Yesterday I was asked to help out a couple. The man was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 6 years ago. But a year ago became more difficult for his wife because he stopped recognizing her. She had a bit of an accident in the morning and needed help caring for him.
When I met him he was watching TV not really knowing what he was watching except for what was on the screen and what he heard in the moment and for 1 minute or so. He did not foresee a murder was about to take place, but he was able to see that he was mistaken and it happened after all. I experienced him as a jolly easy going man. I helped him to the bathroom and then helped him to bed. He kept looking for her but she had terrible pain and needed to rest sitting up. She wasn’t used to letting anyone else care for her husband. At one point he told me he was looking for his wife as he tried to come out his bedroom one more time. He clearly meant the woman who cares for him every day. He looks for her guidance, for her presence eagerly. And when she tells him what to do, he says “Okay!” almost jokingly, like a man who has gotten used for his wife to be bossy. She was surprised he knew who she was. She also took his teasing her as a personal resistance to her… not as a teasing husband.
Her experience of him was that he was unhappy. She told me she gave up on her own happiness: “It is a choice you have to make!” I saw that she was unhappy but I did not see that he was. So I asked her what she meant. What she had experienced of him before the disease was a man who took charge where ever he was, at work or at home, constantly improving things or leading others to. He no longer did that. He was just being, but she saw it as being unhappy.
Because of her sense of loss she was bitter and angry with him, sighing when he did not remember what she had just told him. I could see her side. But I could also see she had not adjusted to his new life and his new experience. She was stuck in the past.
From where I stood, without knowing his past, he was just a jolly easy going man, joking around with his wife, needing her to keep telling him what to do… he’d done enough of telling others what to do for a lifetime.