My partner of more than 30 years is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I cope.
She needs constant companionship. I figure it out.
She can no longer live at home. I find a suitable continuing care retirement community for her.
She needs to move to the memory care floor. We make the transition.
None of this prepared me, though, for the call from the CCRC strongly recommending that I transfer J to a senior behavioral health unit at a local hospital.
I probably should have seen it coming. Even before J moved to memory care, she hit a friend of hers with a newspaper. In recent weeks, her aggressive behavior has increased. She slugged a staff member. She got into a pushing match with another resident. She cursed a blue streak.
The first time the facility administrator recommended the behavioral health unit, I resisted. Surely they were overreacting. I authorized as-needed use of an anti-anxiety drug and hired a one-on-one aide. That didn’t even last a day.
Our daughter went to visit and saw J in a highly agitated state. At this point, her primary care physician, the facility administrator, the aide I had hired and our daughter all said J needed more help than her current setting could provide.
So I said yes to sending J to what I thought of as the psych ward.
Like many situations, the psych ward is worse in the anticipation than the reality. I was given the ok to visit this weekend (I previously had been discouraged because I was thought to trigger J’s aggression) and our daughter and I found the unit lovely. The staff is experienced and helpful. They are well trained and not phased by the anger and violence that often accompanies Alzheimer’s disease. The food is good and the activities plentiful.
J was happy to see us. She smiled and laughed.
In addition to lashing out when we’re not there, J has been crying and repeating, “She’s dead.” There is no way we will ever know for sure, but I think J is agitated now because she realizes that she is slipping away.
I know from all I’ve read that this is another stage we will pass through. The point of J’s stay in the behavioral health unit is to find a combination of medications that soothes her aggression without sedation. I’m confident that her care team will find the right combination and she’ll be able to return to the memory unit at her CCRC.
For myself, the soundtrack I always hear in my head is firmly trained on one of my choir songs by Janis Ian: “Another line, another year. I’m still standing here.”