Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Caregiving

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Forget the stiff upper lip approach. Here, advice for caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s.

Q. My dilemma is that my husband is losing his memory and it’s putting a big strain on our relationship. I knew this day might come since I am almost 20 years younger than he is, although our age difference was never an issue before. These days, I have to repeat everything again and again. I have to constantly remind him of the names of people we’ve known for years or where we have to be tomorrow or what I just said an hour ago. Since he lost his licence a year ago, he’s been steadily shrinking from doing anything on his own, instead relying solely on me to be his ‘everything’. I know he can’t help his memory problems or losing his licence but it’s putting such a strain on our relationship.  I feel like I’m going to explode some days, which just makes me feel guilty. I love my husband dearly but I need advice on how to cope.

Suzanne, Edmonton

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A. You need help. Forget the stiff upper lip approach. Apart from finding support for your husband you need to get help too. Everything you’re feeling, from anger to guilt to exploding, is completely normal – but also potentially dangerous.

According to Mary Schulz, Director of Education with the Alzheimer Society of Canada, “there’s a growing body of evidence that shows that people who care for someone with dementia are at a much, much higher risk with their own mental and physical health – and I’m talking serious health problems – than people caring for someone with other types of health issues. This is a fundamentally different kind of caregiver role.”

The first thing Mary suggests you do is get a definitive medical diagnosis from your family doctor, which she says can be done with a fairly short and accurate assessment test during a regular visit. Then you need to get help. Start with the Alzheimer Society website, which can also take you to your local branch, and in addition to its own programs can hook you up with a variety of other community supports.

The goal is to help your husband have meaningful days, stay stimulated and social, while giving you some support and time to yourself as his caregiver. Sometimes people with dementia lose the ability to initiate activity, explains Mary, so things may need to be organized for him. Grief is also a real companion of dementia, but a kind that “doesn’t have a clear beginning or a clear end.” It’s like you’re losing your husband bit by bit, so you’ll need to know how to hold onto what’s still good in your marriage.

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“The core of the man you fell in love with is still there. His essence isn’t his memory or his brain, but you still need help mourning the life that you had, the life you foresaw having and for the fact that across the breakfast table is not the same man you’ve been living with for 40 years. Asking for help is the best idea.”


Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]

A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.