Alzheimer’s and a Guide to the Husband

This last entry is meant to be a guide for you, the men taking care of the women you love. I offer these five suggestions with the knowledge we are different in many ways. You know what those differences are. I have mentioned them often at various points in the blog. So please do not think of these “tips” as do’s or don’ts. They are meant only for your reflection.

NETWORK. It is all about the team. Everything from a small group of family members to a community of supporters. Get over the idea you are somehow invincible. Trust me, you are not! Recruit, enlist, and search for people beyond the home you share with your wife. Children, grandchildren, old friends, neighbors, fellow church or club members, or any responsible person who steps forward and offers assistance.

Many of them will instinctively know what to do. Others will ask you what they can do to help, so make a list of things you are having trouble with. Cooking, cleaning, fixing your wife’s hair, bathing her, and helping with other day-to-day tasks. Running errands such as grocery shopping and picking up medications. Giving you a break so you can have coffee with your friends or go bowling.

And remember that the team you create will include as many or more women than men, so be sure they know they are appreciated. Nothing big, just expressions of gratitude that quietly come from your heart. That is all they need or want.

MONEY. Get over the embarrassment of not having enough money. Alzheimer’s is very expensive. It can, like other afflictions that show up out of the blue, quickly wipe out what seems to be a nice retirement nest egg.

Do not suffer quietly because you feel like a failure. You are not! And be careful about scammers who will loan you money, then make your financial situation infinitely worse.

Respondents to this blog have included men not yet retired and therefore qualified for Social Security and Medicare. They care for a wife with early onset dementia. But even couples who qualify for those governmental support systems are obligated to pay for either in-home or residential assistance out-of-pocket. Both kinds of services can be oppressively expensive.

Find a reputable financial advisor through community service organizations, churches, knowledgeable financial institutions, and charitable groups. Include your children and other members of the family in these discussions.

You may be told to use equity available in your home, carefully draw down life insurance policies, and explore methods for accessing investments set aside for retirement. If you had the foresight to purchase long term care insurance, that can be a big plus. If all those options are insufficient, Medicaid is available as a last resort.

Finally, regardless of your political leanings about the role of government, it only makes sense to stay alert to how the nation and state to which you give allegiance, is giving back allegiance to you. This is especially true of veterans and others, such as first responders who have served while in harm’s way.

FITNESS. Some men literally kill themselves caring for their wives. A few will die before their wives do. Often a man’s decline is because he has underlying conditions or debilitating illnesses of his own.

Sometimes an otherwise healthy guy is stubborn enough to ignore his stress. Or he turns to alcohol or some other addictive substance to get him through each day. Eating habits go haywire, and the lounge chair in front of the TV looks good after the wife is finally asleep. But lounge chair sleep is not relaxing.

It is a stupor acquired from psychic and physical exhaustion. Day after day.

It is easy to think that remaining personally fit is not high on the list of remedies for grief and depression. That is a big mistake. But involvement with fitness is sometimes difficult. Walking around the block may be out of the question, because leaving the wife alone is risky. Exercise machines can help if there is household space. And discipline enough to use them. Personal trainers are available to guide an exercise regimen virtually, but they are expensive.

My answer has been using stretch exercises and being careful about my diet. The rationale involves not only my health, but adequacy in taking care of my wife’s needs. This writing I do keeps my mind active, but those with other important skills should become, or remain involved with them. Some might refer to them as distractions, but they let the brain go somewhere else for a task-oriented respite.

My most recent “distraction” is the decision to give up maintenance-free living and buy a home with my sons. In a location that supports family gatherings. And do a little work in the house and yard, enough to keep me focused on the more mundane aspects of living. To the young and healthy, “mundane” is boring.

But for us it can be a lifesaver!

LOVE. Throughout the blog I have made frequent references to love. It has been referred to as a nebulous and indefinable thing, like the air we breathe. Like air, love is essential to human life.

But it can be complex and hard to manage. Some manipulate in the name of love. Others demonstrate so much emotion that expressions of love become debilitating. And timid acquiescence only elicits disdain. Those behaviors are not my definition of love.

If nurtured over time, real love has a regenerative quality. A quality that makes it possible to perpetuate the romantic love we once had for our young, beautiful, and quick-witted brides.

Into the years she slowly becomes physically and mentally different. Into the last few years in which she is fading away with Alzheimer’s.

Regenerative love has many parts but is fundamentally based on a sensitive awareness of life’s vicissitudes. What transforms us physically and mentally is not reflective of our inner core. The interior spirit or lifeforce that makes us who we really are.

My wife remains, even in the grip of Alzheimer’s, the same caring and purposeful person she has always been. Her essence is regenerated even now, and so must my love for her.

BELONG. This is about belonging to something bigger than you are.

At one time “belonging” was easier than it is now. When growing up I remember most adults belonging to churches, clubs, service organizations, and social groups. They were more than just enjoyable diversions. Those activities gave people an opportunity to expand their social horizons and absorb benefits that come from a sense of place. They also benefitted the community in general.

Social and entertainment media have in many ways replaced those outlets. Especially during a pandemic. My involvement with AARP and church is as much a way to serve my own emotional needs as it is a way to serve others. They are mutually dependent.

Because to let myself become isolated is one step closer to my own decline. And that is unacceptable to me. And as the caregiver for a wife with Alzheimer’s who needs my support.   

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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