Tag Archives: MCI/Early Alzheimer’s decision making

Ms. Grinch, The Caregiver (i.e. Me)


This Christmas season I am definitely feeling like Ms. Grinch. Maybe it’s the increased sugar intake, maybe it’s the extra running around and social organizing, maybe it’s the gray weather, or maybe it’s not Christmas at all, just the wearing down of my patience over the last twelve months, but Ralph has been “getting on my last nerve.” And that nerve is shredding fast.

As I have said here so many times, this caregiving business has its ups and downs. Well I have definitely been in a definite crevice lately and having more trouble than usual crawling out. Or admitting I was stuck at all until this morning when I found myself texting my sister that I was feeling overwhelmed, the kind of admission I generally avoid. She responded sympathetically asking what was wrong; I wrote back “Nothing wrong exactly. Just day-to-day stuff. Everything slower and more complicated. Trying to adjust to reality of how Ralph’s limitations impact.”

As soon as I hit send I realized what I had typed was an acknowledgement of certain obvious but previously unstated realities:

1) I trip myself up with unreasonable expectations. Intellectually I know that Ralph is limited, but in the face of reality, I keep expecting him to step up to the plate. While occasionally, he does step up, like getting Zeus to the vet last week, usually he can’t. I know that’s not his fault, yet I still get annoyed.

2) Annoyance and its sister resentment are  only part of what I am feeling. Before that text Ralph and I had spent hours writing an email responding to someone asking Ralph for real estate advice. Actually I could have/would have given the same advice, but she trusts Ralph’s advice more because he’s always been the expert. And his instincts and perspective remain sharp. But he cannot hold onto a thought long enough to give advice. So I constructed the email letter by asking him the same questions over and over, fine tuning as I posed the same question in different ways. We actually worked well together because we both acknowledged without rancor Ralph’s memory issue. That our final product was a clear, concise and useful analysis should have left us both with feeling a great sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and even pleasure. Ralph was pleased, BUT I WAS EXHAUSTED. And recognizing that the effort exhausted him at least as much didn’t lesson mine—he napped much of the afternoon—as I rushed around carrying out the various commitments and responsibilities everyone juggles in a day.

Obviously lots of people have more responsibilities, especially professionally, than I do at the moment. But I am finding that the effort that goes into making up for his limitations so he can live as full a life as possible…well it’s frankly a drag. Literally, because

3) Ralph’s limitations have been dragging me down and wearing me out. I wake up most morning tired. Worse, I let myself fall into Ralph’s low octane rhythm. My energy has dropped with his but unlike him I have stuff to do, the vestiges of a business to run, his life to run, my life to run, along with various other obligations in our family and community.

4) And then there are my personal creative ambitions. I have to ask myself whether I can keep them alive much longer under the circumstances. And my honest answer is, I’m not sure.

As I wrote that sentence I took a huge breath because there, I’d faced the real crux. Can I put in the increasing time needed to be Ralph’s caregiver—his chauffeur and calendar keeper, his rememberer and mental translator—and expect to have the kind of energy I need to focus and create another world in fiction.

I’ve always said yes, of course. But now I’m wondering.

Having admitted my doubts, I hope I am back in the swing of positive energy very soon. I think I will be. We all feel overwhelmed at times, caregivers and caregivees. We all want to escape. We all have to find the way forward that works for us. And the path is not always the one we expected.

Just writing that last sentence, I feel better already.

Memory Loss and Money Matters

Yesterday I met with our new financial planner—Ralph would never have accepted the idea of a financial planner before now— and I was so anxious about the meeting that I left my laptop at the coffee shop where I’d just had lunch. Fortunately the coffee shop found my computer, and our retirement account is earning exactly the return the planner promised.

Money is not a subject I find comfortable to discuss. I have always been the artsy/intuitive, some in my family might say ditsy spouse. Even after I started working part-time in Ralph’s business office, using QuickBooks to make deposits, pay the bills and balance the books, I maintained the persona of Earth Mother not Business Woman. My domain was feelings; Ralph’s was the bottom line and money matters. (One important exception: using the example of my mother who used her coverage for her health aides, I successfully pressed Ralph to purchase long-term care insurance four years ago. Thank God.)
Since Ralph’s diagnosis, I have been thrust into the weird position of trying to think the way Ralph used to think about business and money. Well, that is not quite accurate because as I sort out our finances, I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the decisions he made.

Especially those he made in the last few years as his memory began to slip from his grasp. He had slacked off, clinging to outdated business habits and letting his assistant make more and more decisions. When she moved away and I became more actively involved at Ralph’s office, I saw the reality: while I worked ten hours a day, he came in at 11am and left at 3pm with an hour for lunch; he sat in his office reading magazines while I handled all the day-to-day matters. And yes, I was resentful to put it mildly. Still we continued to pretend he was in charge. He didn’t want to believe otherwise and frankly neither did I.

Then came the diagnosis of MCI/Early Alzheimer’s and suddenly there was no pretending we could go on as we had. We agreed that our longtime accountant and lawyer needed to know about Ralph’s condition early on. We quickly updated our wills and made sure that powers of attorney, including responsibility for health decisions, were in place.

As for Ralph’s business, the retirement that we had talked about, yet avoided for so long was now mandatory. Since Ralph’s business for the last 35 years had been managing rental properties he owned, selling the business meant selling individual properties one at a time, no simple matter.

As we began the process of talking to real estate agents and taking offers, it quickly became clear that Ralph couldn’t keep straight which real estate agent was which, which property was under contract, how much we should be asking, or how much was being offered. To tell the agents or buyers our situation would place us at a disadvantage, so I have found myself covering for him and acting as a kind of pseudo-go-between.

What has evolved is a kind of charade. The agents may not know officially about Ralph’s condition, but they have to sense something is odd. Ralph chats with them jovially, but I’m the one who responds to the offers. Ralph and I discuss the sales as if he is equally involved in the decision-making, but actually he cannot remember the details long enough to analyze them, so I make decisions with the help of our accountant and lawyer.

I have learned to be a tough bargainer, which I hate. I have learned to say no, which is incredibly difficult. I have learned to play on others’ sympathy, which has not been so difficult. Aging feminist that I am, I kind of like playing the helpless female.
And I have learned to manage our money, sometimes in ways that Ralph would not have accepted. While I have involved our son, another artsy type but with Ralph’s hardheaded business sense, in some meetings, ultimately I have made the tough decisions on my own. I had three closings in the space of six weeks. A fourth property is under contract now. I turned over some of our property to another management company that rented our office in the city. I now have an office at home.

Every day or so, sometimes three or four times within an hour, Ralph asks how much money we have in the bank. I tell him. Then he asks if we’ve paid off our mortgage. I tell him yes. Then he asks if we have enough to live on. I tell him yes again. Ralph, who used to walk and talk calculations down to the smallest fraction, doesn’t want to know details. He’s always satisfied with my answers. He trusts me completely.

Before MCI, I used to chafe at his controlling nature and complained that he didn’t trust my judgment. But the truth is, I was glad to shirk financial responsibility off on him. Now I have it, and it is lonely and scary, like so much of what being Ralph’s wife has become.