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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

The difficult transition from partner to caregiver

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October 17, 2016, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

When Jim and Verdun married in 2003, Jim jokingly asked the officials at City Hall if they could purchase the marriage license at the price it would have been in 1960. Why 1960? Because that’s the year the two men became a couple. They have been loving companions ever since. Now Jim, 84, has dementia, and Verdun, 79, is a full-time caregiver.

Verdun remembers the day he realized Jim had dementia. Jim fell in their Burlington home and couldn’t get up. Verdun dialled 911 and the paramedics took Jim to the hospital. When Verdun got to the emergency department Jim was delusional, thinking he was in Mexico and had been robbed. Verdun later learned that he was suffering from delirium.

Jim was in hospital for ten weeks. It was only when Verdun insisted that the physiotherapist test Jim’s ability to manage stairs that he was discharged. He returned home just before Christmas 2014. Their lives had changed forever.

There was a time when Jim did all the shopping, cooking and financial management for the couple. Now Verdun does that, as well as cleaning and other household tasks. He helps Jim with showering and dressing, trims his hair and beard, and sees that he gets his medications (blister-packed by the pharmacy) every day. He also accompanies Jim to all his medical appointments. “I used to drive him to the doctor’s office and wait in the car. He’d come out and say everything was okay. Now I go in with him.”

For Verdun, a caregiver support group run by Acclaim Health in Burlington has been “a tremendous help and a learning experience.” Through Acclaim he learned about an online group, “Alzheimer’s Reading Room.” “I get email on a daily basis and it’s fantastic – it’s taught me more than I ever wanted to know, and now I’m sharing the information with our GP.”

Verdun has his own health problems to deal with. He has dealt with depression and anxiety for many years, and suffered two pulmonary embolisms a decade ago. Yet he now works part-time as an aquafit instructor. The couple have a cleaning lady who comes every two weeks. Jim vetoed the idea of a personal support worker, but Verdun is beginning to realize that it’s time.  Verdun tried taking Jim to a day program, but Jim hated it. He’s a smoker who insists on a cigarette every two hours, and enjoys a late afternoon cocktail. “Our GP is one of those doctors who won’t tell him to stop at his age.”

Verdun’s advice to other people caring for a person with dementia? “Get yourself off to a support group. Sign up for the Alzheimer’s Reading Room and read it on a daily basis. Remember that you can’t change the person—you’re the one who has to change. Don’t argue, don’t fight and stop banging your head against the wall – it feels good when you stop.”