Nov 6, 2010

Alzheimer's Disease Caregiver Finds Comfort in the Pursuit of Happiness

I was beginning to have a low opinion of myself for not 'treating her right,' whatever that meant. So I made this new plan....
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Editor Note:

I received the email published below from Larry Greene. My eyes almost popped out of my head as I read it for the fourth or fifth time.

I thought to myself, Larry went into his Bunkhouse. He thought, he felt, and he observed. When he came out, he crossed over into Alzheimer's World.

As editor, I added the bold type to the words that stood out to me in his email. I think if you pay special attention to those words as your read, you'll find a lot of yourself in those words.

Larry discovered some simple, but not necessarily apparent, solutions to the problems most Alzheimer's disease caregivers face each day.

I guess you could say Larry concluded that something had to change. He realized this something was "him".

Larry improved his own life and the life Barbara for whom he is caring.

This email is full of excellent insight and useful advice. I suggest you take the time to read it carefully -- several times.

By Larry Greene

Thank your for your down-to-earth, practical, heart-felt articles.

May I share with you a letter I recently sent to our Doctor.

Dr. G****, Thank you for the phone call regarding Barbara's condition. She is a very special woman.

I have not yet contacted Dr. E******'s office because of a personal 'mission' I've been on. I want to describe a process to you which may seem like an oversimplification, but one which is having a dramatic impact on our daily life.

After your call, I thought long about our life and how it increasingly seemed out of control. I had found interacting with Barb to be harder and harder, sometimes flying off the handle out of frustration. Tension has been mounting. Often my behavior has been to disregard her repetitive statements or to sit resigned through untrue narratives or to get irked at activities repeated multiple times.

I often avoided time with her.

Sometimes I stayed awake all night, reading books on Alzheimer's Disease or surfing the internet for information. Or just watching TV.

I was beginning to have a low opinion of myself for not 'treating her right,' whatever that meant. So I made this new plan.

As a software developer my strength was to identify a simple solution to a chaotic problem.

Certainly I would describe the interaction between Barbara and me as increasingly 'chaotic'. For me more than her.

I set myself a simple, achievable objective, which I label, "In Pursuit".

Whatever Barbara says to me, I search her sentences for a single word. I snatch this word and give it back to her in a sentence. When she says, "I like these shoes" for the umpteenth time, I might say something like, "Those shoes are some of the best you've had."

If she narrates the story of how her Mom and Dad planted the orange tree (not true), I might say, "That orange tree has always been my favorite".

If she says angrily, "I haven't heard from Bonnie in months," I might say, "We need to have Bonnie and Bill over for pizza."

Well, the results have been amazing. Instead of avoiding her, I am eager to see her.

When she talks, I lay down my book to listen. When she offers me that cup of coffee for the fifth time, I take a kiss instead, remarking that this is better than coffee.

I bask in her sweet smile. In place of chaos, there is a kind of order.

What Barbara says matters to me in a different way. Instead of rolling my eyes in frustration, I listen in pursuit of that one word. My mind churns, forming the response to her statement. And she is so much more relaxed.

Instead of my being exhausted at the end of the day, I'm just tired.

Instead of her bewilderment and fear running rampant, she laughs and enjoys herself.

I actually enjoy this process and I certainly like the results.

Oh, the symptoms are as marked as ever, but chaos seems greatly diminished. I know this phase may or may not last long in her disease, but the time frame is not important right now.

I am "in pursuit" of this changed, precious woman and feel I have caught up, if only for a while.

Printable copy

Larry Greene retired from Systems Programming in 2007 to capture every remaining moment with Barbara, his wife of 30 years. Larry's passion is to keep their life dynamic by embracing Barbara's new behaviors and adapting how they communicate. Instead of writing lines of code, he writes lines of grocery items. Instead of shopping for the latest software, he takes Barbara shopping for new shoes. Larry keeps the family posted with regular newsletters.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room