Kimi A. - New Beginnings Dealing with Alzheimer's

Six years ago my husband and I were enjoying an exciting life filled with family gatherings, vacations and successful careers. My husband, a clinical psychologist and author, firmly believes that happiness is your choice, and together our lives were very happy indeed. However, life is unpredictable, and over a period of months we learned that our dreams and expectations of our future were about to change dramatically.

Gary started showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease when he was 65 years old. At first I dismissed his strange behavior as a response to pressure at work or preoccupation with the remodel of our backyard. I decided to take him away from all of the stress and head to Hawaii. That is when there was no denying that there was a problem.  

The first morning we went to the beach when Gary realized that he had left something back in the hotel room. He went to retrieve the forgotten item and did not return. I became very worried and looked for him all over the hotel. After an hour the hotel staff and I found Gary sitting in a hallway with his head down. He said that he could not find our room because all of the doors look alike. He didn’t know where he was or how he got there.

Upon returning home I began to research Gary’s symptoms of confusion and short term memory loss. Together we decided to consult Dr. Jeffery Cummings, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada. After extensive testing Dr. Cummings diagnosed Gary with Alzheimer’s. Our life as we knew it was about to change.  

After a week of mourning the diagnosis I decided that I would learn everything there is to know about Alzheimer’s disease. Knowledge is power, and I did not want to feel like a victim or that our life together was over. I decided that it was a new beginning to a new and ever changing chapter in our marriage. Our life has become living in the Now. I have learned that yesterdays are kept in the past and to enjoy each day as it unfolds. I live by new rules:

Never say, “Don’t you remember?” They don’t remember.Never say, “You already asked me that question.” Simply answer the question again in a kind voice as if it were the first time they asked it. They don’t remember asking.Never argue or tell them they are wrong. It’s easier to agree. They truly believe they are right.  Leave your ego behind.Never try to reason with them. They cannot comprehend.Never talk down or be condescending. Always make your partner feel special. Imagine yourself in their place.Never take over a conversation. Make them feel special and include them in conversation. They still have a lot to say. Learn to listen.

Changes in your partner’s behavior and personality are a given. Alzheimer’s patients lose their inhibitions and often become childlike.  Although their actions may not always be socially appropriate, it is important to make them feel loved and accepted at all times. If you correct or shame them they will gradually become disengaged and emotionally withdrawn. Try to keep them active and involved physically and socially. Enjoy life!  Acting silly and childlike can be fun!

My husband loves to dance. If he hears a song he likes he will grab me and start to dance. I used to be a bit shy, but now I dance and laugh and have a good time. People around us smile, and at times they even join in! This makes him so happy. I never judge, and I have learned to embrace his spontaneity.

Gary’s playful nature has become more exaggerated. He enjoys hiding from me, and then surprising me by reappearing.  One day in a department store I turned around and he was gone.  I began searching and calling out his name. After 15 minutes I announced that I was leaving the store if he didn’t come out. Suddenly he appeared from behind a rack of clothes. I had to laugh, but I did tell him that I was prepared to leave.

Not everything Gary does is funny, but I take each day in stride. I have learned to avoid conflict and situations that provoke him. Those things turn him into a different person. When his angry behavior comes out I just leave the room so he can have time to calm down. When I return it is with a positive and happy attitude. I never bring up what has just happened. It is in the past, and that’s where I leave it.

Alzheimer’s patients lack insight into their behavior and do not recognize the changes in their personality. They become very focused on their own needs, and their spouse or caregiver becomes the center of their world and greatest security. It is very important for caregivers and spouses to seek support for the challenges of their new role. Fortunately, there are many resources and support groups available to assist and encourage everyone impacted by this disease.

I have learned not to be a victim in this journey. Being positive and happy makes all the difference not only in your partner’s world, but in yours as well. This is a long goodbye…. Try to make your goodbye the most positive and rewarding experience possible. My husband has been my best friend and forever love. Alzheimer’s will never take that away. Gary’s message to his many patients is still true for us: happiness IS your choice. Together we have chosen to find happiness in the loving moments we share every day. My love and laughter with Gary will endure until the end.     

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