We recently spent five hours with old friends. The “caregiver” was looking after a partner with Alzheimer’s 24/7. We had a wonderful time sharing 70 years of memories, mainly with the caregiver, but we were emotionally drained because we were trying so hard to make it a meaningful experience for both of them. We talked about school, friends, family and holidays together. It made us truly aware of the daily, hourly and long term commitment a caregiver makes.

Later our friend discussed the partner’s descent into the clutches of Alzheimer’s. They had been “coping” and doing fairly well, but at this point the symptoms and problems were magnifying, including several calls to the police for help in finding a “wandering” partner. Just like a small child the partner would suddenly be gone. The care giving was taking its toll. This amazing caregiver was increasingly showing signs of wear and tear from providing constant care over several years.

There is now a realization that, while they have had a good “run at it”, things have to change for the benefit of both of them. The caregiver has reluctantly placed the partner’s name on a waiting list for an Alzheimer’s care facility. In our area the wait is usually two years. This differs from area to area and from private to government-funded facilities. In short, there is usually no immediate solution available.

Caregivers often feel that “only they” can look after their partner. They often feel totally responsible for the well being of the person they care about so much.

Another very special friend told us how much his wife of over 60 years had been there for him but how now had advanced Alzheimer’s. He was committed to looking after her personally to give back for her being such a good wife. We were shocked when we heard that he had killed his wife and committed suicide. We didn’t realize that the load was so heavy for him. He could easily have afforded the best care possible but wouldn’t even consider it when we had last talked with him.

We wondered if he discovered that he had an incurable disease and that she would outlive him and therefore couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her all ALONE.

This situation is not unique. Other clients we have known over the years have experienced a “double whammy” when the caregiver did come down with a life threatening condition. One of our clients did kill his wife and tried to kill himself. It’s more common than we think.

Realistically, a partner should apply for a care facility before it becomes a totally unmanageable situation. If something happened to them, and they were the sole caregiver, what would happen to the person they loved so much. Who would take their place?

Our advice is to find out what is available. Formulate a plan and have a “back-up” plan for an emergency. Read about the disease to give you some helpful suggestions. Join a support group. See if there is a “Day Away” program in your area to give you a break. (This enables one of Doug’s hockey playing friends to still play hockey twice a week.) Some areas even have a week end or a week long break for caregivers to help them get the rest they need.

Remember  to  make time for yourself and time for a coffee or lunch to chat with a friend.