Caregiving for Someone with Alzheimer’s: Consider your health

By Craig Cottingham

We start out with selfless generosity. We urge and nudge gently with care and concern. We have no idea what lies ahead. The present consumes us as we take on more tasks, more chores, more of everything to do.

We may not notice at first what there is less of: time for ourselves and our projects, creativity, self nurturing. 

Eventually, our loved one requires more of everything, every aspect of our being. What we once were gradually disappears, taking with it our health and well-being. 

A blonde woman smiling and peaking through an opening on a bridge.
My wife, Randie, in New Zealand several years ago, during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She was on a bridge a hundred feet up. I was a couple of hundred feet below in a canyon looking up.

We don’t notice because we are so focused on the needs in front of us. Focusing on ourselves becomes irrelevant. 

I knew I needed to go to the ER. I knew something was wrong with me. I thought I’d been having panic attacks for most of the last year. My dog was almost 12 years old, and I had been giving him dialysis twice a day about a year ago until he finally walked out of the room disconnecting from the needle and saline bag, letting me know he wasn’t doing this anymore. He had weighed about 110 pounds, never overweight, but now he weighed much less. I couldn’t leave him alone if they decided to keep me overnight in the hospital, even after my wife moved into the adult family home. So, I just put it off.

It was a nightmare getting my wife to accept being in the adult family home. She was acting out horribly, holding a pillow over a resident’s face in the night, screaming, lashing out, refusing assistance as she became totally incontinent. She finally settled down after several days on a new medication to help with these behavioral symptoms. Once she finally settled down, COVID-19 hit, the epicenter less than two miles away, I haven’t been able to be with her in person since, a year later.

Several months after she entered the adult family home, our dog passed. The day I took him to the vet for the last time, I went to see my doctor for a prescription renewal. Just before I left the doctor’s office, I mentioned that my brother had just been air-lifted to the hospital unconscious with atrial fibrillation.

Out of an abundance of caution, the doctor had the nurse wheel in the EKG machine to test my heart. After all, I was just having panic attacks, right? He read the results and calmly asked the nurse to test it again. He then got close to my face and ordered me to go to the nearest emergency room and tell them I was in AFib. I asked if I could stop to get something to eat first. He said I had to go straight there or he would call 9-1-1.

I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t realize my heart was racing over 140 beats per minute and my blood pressure was around 160. I was put on medication to slow my heart rate, lower the blood pressure and thin my blood. 

When I returned home there was no one to take care of, just quiet and solitude.

It took several months to get my health on track, a year later I’m doing okay. I still can’t see my wife except through a window, but I call her every day and enjoy what recognition and laughter are available for us.

Looking back, I think I would be more grateful for our time together, however challenging. I touched her often, which reassured her. I learned to focus on the silver linings, and not take things personally. We always were receptive to laughter and enjoyment. She was able to express her appreciation for all my efforts in the house and gardens, efforts she requested and inspired. I was too swamped to focus on my health and well-being. I was fortunate to recover it for the most part. I’m grateful for all I have learned, especially for the Alzheimer’s Disease Support Group I have attended religiously for several years.

Craig and his wife, Randie, lived together in Bothell, WA for over 40 years. Randie now resides in Kirkland, WA at an adult family home.

6 thoughts on “Caregiving for Someone with Alzheimer’s: Consider your health

  1. I just read this blog. So much has changed for me since I became aware of Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach, P.H.D. I thought it might be wise to add this as a footnote. Craig

  2. Thank you for opening up and sharing this heartfelt message. You inspire all those around you. You are an amazing person and we are privileged to know you and Randie.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, my mom was recently diagnosed and is still living on her own. I will always keep this in mind when caring for her, I have to care for myself first so I can also help care for her.

  4. I’ll be addressing earlier stages in the next blog. Don’t dismiss any expressions of appreciation. Embrace them, they eventually disappear. I wish I had been more appreciative when my wife expressed them to me.

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