Tag Archives: professional help MCI/Alzheimer’s

Travel–My First Crisis as an MCI Spouse

One of the sticking points in our marriage has always been that I love to travel but Ralph doesn’t, unless it’s to go fishing. So I was incredibly excited last spring, just over a year ago, when a friend invited me to accompany her family on a cruise through Northern Europe. Two weeks all expenses paid! Even my airfare would be covered!

Aware this might be my last chance for an adventure, I was dying to go. Ralph had been given the neuropsychologist’s initial assessment of MCI by then and we had recently visited the Emory Memory Clinic for the first time. But except for repeating himself a lot, Ralph was pretty much the same self-sufficient guy he’d always been– working in the office every day, fishing with his pals, arguing about politics. I told myself he could certainly manage  without me. Still good wife that I considered myself, I told my friend that I couldn’t commit until I spoke to Ralph.

I brought up the trip with trepidation, not sure how he’d react. He might not enjoy travel himself, but he didn’t much like being left behind either.

“No question, you’ve got to go.” Ralph’s enthusiasm surprised me. “This is an offer you can’t refuse.”

He seemed more relaxed than I was  during the flurry of preparations. Over the next month I bought walking shoes, stocked the freezer with the frozen potpies Ralph loves, planned a long fishing weekend to keep him occupied at least part of the time while I was gone.

Then Ralph woke up one up one morning, five days before I was to fly to London, and announced angrily that if I went on this trip, I might as well not come back. I lashed back at him with resentment and plenty of anger of my own. How could he wait until the last minute? What would I tell my friend and her family? Why was he such a controlling bastard?

“It’s your decision,” he said before storming out of the house.

We headed to our shared office in separate cars. The cadre of supportive, well-meaning woman friends I called as I drove all agreed: Ralph was being ridiculous; he might have minor memory issues but he could function alone perfectly well.

I eventually called the Memory Clinic for professional back up; after all, I had heard our neurologist say that Ralph had ONLY MILD Cognitive Impairment.

Talk about a bucket of water in the face!  Both the nurse practitioner and social worker explained what I should have realized—capacity to function aside, Ralph’s fear had to be respected.

I went to him and apologized. He said if I really wanted to, I should go after  all. Then we talked with more honesty and intimacy than we’d shared for a long time. He acknowledged fears that his condition would suddenly get worse—“What if I get lost while walking in the woods by our house and you’re not here to find me?” “What if my mind just goes out all of a sudden?” It didn’t matter that neither scenario was likely; his anxiety was genuine and intense. And for this proud man to admit any fear was huge.

Which meant I had to admit my own fear: my own high anxiety about my new role as caretaker-spouse of a husband with memory loss. I had been in selfish denial about Ralph’s MCI while planning my trip, but part of me knew all along that going away for more than a couple of days would be a mistake. Once I said I wasn’t going, I was oddly relieved: What had I been thinking to plan such a trip?

My friend refused to let me feel guilty about cancelling. Her father refused to let me pay him back for the non-refundable tickets. The kindness of strangers is nothing compared to the kindness of friends.

As for the two weeks I didn’t travel to Europe, I have no regrets. In fact those two weeks were a gift because I ended up going with Ralph on that long fishing weekend I had organized for him, along with my daughter and her boyfriend, and while we were all together, they got engaged. Now if I’d missed that….

Drinking and Smoking and MCI


I know, I know, if drinking and smoking are not good for anyone, their effect on people with memory loss has to be worse.

In fact one of the first things Ralph’s primary physician said after the diagnosis—no alcohol, no smoking.

But bad habits are hard to give up. And making someone else give them up is even harder. And to be honest, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe Ralph shouldn’t hang on to a few bad habits for a sense of normalcy. There are so many aspects of Ralph-ness he’s already letting go—the real estate dealmaker has lost his touch for number-crunching, the Bob Dylan fanatic doesn’t listen to music any more, the husband who used to only half-jokingly call himself the captain of the family passively agrees with every decision I make. Not that I’m complaining because Ralph’s temper has disappeared or because he’s become a sweeter, gentler human being; but the changes have spooked me a little.

God knows that for most of the length of our 35-year marriage I nagged Ralph repeatedly to cut down on both booze and nicotine. I have always been a bit of a stick-in-the-mud prude. I never smoked even as a kid and my drinking is limited to a very occasional glass of wine; after two I’m tipsy or worse. But I understand addictive habits; if there’s chocolate or ice cream in the house watch out.

Ralph has downed at least three or four cans a night for as long as I’ve known him. Well, actually, he probably drank closer to a six-pack many days. In fact when Ralph first started showing signs of cognitive loss, months before the MCI diagnosis, I thought his problems had to do with his Natty-Lite consumption (and I still believe it didn’t help). We talked about the connection—that he was always fuzzier at night, the same time of day he imbibed—and Ralph has actually cut down on his own. Now he drinks one or two, never more than three cans of lite beer around dinnertime, and not every night. Drinking less has obviously not cured his memory issues, and do I really want to take that bit of pleasure away?

As for smoking, Ralph went cold turkey when the kids were small and stayed nicotine free for over twenty years, but it only took one puff on a cigar at a Fourth of July party to get him hooked again five years ago. In retrospect he started smoking again around the same time that his memory began to slip, before we acknowledged it except as a joke although he may have been more worried privately than he let on.

At first he smoked just a cigar or two a day. He kept saying he was about to quit. Instead, he smoked more. He never smoked in the house; instead he’d find excuses to go off in his car or sit bundled up on the front porch on the coldest winter day lighting one cigar after another. All my nagging fell on deaf ears. The more anxious he became about his memory, the more he smoked. By the time he was diagnosed with MCI last spring, he was up to a pack a day. And remember, we’re talking a pack of cigars, cheap, skinny, smelly ones that have to be stronger than the equivalent number of cigarettes.

So last month, in an ironic turn of events, I found myself convincing him to switch back to cigarettes for two reasons: 1., he’d have to smoke a lot more of them to hit the same nicotine level he was reaching with the cigars and 2., my more selfish reason, the cigarettes wouldn’t stink up his clothes as much. The old Ralph would have fought me, but the new Ralph made the switch.

Now I remember how much I hate cigarettes smoke.

But two days ago I came across a 2012 Georgetown University study showing that nicotine may actually slow down MCI. I couldn’t quite believe, so I talked to the nurse practitioner in our neurologist’s office. She said the results aren’t in on Alzheimer’s-related dementia there is some evidence that nicotine helps with Parkinson’s.

Meanwhile, Ralph’s down to less than half a pack a day. So now I’m feeling guilty not only because he still drinks but also because he might quit smoking because of me. But I can’t bring myself to show him the Georgetown article.