Alzheimer’s By Phone and Life List




Me: Hey, just checking in

Ralph: Hey, how is everyone.

Me: Fine. We’re all fine. R is working. J is away, remember. That’s why I’m here.

Ralph: Oh that’s right. I forgot.

Me: So what are you doing?

Ralph: Not much

Me: Did you take your pills?

Ralph: Yep I checked them off the life list. Today is Thursday right.

Me: It’s Friday.

Ralph: Oh Right. Well I’ll take them right now.

Pause while he goes to pillbox.

Ralph: I took them and checked them off.

Me: Great. Did you eat dinner (or lunch or breakfast)?

Ralph: Yep

Me: What did you eat.

Ralph: Whatever was on my Life List. How is everyone?

Me: Fine. BabyRalph is asleep

Ralph: How old is BabyRalph now?

Me: One. Remember we came to the birthday last week.

Ralph: Right, right. I forgot. How is everyone?


This is more or less the conversation I have three times a day when I am away from home and I have been away a lot lately, on the road between Ralph and BabyRalph, mixing up husband and grandbaby care. I also have a me-time weekend with college friends and a two-day family reunion coming up in the next six weeks. So that’s a lot of travelling and a lot of leaving Ralph at home.


I have mixed feelings of course. Travelling to be a NanaNanny is tiring but wonderful. At the reunion I get to take my son as my plus one since Ralph doesn’t travel. My friends and I have already planned every minute of our us-time weekend with restaurants and shopping and even some culture thrown in. l want to go on these trips and I feel guilty about going—but mostly guilty for not feeling more guilty.


Because the truth is that Ralph seems to thrive when I’m gone. He loves what he calls his Life List of activities and events to check off once accomplished. He takes his pills, he eats his meals that I have left, he sees the people who’ve arranged to visit. And he can see he has done so. The Life List works much better when I am not home. Ralph loves to check off his accomplishments. He has a sense of being in control of his life. But when I’m home that same checking off has the oppressive and demeaning effect of too much overseeing. He prefers the more passive activity of glancing twenty times a day at the calendar when I am home.


Of course, when I say thriving, “seems” is the operative word. Because when I’m gone, my impression of Ralph is based on phone calls. In the numerous phone calls each day he “seems” really pretty happy. And pretty cognitively together. He makes funny jokes and is more engaged in conversation than he ever is when we are sitting in the same room. If I ask a question he has a ready answer. He asks me questions about what I am doing that he never asks when we are together. We actually have fun, especially when I put him on speakerphone with BabyRalph (no face time with Ralph’s flip phone) and he can hear baby babbling and I explain what BabyRalph is doing. He is engaged.


Or maybe I am kidding myself to feel better about travelling. After all, I know that when he talks to other people, they find him equally engaging although as soon as he hangs up, he has no memory of what they talked about or often even than they talked. Yet, in the moment he seems engaged. Or maybe he is engaged.


In any case, I do know Ralph doesn’t mind getting to sit on the porch with the dogs listening to the news and smoking—or sitting with them in the car as he’s been doing during cold weather—without my nagging him to come inside. I suspect he prefers the simple premade dinners to my salad and chicken dinners and that he sneaks in extra nutty buddies for dessert.


And when I get home tomorrow he’ll say he’s glad to have me back before returning to his nap or the porch as if I’d never been away.


6 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s By Phone and Life List

  1. My husband sounds a lot like Ralph. His short term memory has been bad for awhile but in the past two months it has disappeared. He still takes perfect care of himself because that is a learned memory whereas taking his meds is touch and go. I remind him everyday. If I tell him we are going to the store he totally forgets within a minute. How do you keep irritation out of your voice? I am struggling with that. I know that it is not his fault but I still kept frustrated. I recently retired so we have a lot of togetherness time that I am not used to which is not helping.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karen – Learning to keep irritation out of my voice – that’s a long hard lesson! The main incentive to learn it is that tone of voice has a much bigger influence on what my spouse experiences now than exactly what I say. The words – she forgets those – but my mood she remembers on some level.
      So, the calmer and more relaxed I am with repetition and confusion, the calmer and more relaxed she is….
      Keep at it, it gets easier some of the time!
      Thanks, Alice, for this detailed post – I can so relate to it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “some of the time”–exactly. We all struggle with irritation. And sometimes we succumb. There is no pretending otherwise, but Jaberwalky, you are right that calm and relaxed are the goals….


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