“I keep telling him,” says an upset caregiver wife, “But he doesn’t do it.”
This wife is talking about her husband, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. He doesn’t remember to do the things she asks him — put dishes away, sweep the patio. But the biggest issue is that he won’t NOT answer the telephone.
“I’m a sales rep and people want to talk to me about orders. He gets on the telephone and talks to them and they have no idea he has Alzheimer’s.”
In spite of having Alzheimer’s, she wanted him to learn NOT to answer the phone. This issue, she told us, was the worst problem she had right then. At least, our group was able to come up with useful easily practical solutions — turn off the ringer, let calls go straight to message, remove the cues for answering a ringing phone.
“Oh yes,” she said, reluctantly, “I suppose I could.”
“That,” I said, “Or cure his dementia. Which would be easier?”
People often really don’t get it that having short-term memory problems means — forgetting. But it’s true that it is a complex kind of forgetting. It includes a number of issues which all affect each other.
What Does Short-Term Memory Loss Mean?
1. It means forgetting everything recent. Recent can mean from five minutes ago to 25 years ago, but this varies from person to person and even from day to day;
2. It can also mean forgetting routines, such as putting on clothes before leaving the house;
3. It means forgetting something new, such as someone’s visit yesterday;
4. It means forgetting nouns, so that things — such as a flashlight — are not connected with their name. A caregiver could say, “Pass the flashlight, Bill,” and Bill might not recognize that flashlight right beside him as what was wanted;
5. It can also mean forgetting a new order to stop doing something — as in “Don’t answer the phone.”
Memory problems in dementia not only vary from person to person. They may also vary in the same person from day to day. NOT to annoy you, as their caregiver, but just because this is how dementia is. It is not a choice. It is a brain flow over which they have no power. On a good day, they might do better — but that wasn’t their choice either.
Caregiver Attitudes to Memory Problems:
1. Some caregivers blame the person;
2. Some don’t actively blame but they do feel angry;
3. Some caregivers are convinced their person is forgetting just to annoy them;
4. Some people want to retrain their person to be better.
All of the above are a big mistake and causes endless stress to both parties. Caregivers need to say, “It’s the dementia.”
When they get angry, they need to say, “It’s me. I need time off, time away or to look at myself more honestly.”
Current figures show that 66 percent of dementia caregivers die before the person they care for. From everything I’ve seen, much of this is to do with the stress of caregiving. Much of that stress could be avoided or reduced tremendously by caregiver attitudes. It is very common for caregivers to blame someone with dementia for the results of having dementia.
That’s the great thing about caregiver support groups — they can give you a reality check. That can help you, if you choose, to let go, let God, forgive and live to care another day. It’s your choice.