Caring for a loved one with even mild dementia can be challenging. Advice and support from a professional source can help ease the burden. The following story is a typical day in the life of couples when someone in the partnership is experiencing memory loss and confusion. It offers some tips about how to handle difficult situations.
Myron starts his day around 7am. He gets up and goes through his morning routine, which includes washing up, getting dressed, and starting the coffee. At around 8am, he goes in to wake up his wife, Talia. She would sleep longer if Myron did not wake her up.
Talia has moderate dementia, and Myron has become her caregiver as her needs have increased due to her memory loss and occasional confusion. She gets up to start her morning routine. Sometimes, Myron finds her sitting on the bed, and he gently cues her so she knows what she needs to do next.
“Talia, let’s get dressed. Do you want to wear a skirt or slacks today?” Myron has learned that it is helpful if Talia is given a couple of choices to help her make a decision. He has also learned that it can feel overwhelming to her if she is given too much information at once, so he tries to keep it simple and straight forward. He is trying to keep her as calm and happy as he can.
They eat breakfast and talk about what their morning looks like. It’s a nice, late spring day and Myron knows that a walk outside would be good for both of them. They clean up the breakfast dishes together and get ready for a walk. Talia puts on her winter boots and winter coat and states that she is ready to go. Myron looks at her and knows that she is overdressed for the weather outside, but is torn about saying something to her at the risk of upsetting her or making her defensive. He decides to risk it and says, “Talia honey, I’m going to wear my light jacket today. Do you think you might be too warm with that coat and boots?” Talia looks at his jacket and reconsiders her own. She doesn’t see what the problem is but decides to change her coat to a lighter one anyway. She insists on keeping her boots on though, and Myron doesn’t argue.
After their walk, they return home to find a couple of phone messages. One is from Myron’s doctor’s office to make a follow-up appointment, and the other is from their daughter to say hello. Myron calls the doctor’s office and finds out there is a cancellation tomorrow. He would really like to take it but that is the day they have a social worker from their Aging Services Access Point (ASAP) coming to interview them for in-home services. They really need some help around the house and someone to stay with Talia when Myron has appointments, so this meeting is very important. He decides to take a different appointment with his doctor and keep the ASAP meeting. Then, Myron calls their daughter back and has a brief discussion. He puts Talia on the phone with her and goes off to update his appointment book and do a little reading.
The morning passes by with Talia watching game shows and Myron reading in another room. He wishes she would pick up a book like she used to do but she doesn’t seem to have much interest lately. He has noticed that she doesn’t have interest in a lot of things she used to do, and he needs to make suggestions for her to engage in any activity. His arthritis and spinal stenosis have been causing him a lot more pain lately, which makes it difficult for him to do all of the household chores by himself. He is looking forward to this meeting tomorrow to start getting the help they need.
Myron and Talia prepare lunch together, and Myron decides to tell Talia about the appointment the next day to get household help. He has already brought it up several times but he thinks that she will need the reminder. This time, Talia gets very upset. She doesn’t think they need the help because she says she does all the housework. Myron doesn’t say anything but he knows Talia no longer does housework. She then accuses Myron of saying that she is a terrible homemaker. Myron feels terrible about causing Talia to be so upset. He didn’t mean to make her feel bad—he only wanted to prepare her for the meeting the next day. Talia leaves the kitchen angry, and Myron feels like he should have done things differently, but he doesn’t know what would have been better. The last time he brought it up, she was fine.
A little while later, Myron brings Talia the sandwich she didn’t eat. Talia looks up at Myron with the biggest smile and truly appreciates his gesture. Myron gets the impression that Talia does not remember her anger or what she was angry about. He decides to try a different approach so that tomorrow might go better. He is afraid that Talia will get angry at the social worker, and he doesn’t want a repeat of her outburst like today’s.
He says, “You know, I was just on the phone with our doctor, and she said she didn’t want either one of us using the vacuum anymore because of our arthritis. She thinks that if we can get a little help with the cleaning, then we’ll have more energy for other things we want to do. She set up a meeting for tomorrow to meet someone about it. She thinks we’re going to like this person. I think it sounds pretty good. Don’t you?” Talia sees how Myron is talking and he seems relaxed and convincing. She is feeling a little tired right now anyway, so maybe it is a good idea for someone else to vacuum. She likes her doctor. She eats half of her sandwich and looks forward to an after-lunch nap. Myron is relieved she responded better and is also looking forward to a rest after lunch.
If you need help managing the care of a family member or loved one with dementia, the Center for Memory Health can help. Our services include consultation and diagnosis, care management, and family care. Learn more or call 617-363-8600.