Ed and Phyllis have been married for 55 years. But over the past two or three, as Ed’s Alzheimer’s has progressed, it was getting harder for Phyllis to care for him at home.
Ed had always been good with his hands (he had worked as an electrician) and he is a very smart man. But, as the disease got worse, he was getting into trouble at home, mostly by taking things apart and tinkering with electronics in a way that was no longer safe.
Phyllis was reluctant to move him out of the house — they had promised each other they would stay together. But Ed was beginning to get agitated when she tried to help him with his personal care, such as showering. Phyllis and her adult children held a family meeting, and agreed that a move was actually in Ed’s best interest. A month later, we had found him an apartment in a wonderful, local memory care community.
The change in their relationship was almost immediate. Despite her reluctance and guilt about moving Ed, after just a few weeks Phyllis said, “I feel like I have my husband back! I am not the one persuading him to take a shower or change his clothes. He is genuinely happy to see me again.”
Let the Professionals Do What They Do Best
Few people want to see someone they love move out of the house and into a new community. There are tremendous emotions involved in this decision, including failure as a caregiver, guilt and betrayal, especially if promises have been made. But there are a few important facts to keep in mind:
#1. It’s nearly impossible to be a primary caregiver and maintain the previous relationship.
All relationships change. But when you get to the point of, “I’m not being his wife anymore; all I do is take care of his needs,” it’s time to rethink what’s best. As Phyllis happily discovered, once Ed was cared for by others, she could focus on enjoying her time with him and be his wife again.
#2. Your loved one will probably be happier in a new place.
Ed was no longer content at home. He was bored and frustrated with being constantly told what he couldn’t do.
When his family explained to the staff at his new community that he loved working with his hands, he was made the “maintenance assistant.” It wasn’t a real job, of course, but it helped him feel useful again and restored Ed’s dormant self-esteem.
#3. Changes are inevitable.
As our parents or loved ones age, and particularly if they are afflicted with a disease like Alzheimer’s, they are never going to fully return to who they were before. But that’s not the goal anymore. At this point in their lives, it’s best to focus on providing an environment for them to not only be safe and happy, but to thrive.
It can be hard to watch our parents change. But knowing we are caring for them with the same commitment they gave to us for so many years can provide a great deal of satisfaction, even when that means enlisting the support of professional caregivers.
There is a gift in caregiving. It can bring you closer to another person and, in many ways, it’s an honor to provide this type of nurturing to someone we love.
But, it’s also important to recognize when an arrangement is no longer in the best interests of either you or your aging loved one. When that happens, the best arrangement may be to seek professional care and rekindle the relationship as best you can.