeling overwhelmed…I make sure I steer our ship with my own daily plan of action – that way I stay feeling in control of my life…instead of being a care giver that is caught in a web of duties.
I know that you can put away your mind-set with the first family. It is simply a choice- you personally have to keep your mind in the present and know that his life is with you and you are in charge of the day. To refocus a dementia patient on to another thought pattern or action is the most important thing in your bag of care giving tricks. When he talks about the past, ask him questions…what color was that car? What time of year was it?…then take him into those places. Oh, it was Spring, hey what are we going to do for new bulbs this year, or should be think about Easter here for a dinner for the kids? You see you move the conversation around to your thinking and bring his mind with you. You can and You will do it.
I trust in your heart…blessings from a very dizzy blonde that is actually making a difference in her spouses life for the good…
Thank you, francy
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