Ralph ran off a contractor I was in the process of hiring this afternoon. It was almost funny, or will seem so in a week or two once I calm down.

Picture the scene: The sun beating down in 90 degree heat outside the house; my pen poised to sign the paperwork for repairs, Ralph appearing, fresh from his nap and barefoot; the contractor clutching his clipboard. Ralph asks Why can we just clean the system? The contractor explains. Ralph asks the same question again. And again. Why can’t we just clean the system? Each time a bit more belligerently.

The contractor tries to explain what he has already explained—that the system is past cleaning—and then tries again. He draws Ralph a diagram to show what he means. I can tell that the contractor doesn’t understand why Ralph is sticking so doggedly to an idea he has just explained won’t work and I can see and hear Ralph’s growing frustration. Both men become increasingly defensive. Meanwhile I stand there feeling helpless to diffuse the situation.

The irony is that the contractor was recommending exactly what Ralph had told me he thought needed to be done just yesterday.

Ultimately the contractor said he didn’t think he could do the job and Ralph said something less than gracious back (I have blocked what). As Ralph headed back into the house, I apologized under my breath to the contractor, explaining briefly that Ralph has Early Alzheimer’s.

Was that a betrayal to ease my embarrassment or an explanation that needed to be given? Should I even use the A word since Ralph actually officially still as MCI but no one knows what that is? I’m not sure.

The thing is that in his glory days, Ralph was not an easy man to work for—a demanding perfectionist who was also careful about every penny—and I sometimes had to run interference, a role I hated then. Evidently I still do, but Ralph was coming from a different place this afternoon. Locked into a narrow loop of one question he wanted answered over and over, Ralph was not processing the information he was receiving.

Although he is rarely aggressive in dealing with me or anyone else now, different versions of this problem have come up several times recently, usually related to business matters. I generally try to avoid involving him, but sometimes that isn’t possible. Sometimes the people Ralph is dealing with know he has a cognitive problem and give him leeway; sometimes they don’t and become puzzled if not belligerent.

A few minutes ago I received a call from the contractor’s wife apologizing profusely, saying that the contractor had no idea and would be glad to help us in any way. Meanwhile, I have already called someone else to by tomorrow. My guess is that a lot of conversation with Ralph for the next week or so will focus on this afternoon. What did the guy say? What did you say to him? Have you found someone to fix the filter? Who was the guy who came to fix the filter? Is the filter fixed? I will listen and nod, straining to be patient and silently kicking myself for not handling things better in the first place.


  1. We all know how we SHOULD have handled things after the event! I quite like the idea of an Ooops card. I could have used it with dad – especially whe he reached the stage of not caring about social niceties. When he would comment publicly and loudly on a woman who was overweight, I could slip the poor woman an oops card and hope it would calm her down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My Mom had AD. She was visiting my sister one Sunday and they went to church. As they waited for the service to begin, the pastor wandered through the church saying hello to the parishioners. The pastor was well within hearing distance of my mother when Mom turned to my sister and said in her stage whisper, “Look, Laura. That pastor is so fat!” Awkward moment!


  2. Oh, how my life flashes before my eyes when I read your blog. Carole’s suggestion is a very good one. I used to carry a business card that I wrote on the back: “Boris has Alzheimer’s.” I surreptitiously handed these cards out many times, even at the Casino when he tried to play blackjack one night. Each time someone read it, they nodded knowingly and I relaxed. It was extremely hard for me to “admit” at first that he had it because in my heart (and head) I didn’t want anyone to think that my strong, smart husband now had this awful disease, that it would diminish him in their eyes. But the day that I started to say it, and to handle it in a straight forward manner I was tremendously relieved. It freed me in some way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Alice, I feel like you are telling my story. More and more I find that social interactions with others are tricky. People who are not aware of the cognitive issues can understand a memory slip or problem with word finding and kindly attribute it to some type of dementia. But when the behavioral issues come into play, reactions are much different. The risk for volatility increases and sometimes it feels impossible to keep things from going off track.

    My husband does not acknowledge any deficits at all. In fact he becomes indignant with any suggestion that there are memory problems and behavioral issues. I currently am struggling with how to manage this in our lives together, as well as our social lives with others.

    One thing that I am considering is an “oops card” that you can surreptitiously hand to someone that helps to explain the situation. One that I found that I like says “The person I am with has dementia. Sometimes he is confused or easily upset. Your patience and kindness is appreciated.”

    This is a powerful post. It speaks to the ongoing struggles that we have as caregivers as we try to manage day to day happenings and attempt to keep everything on an even keel. Thanks for another great post Alice.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. Yes the even keel is hard to maintain sometimes. The “oops card” sound interesting but I don’t think I am dexterous enough to pull it off without Ralph noticing….


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