Dear Family Resource,
My dad married my stepmother over 25 years ago. A few years ago he developed Alzheimer’s disease. It’s pretty bad now, but he has long-term care insurance and his wife has all the caregivers and aides she needs to keep him at home. So what’s the problem? She talks too much and dad is always agitated. I’ve tried suggesting that she offer less information and ask him fewer questions, but she says it would be disrespectful to stop treating him like an equal partner. I want dad to have a calm life but that won’t happen so long as his wife keeps asking him what he wants for breakfast, what he thinks about the latest news story, or explaining why caregiver Jane is not there but caregiver Ron will come in 20 minutes. Sometimes I just want to throttle her. Do you have a better solution?
~Seeking Calm

Engaging Someone with Alzheimer’s

Dear Seeking,
My solution is…. thank your stepmother. Then thank her again. Imagine how sad she must feel. She sees her life partner slipping away. She wants desperately to hold on to what she loved about your dad; so she talks to him to keep him close and involved. Maybe she’s not doing it the way you would. Maybe asking open-ended questions is not the best way to engage with Alzheimer’s patients.

Sure, it would be better if instead of asking what he wants for breakfast she asked him if he wants blueberries or strawberries with his cereal. But think about it this way. She (not you) is providing and managing your dad’s care and enabling him to live safely at home. Talking to him is the way she’s coping with her loss. She doesn’t know any other way. She probably hasn’t read any books or attended a support group or class that could teach her techniques to keep your dad calm and happy. She’s doing the best she can, and she needs you as her ally, not her judge.

What if you signed up together for a class, group, or program about caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s? Try contacting the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, a local hospital, or Area Agency on Aging. All are good sources to learn about educational opportunities in your community. Finally, are you offering to spend time with your dad so she can have some time to herself? After all, the more appreciated and calm she feels, the calmer your dad’s life will be.
~Family Resource

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