For all the years Marshall’s continued his downward spiral into Alzheimer’s disease, he’s remained otherwise healthy. He’s had symptoms disruptive to daily living since at least 2004. That’s 15 years and counting. Today what he typically remembers of his past is jumbled, understands little of what’s happening in the present, and he needs assistance with even the most basic daily activities.
Last Friday, he scared a caregiver which sent him to the emergency room. He had some shortness of breath and complained of chest pains. The only way to know whether or not if he was in medical distress was to send him to the hospital. His labs were normal—better than any the nurses said they’d seen all day, so he was sent home after about four hours. But throughout the stay he was angry, loud, and frightened. By the time we left, the staff was more than eager to discharge him.
Hospitals are scary for those of us who understand why we are there and what is happening. For someone with Alzheimer’s it’s terrifying. Marshall’s soft-spoken voice grew to a roar as he demanded to leave. He frantically ripped at the i.v., blood pressure cuff, and cords to the monitor.
Marshall had a plan. He told me to go out of the room and hold the door open. He pointed to my son, Joe, and his girlfriend, and told them to follow me, and then he’d run out after us. When I responded that we had to wait for the doctor to release him, he shouted that I had to listen to my husband and my son had to follow his mother. This scenario repeated over and over again.
Interestingly, he rarely remembers that we’re married. He asks me to marry him. Yet, in his height of anger he remembered my relationship to him as well as my son’s to me.
We tried everything to calm Marshall. I sang to him. He briefly paused to listen, staring blankly out into space. My son played Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra music. I asked for something to drink and eat which kept his hands occupied for a few minutes. I even asked for a dose of his anxiety medication, which finally kicked in by the time he’d returned to his home.
The experience exposed me to the challenges of overseeing care of a loved one with dementia at a hospital. From friends in similar situations I’ve found Marshall’s behavior was normal under the circumstances.
In retrospect, it’s bit humorous to think of Marshall planning an escape and his desire to run out of the room when he struggles to walk much less run. It’s also fascinating to recall his gaze when I sang and how he recalled that he was my husband.
The greatest predictable factor in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is that nothing is predictable. We can’t know for sure how our loved ones will react or how their reactions may change even during an event. What we can know is that they are easily stressed because everything is so darned confusing to them.
Marshall can’t be left alone on a good day, and he certainly needed someone with him at all times in the hospital. If he required an extended stay, we’d have to take turns remaining with him 24/7.
I’d welcome any thoughts from family caregivers of loved ones with dementia who’ve taken them to the hospital. As a speaker, I’d appreciate any suggestions I can pass on to others.
(Have you seen my posts on Midwest Mary?)