How can I deal with my husband's worsening Alzheimer's symptoms?

Lainy asked...

husband has moderate stage dementia and he thinks he's getting better but I think he's getting worse. My hand grazed against the front of his jeans the other day and I pulled away quickly because he was really wet down there. So I said something to him about it and he was aware of it but was just going to stay like that. I told him to go back and take everything off from the waist down and put them in the laundry. I also told him from now on he's going to wear Depends. He didn't fight it like I thought he would. But today when we went to the urologist and when he had to take his pants down he had put his boxers on underneath the Depends. He has never done that before - he always put the Depends on first.

He's doing really crazy stuff now. Tonight I saw a prune on the floor and asked him what was it doing there? He said he was eating them himself because of constipation and he gave one to his dog but the dog wouldn't eat it. I thought to myself - hmmm...the Dog is smarter than the human....hmmmm. I am freaking out over all the non-sensical things he is doing now....and he thinks I'm crazy? Please advise.

Expert Answer

As Founder and Director of Circles of Care, Ann Cason provides caregiving, consulting, and training services to individuals and public and private organizations involved in eldercare. She is the author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders.

You are a spouse caring for a husband with Alzheimer's. I wish we could call you a warrior instead of a caregiver.

Caregiver sounds as if you are expected to be an Osterizer.You will be stirred and shaken until you do anything and never get angry. How can you stay sane and compassionate with so much to do?

Alzheimer's erodes your husband's ability to feel himself as a separate human being. He can take in information,but he can't process it and communicate it out. There are jeans and there is wet, but he doesn't put it together. In the sentence I wet my jeans there is no I. Since he can't really feel himself as separate, he looks at you and thinks he is getting better.He does not see that he and dog are not the same. If he is constipated, his dog must be too.He gives him a prune.

"Are we a truck?" an old woman asked as a big truck passed us on the freeway.

Your husband,like many older people,who suffer from dementia,is taking you to the heart of your existence as a human being. The conditions we share: birth, aging, getting sick, dying, are real and you are being blessed with this knowledge. You may not want the gift.

But what can you do? The doctor may give him medicine.
What you may be able to do is to create a healing circle of care. The fact that he has been willing to wear incontinence aides, is a sign that he is workable.

He won't be able to do much for himself. His dependence on you will grow. Is it possible to get a helper to come a couple of hours a day to do activities with him? You need someone at home who can be with your husband for periods of time. He needs to go for drives or out to the barber or for a cup of coffee. You will need a family member or helper who could stay with him if you take a week-end off. Invite the potential helper to be with you and your husband several times until you both feel comfortable. Although difficult to invite another man or woman into your life,your situation is asking you to reach out to others.

As your husband declines in ability you may have to extend your circle of care with assisted living or by getting someone to live with you.

Ask for help from other sources. Find a support group for family of Alzheimer's to meet others in the same situation. Call the Alzheimer's Association to find services that will help. Or call your Area Agency of Aging. Does your community have adult day care? Your husband will benefit from activities designed for his level of ability. If you can find a geriatric care manager in your area, get a consultation.( If you belong to a church, speak to the outreach person or your pastor.

And remember that much of the behavior that seems so crazy is coming from another view. The book by Aaron Alterra called The Caregiver: My Life with Alzheimer's by Steerforth Press is excellent help for spouses. Another book that I find helpful is The Majesty of YOur Loving by Olivia Hoblitzelle.