Tag Archives: difficult decisions MCI/Early Alzheimer’s

RALPH RUNS OFF THE CONTRACTOR

 

men

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.

Travel With Ralph (or Not)

map

For the last two weeks, Ralph and I have been discussing a trip scheduled for this Labor Day weekend to New Orleans to babysit our twelve-year-old granddaughter while my daughter and son-in-law take their “babymoon”.

I brought up the possibility to Ralph a month ago when they first asked me to help out. Since I was driving down there–Ralph has made it clear he never plans to step onto a plane again in his life–I suggested he might come along.

I suggested but assumed he would say no. Since the family moved to Louisiana a year ago, I have visited probably six times. Ralph has been once, for a family Thanksgiving, and he didn’t exactly enjoy himself. Staying in a hotel discombobulated him, and he missed his dogs.

But he must have been in a good mood when I asked, for to my surprise, he said sure he’d come. I started fantasizing (and I use that word purposely) about a pleasant weekend of good meals and maybe a visit to the WWII museum, which I told him he would love.

A week later I mentioned the trip in relation to something else going on and he didn’t remember our first discussion.

“Why are we going?” he asked.

I explained. He looked perplexed. “And I said I’d come?”

I nodded. He said, “Ok,” then promptly forgot all about the trip until the next time I brought it up. We’ve had the same conversation daily for weeks.

Each time Ralph sounded a little less enthusiastic. Meanwhile I was growing a little less enthusiastic too as the reality of what it might take to keep both him and my granddaughter happily occupied began to sink in. I’d been sort of bragging to friends that Ralph was actually coming with me this time, but I started hedging, saying that if he resisted I wasn’t going to force him.

The truth is that traveling with Ralph is no more fun for me these days than it is for him. He was never the most adventurous companion, but he was generally game. Now his anxiety and low energy makes every trip a complicated obstacle course of arrangements: limited activities, limited walking, no wandering, no spontaneous choices, a lot of naps. I hear how trivial these complaints are. All that’s required is patience and a willingness to slow down, but that’s the rub. A husband in his sixties with cognitive impairment is in many ways equivalent to a typical eighties something husband; I know I’m not being fair, but while I hang on to late middle age by my fingernails, I resent him dragging me into older age.

Yesterday we looked at the weather report for the weekend: thunderstorms. Now my granddaughter and I are perfectly able to occupy ourselves playing cards, watching movies and eating junk food. Ralph does none of the above. What he does when faced with free time, of which he has much, is smoke cigarettes outside on the porch. But my daughter’s apartment has no porch. He’d be sitting outside in the rain.

“You’re off the hook,” I told Ralph and breathed a guilty sigh of relief, thinking how much more fun I would have.

This morning I was starting to pack my single bag when the phone rang. My granddaughter has been invited by a friend’s family to spend Labor Day weekend at a beach resort. Evidently I’m “off the hook” too.

Taxes + Alzheimer’s =Anxiety x Ten

tax anxity

 

We were due a nice refund on our tax bill this year, but a few days ago a letter came from the IRS saying they would be “reviewing” our return before any payment would be sent or further action was taken.

I emailed my accountant, “Assume this is routine but thought you should know.” Less than a minute later she emailed me back, “This is not routine, but I’m not saying you have anything to worry about.”

Yikes. I have been through an audit and it was not fun.

The next day I received another letter, with a form to prove Ralph and I are really the ones who filed the return. So now I am trying to convince myself this review is part of the government’s crackdown on fraud returns and that the IRS doesn’t want to send our check to the wrong person.

But of course I am a nervous wreck.

I share this TMI (I know I know; talking about money is a turn off) because I cannot share it with Ralph.

And as I type the words “talking about money” I realize such talk is in fact one of the more intimate aspect of a marriage and that Ralph and I did a lot of such talk, weirdly enough, with gusto. Weirdly because money should have been a sticking point; he came from a working class family always on the brink of financial disaster while I was a pampered daughter of the bourgeoisie. He was a self-proclaimed capitalist, I was a righteous democratic socialist. But although as I’ve written here before, we argued about most things—childrearing, politics, how to spend our free time, where to live, what to eat, making friends, you name it and we argued—we seldom if ever argued over money. Money we discussed rationally.

We were in agreement that Ralph was the one with a talent for earning money, I was the one with patience for nuts and bolts bookkeeping. He went with his gut instinct. I played devil’s advocate. We could while away hours, days, TV seasons, analyzing a financial decision together. Even than nightmare audit was not a cause of tension; we were in it together, like partners in a school science project we discussed endlessly.

But I can’t talk about money issues with Ralph anymore. It’s not that he drives me crazy asking the same questions repeatedly (although he does) or that he might bring up a financial question at an inappropriate time (although the other night our dinner guest blanched when Ralph asked how much we had in the bank in front of her).

It’s that the anxiety of financial decision-making is more than Ralph can or wants to handle. He’s made it clear he doesn’t want to know too much but wants to feel secure. So I give him the basics and repeat them as often as necessary.

But knowing there is a difficult decision to make or a real problem (because I’ve foolishly spilled the beans) spikes his anxiety and the issue gets lodged like a loose widget in his cognitive gears. He can neither grasp it nor let it go.

There’s been no value in putting him through that pain. And selfishly, re-explaining a problem every time he returns to it has usually raised my own anxiety even higher than it is already. So I am keeping this new financial glitch to myself.

If this all sounds dark and self-pitying, there is an UPSIDE of sorts. As I teach myself how to think about money and compartmentalize that thinking, I see more clearly than ever that money, while necessary, is never the end in itself. As Ralph now jokes, as long as he has five bucks in his pocket and me on his arm, he’s happy.

Relieving Alzheimer’s Stress is Exhausting

IMG_0255Ralph knows how to relax; but do I?

I recently wrote about Ralph’s good mood and said that his level of relaxation versus anxiety was the key. I wasn’t lying. Because he’s been relaxed, he has been in a great mood during the visits of both our son and our grandson and despite all the entertaining and disruption to his normal life that occurred while they were here.

There was something I didn’t mention, however, because I wasn’t aware of it until now that everyone has gone:  Keeping Ralph’s anxiety at bay has been less than relaxing for me.

The good news—I somehow lost weight in the last two weeks although I stopped exercising and started eating everything I usually avoid. The bad news—I am exhausted.

Keeping Ralph on schedule and unstressed is one thing when just the two of us are going through our set daily routine. Throw in extra people, break the routine: suddenly life gets a lot more complicated.

Not that I didn’t enjoy myself. I did because having people around to talk to and laugh with and make election jokes (kind of like funeral or Alzheimer’s jokes) with was delightful.

And not that my son and 16-year-old grandson weren’t amazing…both of them perceptive, understanding and patient.

But I still found myself smoothing things over. Making sure they were not overwhelmed by Ralph, and Ralph was not overwhelmed by them.

When my grandson told me “Oppa” was in much better shape than he’d expected, I was glad and relieved. But also, secretly, a little tiny bit miffed that I was doing my job so well that no one even noticed. (And I am not fishing for compliments here, because most of you face a ton more than I do, but I’m guessing you caregivers know what I mean.)

Well, there will be another test this coming week. Ralph has been invited to go fishing with his “fishing club,” three guys from Nashville with whom he has fished in Florida for the last fifteen years. I was originally going to drive him down, drop him off  on Monday and  pick him up from the guys on their way home Friday.

But then I realized, who was I kidding. Ralph would be increasingly anxious without me for ballast and he would end up being more responsibility than any three late-middle-aged (to put it kindly) guys could handle. So I am going too. We’ll see how I like being one of the guys.

Another Perspective: The Caregiv-ee

 

shutterstock_252703540-2

 

I am sharing this comment in response to my post about not being a particularly nurturing personality for a caregiver because it touched me deeply.

“Anonymous” bridges the divide between caregivers and caregiv-ees (a wonderful term that solves some of the linguistic difficulties presented by dementia, Alzheimer’s, patient, sufferer, etc.) because he articulates feelings we (at least Ralph and I) often have trouble expressing in daily life.

And he has a wonderful spirit that deserves to be heard…

 

“Hey Alice. It’s been some months since I’ve posted a comment, but I read all of your posts, all of the comments. I’m like Ralph – diagnosed with MCI about 7 months ago. I’m not the caregiver, I’m the care give-ee, which is why I don’t post very often. But to you and to all of you caregivers (including my wonderful wife, who may or may not know that I post here), I say – you are doing a difficult job very well! Don’t analyze too much, don’t beat yourself up. I’m still early in progressing into AD, if I am progressing at all. I’m still hoping that I’m one of the lucky ones with a MCI diagnosis who will be re-tested and found to return to “normal” cognitive performance for my age. I feel like I don’t have a problem (Ralph’s denial?) but my wife occasionally lets slip that she sees stuff suggesting that I am progressing. Anyway, my wife is very patient, either overlooking my MCI or just my “normal” age related memory issues. I am grateful for that. I’m sure your significant others, wherever they are on the spectrum (at least up until full-blown AD), are also grateful that you are hanging in there. I don’t expect my wife to be perfect in dealing with me. I don’t expect that she won’t be short with me when she tells me for the 3rd time that we’re going somewhere next weekend. Maybe it’s naive, but I bet most of the spouses you are caring for (at least until they progress to AD) feel the same. So you are the heroes. So just do the best that you can, which is good enough, and pat yourself on the back and feel good about yourselves.”

Driving and Alzheimer’s

driving_268131086

 

Memo to myself when I look back in years hence:

So six months ago our PA Stephanie asked Ralph how much driving he did alone. And he told her: the convenience store five minutes down the road; the Spanish grocery ten minutes away where our handyman likes Ralph to drive him to cash his checks; and Ralph’s therapist in Atlanta.

Since his diagnosis that weekly trip to the therapist has been Ralph’s big expression of independence and competence. He has his route down pat. He stops at the post office and checks to check our box; he takes a load of garbage to the dumpster at our old office; he picks up lunch at Burger King; he visits his therapist; he drives home.

Stephanie took notes, then warned us both to keep an eye on Ralph’s driving. Not so much his skill set but his sense of direction. She explained that a new detour can really be confusing for a driver with cognitive impairment and that the anxiety can made the driver too confused to find his way back on track.

When she suggested I start driving him to Atlanta, at least occasionally to make sure it was safe, Ralph and I immediately took umbrage…Ralph because driving is part of his sense of his identity as a competent man, me because I didn’t look forward to giving up a whole day every week to drive him back and forth. But the next week I made some excuse to ride with him into town—he was not about to accept that I needed to drive him—to make sure I was not just being selfish. As I reported to Stephanie on our next visit, Ralph seemed fine. In fact, he seemed to be a better driver, more cautious and careful.

Jump ahead to this past weekend. We drove together to the small Florida fishing town where Ralph was meeting his long-time fishing buddy.

Although I wasn’t comfortable enough with him driving five and half hours that I didn’t come along, I was pretty comfortable with him as driver since Ralph knows the way like the back of his hand. So on the way down I was happily drinking my coffee and relaxing beside him as passenger. Then I looked down to read a text, and when I looked up I realized Ralph had missed the turn. A major turn from one big highway to the next. A well marked turn that is hard to miss. We went an exit or two and turned around. I was a little tense and probably showed it more than I should have. Ralph was more than a little tense, but as I told him repeatedly in the next few hours, these things happen.

We got to Florida. Ralph calmed down and actually enjoyed himself more than either of us expected, thanks to a fishing buddy who is amazingly understanding about Ralph’s conversational loops.

Today we drove home. Ralph insisted that he wanted to drive. I was in the passenger but on alert when my phone rang. I looked down to find it, and when I looked up Ralph had missed the turn we needed to take. The turn he has taken hundreds of times. I stayed calmer this time, brushed the mistake off, said we didn’t need to turn back, that this way might actually be a short cut. But he was truly rattled. For the rest of the trip we had to discuss road numbers and I had to reassure him we were on the correct road.

Twice in four days may be a sign. Next week, I am driving with Ralph to Atlanta.

Travels With Ralph

nola

 

This week was an adventure. Like all adventures, it offered highs and lows, memories I want to savor and some I’d rather forget.

Thanksgiving in New Orleans, with my daughter who lives here and with my son who met us there, was our first trip together, and Ralph’s first time away from the farm, in probably two years.

The last trip was to New York City for a wedding. He had no interest in making that experience into an actual vacation. He attended the official events, but otherwise I could not interest him in leaving the hotel even for a short walk around the neighborhood. All he wanted to do was nap. At the time I didn’t understand how much he needed those naps so I spent the two and half days in a general state of mild annoyance.

So, while I was thrilled at spending four days with my kids in a way we seldom do, and in a way we may not get to again, I approached this week with trepidation. As did Ralph. For the last month, each time he tried to remember the plan, I tried not worry if this much travel demanded more than he was capable of handling. Four days away from his familiar routine is a lot to ask.

On our trip to NY, the greatest stress for Ralph had been the actual travel—not only the time in the air but the airport with its crowds, its lines to maneuver and all the possibilities it offered Ralph to get confused or, worse, lost—our drive to Nola was actually pretty easy. For the six hours plus, I drove while he smoked and asked me questions over and over. We listened to the radio. It was actually kind of relaxing for both of us.

And he loved our small funky hotel in a converted mansion with its side garden where he could smoke….you might notice that smoking and Ralph’s ability to smoke has become a theme not only on this trip but in our life together.

These days I accept Ralph’s need for sleep and on this trip I made sure there was plenty of naptime. If anything, I let him sleep more than I do at home.

He needed to be as rested as possible because he was expected to take part in all activities with the kids. We ate great meals, we went for beignets, we walked along the river and down Magazine Street. We waited in line at Preservation Jazz Hall, where Ralph loved the music even though he had to stand the whole time. He loved laughing over jambalaya and drinks afterwards even more, loved walking through Jackson Square singing “The Battle of New Orleans” with my son-in-law as they vied to see who knew more of the words (a tie).

We spent Thanksgiving Day preparing a big meal at my daughter’s apartment listening to music, teasing, laughing, having the usual family spats and just hanging out together. Telling family stories Ralph was in his element, more the Ralph of years past than he has been in ages.

The description above is how I want to remember the week. But a shadow of tension followed me everywhere. “What’s the agenda?” he would ask and then ask again—questions I am used to answering over and over but my kids are not. At meals, I would suddenly realize that Ralph either wasn’t paying attention or had given up trying to follow the conversation the rest of us were having. Every time he needed to use the restroom in a restaurant I went on alert to make sure he could find his way there and back. He couldn’t follow the TV shows we sat around watching. Every few minutes he wondered aloud, “I wonder what the dogs are doing.” He went outside to smoke and went outside to smoke and went outside to smoke.

The good times, and they were good times, were a lot of emotional work for both us. I realized how much I have not only arranged my life around Ralph’s but how Ralph’s cognitive issues have played into my own tendencies toward over-planning and over-worrying, not only about him but about most areas of my life. What is most worrying is that I see how my own boundaries have narrowed, that I have to work doubly hard to keep myself engaged with the world beyond the parameters of Ralph’s MCI/Alzheimer’s.

Ten minutes ago Ralph climbed into the backseat of my car, headed back to the farm with my daughter and her husband who will fly off tomorrow on a vacation abroad (another anxiety producer given recent world events). I have stayed here in New Orleans to babysit my granddaughter for a week.

I know Ralph will be fine. He has been alone before, my son is going to stay on the farm with him a good part of the time, and various friends will be checking in regularly. His drugs are all marked, his calendar is filled in, there’s a week’s worth of meals ready, and I’m a phone call away.

But I am also a nervous wreck. Of course, maybe that has less to do with Ralph and more to do with taking charge of an 11-year-old girl who is a lot less easy to boss around than Ralph.