Ch.170 Empathy for A Couple Dealing with Dementia
Pat had only recently been diagnosed with Lewy Body when we happened upon a former colleague of ours, a psychologist named Richard. Pat mentioned she had dementia; Richard replied that his wife Judy had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease a couple years before. We met together a few times before the Covid epidemic isolated everybody. By the time contact was possible Pat had deteriorated badly and was at a memory care facility. And then Pat passed away.
I was astonished over this four-year period by how slowly dementia seemed to progress for Judy (and, for that matter, in the last year, among the other residents with Alzheimer’s Disease at the memory care place). It felt like Pat and I were in a canoe racing through rough currents on a fast-plummeting stream while Judy and Richard were taking a more leisurely, though certainly unfortunate, cruise on an ocean liner.
Since Pat died, I have begun dropping in almost every week at Richard and Judy’s home. I thoroughly enjoy sharing cups of coffee or tea with the two of them and playing with Lacy, their deliriously happy little dog. My role is completely different now: I am not a care partner of someone dying from Lewy Body Dementia; I am simply a friend watching a wonderful couple making the best of a difficult situation.
It’s been a slow passage, but Judy has now reached the point where she has difficulty conversing meaningfully. Just like Pat, she begins to say something, falters, becomes confused, shrugs, and stops in the middle of her thought. Richard and I listen for hints of what she intended to say and then we respond: (“…yes, Judy, the trees are turning colors now”). We may not get it right every time but that doesn’t matter. The idea is to let Judy know we value her thoughts and feelings, that she is still contributing to the conversation.
Richard and Judy are a strong team. Richard is amazingly patient with his wife’s confusion and with her repetition of questions and comments. Judy has a love of life, and she is still playful at times. I feel sad watching Judy’s decline and nostalgic seeing them play out the same kind of loving scenes Pat and I enacted. I am honored to share their experience.