Caring for a Spouse with Long-Term Dementia

Dr. Anne talks to her mother, Clare Hallward, about the dementia of Anne’s father and Clare’s husband, John, which lasted for 16 years before his death.  They talk about some of the exasperating and even downright terrifying challenges of caring for John as his illness progressed.  They discuss key decision points in his care that allowed Clare to have her own life, and that allowed him to continue to make a contribution to their life even when ill.  Clare describes how it felt to make the difficult decisions to move her husband to a nursing home, and later to withhold antibiotics and allow him to die of pneumonia.

 

Connecting with People with Dementia

A conversation with neuropsychologist Steven Sabat about how he’s been able to find ways of communicating with people with advanced dementia by recognizing and honoring their enduring personhood.  He talks about the failure of standard tests of mental ability to register the social awareness of people diagnosed with dementia, and the many abilities that remain in spite of the illness.  He notes that when we treat people as if they are not really there anymore, it may provoke anger and agitation that then get mistaken for symptoms of the illness.  He then describes strategies for making connections with those with dementia who seem unintelligible or unreachable.

Dementia and Family Secrets

A conversation with therapist Nancy Sowell about the family secrets that came out as she was caring for her grandmother with dementia.   Nancy recounts the curious distance and even hostility she had always felt from this side of the family, and how it all began to make sense as her grandmother opened up for the first time.  She describes the powerful way that dementia can lift a person’s inhibitions, occasionally allowing for shared grief and even healing of old wounds that she had only sensed were there. She also discusses the power of secrets and shame in families, and how difficult it is, even now, to know how to talk about a painful secret with the rest of the family.

Living With a Parent With Dementia

A conversation with Liz Havu about the experience of caring for her mother, who has both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.  She discusses the progression of her mother’s illness, and the corresponding adjustments and sacrifices she’s had to make in her own life in order to be her mother’s primary caregiver.  She talks about her promise never to put her mother in a nursing home, and how this decision has brought her family together in more ways than one.

Self-preservation for Dementia Caregivers

A conversation with Frances Randolph, whose husband had early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Frances talks about the outgoing man she married and how dementia changed him so much that he became someone she barely recognized, someone who ultimately became violent with her.  She describes the events that led up to him being transferred to a nursing home, and how she gave herself permission to care for herself even if that meant only going for short visits.  Frances describes the series of losses inherent in his Alzheimer’s, including the loss of her sense of herself as a wife.  She reports that it was only after his death that she could reclaim her memories of him, as a man with dancing eyes…