"Some 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's, a number that is expected to grow steadily ... Some 15 million relatives and friends help with the patients' care." - Sumathi Reddy, "Caring for Alzheimer's: How Three Couples Cope," in The Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2025. Here is the article.
That once-joyful, all-action couple is no longer the role model for how to age right. There has been a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. We reach back in our memory banks to ferret out early signs of that. Maybe they were there. And the odds are we didn't want to admit to what was happening if we picked up on those red flags.
That changes everything. For the couple. And for the community of people who are part of their lives.
Little things, we learn, can be big helps. We include the man with Alzheimer's in conversations. We maintain eye contact. That might not directly help him but it sure gives a lift for his wife, our friend. She needs him to remain a part of. After all, there are more than 40 years of life invested in that relationship. Bit by bit, though, he is losing the ability to retrieve much of that.
Another tender mercy is being available for a few hours every so often to monitor the husband. Already he has left the water running. Next could be a pot on the stove. Our friend needs to get out. With enthusiasm, we offer to pitch in.
We attend Alzheimer's support groups with our friend. We go with her to check out assisted living facilities for "when the time comes." That is unpleasant. But we do it.
What's hardest for us in the community? Allowing our friend to talk. Every cell in our being wants to shut down. The fear is that, sooner or later, we could be the one needing care. It's distressful to recognize how that condition is experienced by the primarily caretaker.