Mar 10, 2013

An Alzheimer's Caregiver Promise, In Sickness and in Health

"You have the option of ending the relationship. You know that, right?"

By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

An Alzheimer's Caregiver Promise,  In Sickness and in Health
Ed, my beloved Romanian soul mate of thirty years, was continuing to decline slowly and was becoming ever more difficult to get along with. I was at the end of my rope. I really was.

Desperate, in a last effort to save my sanity and the relationship, I invited my friend and colleague, Irene Moore, to lunch to discuss 'a problem with Ed.'

Irene was a geriatric social worker whose mother had died of Alzheimer's, and so was uniquely qualified to give me both professional and personal advice.

A few minutes into lunch Irene addressed the issue at hand: "So, how is Ed?"

"Actually," I began as if flood gates had opened, "he's become impossible to be around. He's often incredibly irritable, angry, mean and even sometimes emotionally abusive."

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I gave her the full details of a recent bad day, when he'd made ugly scenes at both the cardiologist and the grocery store.

"That doesn't sound good, Irene said somberly.

"He's drinking a lot now, too. I suspect his drinking is contributing to his depression and belligerence. But I can't convince him to drink less.”
“I love Ed, but I just don't know how much longer I can tolerate him. Yet I can't possibly end our relationship because I love him and also because he couldn't get by without me."

"Hmm . . . Well, Dr. Marley," Irene said, looking at me with empathy. "You do have a problem indeed. I think he may be developing dementia."

"Dementia?" I repeated, immediately dismissing the notion. "Well, I don't care what he's developing."

I leaned forward, put my elbows on the table, and rested my head in my hands. I didn't want to hear about or even think about dementia.

"You have the option of ending the relationship. You know that, right?"

That made me snap to attention.

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"Irene, I can't do that," I said, as though it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. "I love him. Besides, I told you, he couldn't survive without me. How could I ever abandon him?"

"I know women who were married for as long as fifty years who, in similar situations, divorced their husbands."

"How could I possibly do that? It would be morally reprehensible. He couldn't make it through a single day alone."

For an instant I fantasized about how wonderful it would be not to have to endure his angry outbursts.

But then I imagined Ed sitting in his recliner, unaware of my quandary and the repercussions it could have for him, watching Reagan's funeral, as if it were the only thing that mattered in the world.

Reagan was one of Ed's heroes, and the fact that he'd died of Alzheimer's was affecting Ed profoundly. I wondered if he worried the same fate might be awaiting him.

Then I immediately dismissed the thought of leaving him. I would never leave him. Never.

"Well," Irene said, "in that case, perhaps we need to talk about how to manage the situation. There are three things I can advise you," she said.

"First, don't bring up topics you think may upset him. Second, if he starts to get agitated, change the subject. And third, agree with everything he says, no matter how absurd."

"I can't promise following these rules will stop all the fights," she said. "But it'll help. Why don't you try it for a while and see what happens?"

And that's how it came to be that as Ed's dementia progressed I agreed with him about more and more.

Important things, unimportant things; political issues and mundane day-to-day issues; silly things and serious things.

Although this whole plan seemed ludicrous at first, I found that it did stop most of our nasty fights. Irene's advice worked.

Staying with Ed, caring for him and loving him became much easier and often even joyful.

A slightly different version of this article was published on the Huffington Post.

Come Back Early Today: 
Marie Marley, PhD, is the award award winning author of, Come Back Early Today: A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. You can visit Marie’s website at ComeBackEarlyToday.

Original conten the Alzheimer's Reading Room