“My Spouse Doesn’t Know Who I Am Anymore.” How Alzheimer’s Impacts Your Relationships

November 28, 2009 at 12:25 am 2 comments

It’s a tough day when your spouse or parent forgets who you are due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I remember the first time my mother called me “Hey, little girl.” It sounded kind of cute, kind of condescending…and then I realized it was because she wasn’t sure who I was. I would remind her and a minute later she’d look at me with a blank expression. That was a tough time in my life–that no amount of caregiving, love, and attention could bring back my mother’s memory.

I didn’t talk about it for awhile. I didn’t share it with my husband or other family members. It hurt too much to say out loud. I asked my family not to celebrate my 40th birthday. My mother was living with us and I just couldn’t see her looking across from me–her face in the glow of birthday candles–and for me to be a stranger.

I still had to care for my mom. It didn’t matter: The hurt, the disappointment, the grief–it didn’t matter. I had to keep going. I had pills to cut, food to prepare, doctor appointments to take her to, sheets to wash. I had to go on. And that’s what I did. I keep doing what I had to do.

And then something shifted. In the midst of my caregiving duties, I remembered I was her daughter. I remembered that. I could remember. And I choose to accept that role. Even if she couldn’t remember, I would. I was already making notes about our days that would later become my book, Mothering Mother. I wanted to capture “us.” I wanted to remember, even the hard parts.

It took some time, working through the grief, accepting where we were. Yes, Alzheimer’s takes something from you, many precious things from you. It affects your relationship, no doubt about that. But what it can’t take from you–is your resolve. That’s who you really are.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. frena gray-davidson  |  November 30, 2009 at 2:34 am

    that’s a great realization you’re having and i thank you for sharing that. i wish all those people who say, “Oh no, we don’t visit grandman any more — she doesn’t know us.” would read what you said.

    because, we don’t stop needing love just because we can’t get the bio-data and the calendar right. we don’t forget people’s name to punish them. it’s just the disease. and how terrible to be twice punished for our disease — once by getting it and once by the family deciding we don’t need them any more.

    everyone needs love to the day they die. and,, as a caregive ri often think, those with dementia, maybe even more they need love because without reliable memory, you don’t have your story and your life habits built around you any more. you’re very lost and lonely.

    it’s helpful to remember that it is her head can’t get your name right, i’m absolutely certain her heart still loves you.

    when our Mom or Dad has alzheimer’s, it can’t be all about us and our pain because they can’t remember. if you give love to someone with dementia, they totally do know and do feel and will grow to rely more on what their heart tells them.

    and i’ve always found that to be a great thing for me as a caregiver. i’ve learned so much in 20 years of working as a non-family caregiver and most of it i’ve learned from the way people with Alzheimer’s can love.

    Reply
    • 2. Steve  |  November 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm

      Hi Frieda,
      You said it so well, our loved ones still need our love. It isn’t about remember our names. Love is a feeling–and even if our loved ones don’t recognize us they still need and will feel our love. You’re so right. They teach us how to love–not because we stand to get anything in return–but because we need to.
      Thanks for reading our blog,
      ~Carol O’Dell

      Reply

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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