Spouses are effected the most by Alzheimer’s. It gives new meaning to the phrase “married for better or for worse.” Learning to cope with this disease is a day by day effort. Adjusting caregiving techniques to suit the patient’s mood is also a challenge for spouses.

The spouse of one of my Alzheimer’s clients graciously shares her experiences and caregiving skills in this article. It is her hope that others dealing with Alzheimer’s will benefit from her real-life stories.

“When I hear music on the radio that we used to dance to, I go to my husband. I say, ‘Honey, remember this song? We used to dance to it. Come on – let’s dance!” I hold out my hands. He grips my wrists and stands up with difficulty. I help him put his arms around me and then I hold onto him. I sing along with the music. I hug him and tell him, ‘Hold me tight!’ I look into his face and I see a small smile. The Lawrence Welk show is our favorite.

“My husband walks very slowly and I get frustrated. One trick that helps is ‘marching.’ I walk behind him and put my arms around his waist. I say, ‘Hup, two, three, hup, two, three” and he walks a little faster! He thinks this is great fun and grins the whole way!”

“He spends a lot of time just staring at nothing. I try to keep him stimulated; otherwise he falls asleep. I go behind him and kiss him on his neck. I make funny noises at the same time. This gives him a smile and breaks up the monotony.”

“Sports have always interested my husband: basketball, football, baseball, golf, and bowling. He has a very short attention span. I keep his mind on the game by asking him questions. I ask, ‘Why is that player standing alone? Why are the others lined up ?” We look at the pictures in the sports section of the newspaper. He can no longer read the articles.”

“There are times when he will mention or ask about a brother or a sister. That is when I bring out our photo albums and pictures of family that he might recognize. He seldom remembers who they are, but he enjoys looking. This activity relaxes him. I sit with him and reminisce about the family.”

“As for sex, I do not miss it or even think about it. I understand that other spouses of Alzheimer’s patients feel differently. I do miss my husband’s touch on my hand or arm as he passes by. I miss his gentle hugs. I miss his “pecks” on my cheek. Sometimes when I give him a kiss and say, ‘I love you!,’ he responds by saying, “a bushel and a peck.” I miss him saying, ‘Good morning, Dearie!’ when we would awaken.”

“I miss going to church with him. I miss going out to visit friends or having them over. I miss him being able to talk about our son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and great grandson. He will speak briefly to them on the phone. Afterwards he asks ‘Who was I talking to? Do I know them?’ ”

“You have to keep your sense of humor when you are dealing with Alzheimer’s! It is not unusual for my husband not to recognize me. The funniest episode involved my husband’s hallucination of his high school sweetheart. He said, ‘You have to leave! Ruth is going to marry me. She’s sitting right here. Also, Ruth and I will be using the bedroom, so you have to go!’ I was about to tell my husband where to go! Instead I said, ‘Does Ruth know that you are already married?’ He replied, ‘I am? To whom?’ I said, ‘To me.’ He asked, ‘Who’s ideas was that?’ I answered, ‘Your idea.’ Then he said, ‘I guess I can’t marry Ruth then.’ I asked, ‘Do you want to be married to me?’ He replied, ‘That’s OK with me.”

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