My husband was diagnosed with dementia five years ago. He still knows the family, he remembers friends’ faces but not their names necessarily, he no longer knows what the garbage disposal is for, and although fiercely independent when we met forty years ago, he couldn’t live on his own now. As long as I can carry on caregiving, he won’t end up in a nursing home, in spite of his occasional jokes that he’s picked one he likes.
I’ve done a lot of research on-line to find helpful tips. Here are some:
1. Be complimentary. Especially in the early stages individuals may realize something is wrong. Compliments make them feel better. Peter can be helpful around the house, and one thing he’ll do willingly is run the vacuum cleaner for me. It’s hard for me to do the stairs, but he does that well. Just a few days ago I told him what a good job he’d done.
“What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing! You did a very good job,” I said.
“Oh, I thought you were going to make me do it over.”
“No-o, you did an excellent job. I’ve been letting my jobs slide,” I said.
2. Focus on abilities the person still has, rather than the ones he’s lost. This one has been so difficult for me. He used to do so many little tasks, fix big things, work on the cars, sort out my computer, unravel problems, logically think things through. I was lost without that support. Slowly I’ve built my own ways to cope, and have found people to help out.
3. Help the memory-challenged person communicate. He may have trouble finding the right words. Fill in the blanks. For the longest time, if Peter was stuck trying to say something I tried to will him to think of the word. I figured it would help him. But filling in the blanks is the way to go. If he’s lost the word, it’s gone, erased from his lexicon. But he, like most people with these kinds of memory issues, comes up with other words that work. I recently found a scrap of paper with his writing on it: Face shaver, it said. I figured he needed a new razor so I bought one my next trip out. If he wondered how I knew, he didn’t ask.
4. Establish a daily routine but be flexible, allow plenty of time to get ready, have something to do if you have extra time, never argue, enter their reality. This has been darn near impossible for me. Peter has always been late getting ready for anything, and I’m always ready way ahead of time. His reality has always been, I’ll get ready when I’m bloody well ready to get ready. Over the years, I’ve yelled, stomped, raged, even left without him. But now that he truly can’t manage — he often forgets why he went upstairs and ends up working on his model ship instead of getting showered and dressed — I’m trying extra hard to be patient. I grit my teeth ’til they hurt and seethe until my ears are inflamed.
5. Nip agitated behavior in the bud. Divert and redirect. His agitated behavior used to cause me to storm like a child, but now I make him a cup of tea — divert and redirect. Works nearly every the time. The English and their cuppas!
6. Use “therapeutic fiblets” as needed. I am not a fibber, and lying to my husband really upsets me. I always expect a big ugly wart to appear on the end of my nose. Still, sometimes, the only way around a problem is to pad it with fiblets.
7. Ask the person to smile. Smiles are contagious. Give a smile, get one. Simple.
8. Ditto laughs. Remember, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.”
Header photo: Peter, on the beach, Tybee Island, Georgia.