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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Go for it, I say: A loving companion to a husband with dementia

My 79-year-old husband, the love of my life, is having an "affair" with a young single woman named Jenn. He and I fell in love more than half a century ago and have lived together for 22 years, but I have no regrets about the liaison. Go for it, I say. Be my guest.

She's focused, patient, relaxed. These are prime qualifications for my husband's companion, ever since he fell from a sleeping loft four yeas ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was catapulted into a state resembling Alzheimer's Disease, left unable to remember anything that happened from then on or to find his way home from across the street.

Drugs are sometimes prescribed for the typical symptoms of frontal lobe brain injury of agitation, cursing (disinhibition), and combativeness that greet a new companion. But these drugs do nothing to soothe his agitation, and can also produce terrible side effects. Worse, recent studies find that they work no better than placebos in the elderly.

The only reliable treatment for agitation like his is patience, calm, and understanding. Instead of regarding my husband's comments as incoherent rants, as others do, she sees in his dementia a kind of courage: a willingness to call the emperor naked.

Then perhaps it should not have surprised me that before the end of the second week, when other caregivers would just be starting to earn his trust, she reported that he seemed to believe they were having an affair. She realized what was on his mind when he started speaking of his guilt over their "secret."

Not that he ever makes sexual advances or overtures toward her. She's assured me of tat, and I believe her. He loves me more than ever, now that he's dependent. Besides, I'm sure that he, like me, has never been unfaithful.

It's just that without short-term memory to provide context, the events of daily life must seem incomprehensible or absurd, but being human, he can't stop trying to make sense of them anyway.

Still unaware four years later that anything is wrong with him, how should he explain Jenn’s constant presence?

Now that my husband's days are spent in the presence of an attractive like-minded young woman who holds his hand wherever they go and acts like a soul mate, what better explanation can there be than that they're a couple?

Advice to spouses of elderly people with dementia: Do your best to find a loving companion for them.

Read another Alzheimer's story.

Thanks to Alix Kates Shulman for the source article in today's New York Times.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is a beautiful story