Telephone Tribe

I’ve just read a post in the online support group for dementia caretakers that made me think. It was about how those with a diagnosis of LBD, who have been good friends with many in better years, don’t hear from their friends any more. Actually it was a caretaker writing the post, who was sad that the friends didn’t even contact her to ask how her husband was. She was wondering what their excuses were. Were they unable to handle the changes they saw in him? Were they afraid dementia was contagious, or that they would somehow get it? Did they think that their absence wouldn’t be noticed by anyone so why bother?

My husband who has Lewy Body Dementia is probably not your typical dementia victim, because he has refused to let people forget him. He calls them up if he knows their number. He hunts them down if he doesn’t know their number. He calls them again if they don’t answer the first, second, or third time he calls. He checks up on them even if they don’t check up on him. He remembers what they’ve talked about. These people are his past business associates, the members of the band he used to play in, and family members.

Many times I’ve listened to the conversations (he is always in the living room and doesn’t try to keep them private). Sometimes I cringe when I hear him repeating the same story to someone who has heard it all before. Sometimes I feel sorry for the person he calls because he talks so slowly and often has trouble hearing. Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t try to sound like an authority about other people’s problems, or misquote things he’s read, or be so simplistic about things I think are much more complex. But at the end of it all, I see that there are those people who do take his calls anyway. There are some who listen to his stories, even if somewhat impatiently, and respond with interest. Some tell him that he has encouraged them, given them hope. They are his telephone tribe.

I hear patience in their voices when they talk to him, laugh with him, ask him questions. When they don’t have time for his hour long versions, they tell him they need to go in a few minutes. They set limits in kind ways and show respect. They call him back when they say they will or apologize if they forget. They continue being good friends. They know they are doing something for him that friendship is supposed to do, and they are not afraid, not too busy, not “turned off” by the changes dementia has brought to him. I am so thankful for those friends, because they also help me. I am thankful to have married a man who chose his friends wisely. If you are this kind of friend, thank you.

A to Z Challenge: X for Exasperated

(Ex is how you spell X, so this counts.)

Today I am exasperated. It’s a degree of frustration right before one’s head explodes. It happens fairly often in my caregiving world, particularly with my husband.

It’s not that this never happened before, when he was well. We were a fairly normal couple and we had our ways of getting past the rough times and keeping peace. We were both responsible and expected to act like mentally competent adults. Now, as with any situation where a spouse has a mental deficiency of any kind, doubt enters the picture and roles may change.

Many days I am so conscious of having to watch over our world, unaided, while my husband (my patient, is what it feels like) does what he can do, sits and watches TV or looks at his phone. When he wants to talk to me about his angst over politics or his ideas of how to conquer coronavirus, I want no part of it. I want him to do some meaningful task that would help get chores done. I want him to show concern about finances or make a “to do” list like I have to do most days. It exasperates me to have a live-in patient instead of a husband.

And at the same time I begin to feel very guilty for being angry. I am not the only one missing out on our retirement plans. He is sick and I am well, at least for the moment.

For these reasons, caregiving for a spouse, or a live-in family member is not easy emotionally. It usually starts out being a 24/7, 365 days a week job, until burn out sets in, so it’s not easy physically either. I need support and this is how I get it.

1. I have identified people that I can talk to safely, even when frustrated – ones that are regularly available to me and don’t mind if I vent.

My physically present support group that I could not do without.

2. I have joined a couple online support groups. They understand what it’s like and have encouragement/advice for all situations. They always show me I’m not alone in the way I feel.

  • Facebook group: Lewy Body Dementia Carter’s
  • Facebook group: LBDA Care Partner Support Group

3. I have a place I can go, in the house, to get away to watch a movie or read a book while the husband is occupied or napping. It’s a true multi-function “she room”.

4. I haven’t had to do this, but if needed I would hire help to cook or clean, or just be in the house for a few hours while I escape.

5. I try to spend time with my husband doing something we both can enjoy (like reading a good book) to give attention and alleviate guilt (mine).

6. I give myself grace to not be perfect, but to try again to do a good job and to love well.