At the beginning…

If you asked me when Dorothy’s Alzheimer’s started, I couldn’t exactly tell you. And that’s because, like so many aspects of our minds, and our lives, we often don’t see a defined starting point of changes. It just grew. It took root sometime, and like an unwanted weed, it escaped notice until it became obvious; then it relentlessly proceeded to dominate in the lovely garden of her mind. Smothering all the beautifully nurtured and carefully grown flowers of her life.

I should have noticed all those little changes – the time it took to find and choose a dress, or when she often continued wearing her slippers rather than shoes. Or how long it took to prepare a meal, or to decide what to eat, and when. Or all those other hesitations, that indecision about which plate to set on the table or placing two spoons instead of a knife and fork and a spoon. Forgetting to add water before boiling the spuds or adding salt two or three times; never emptying the vacuum cleaner and wondering why it took so long to pick up fluff….. and so many other, small, unusual actions. Not of much consequence in isolation, so profound when aggregated.

In time, that behaviour did register with me as significant, because there were so many of them, not just minor lapses. On their own, they were mere inconsequential blips that we can all recognise in ourselves. Because of our own tendencies, and despite profound and damning evidence displayed by our partner, Alzheimer’s is not always easily recognised in the early stages. And then, even when suspected, is less accepted when you are up close and personal with an affected partner. It was those relentless, albeit diverse and repetitive behavioural changes plus the increase in their frequency that should have alerted me earlier. It is so easy to accept some aberrant behaviour as normal; aren’t we all a bit weird and prone to intolerance, impatience, forgetfulness at times? Love forgives, love is blind.

But… in the end, reality wins because practicality and reason must prevail, as it did for me. If your partner displays signs of erratic or consistently unusual or damaging behaviour it is so easy to rationalise. Don’t be under the misapprehension that Alzheimer’s only means ‘forgetfulness’, that’s just one of the many behavioural indicators. Non-recognition, and failure to accept the changes, can lead to much unhappiness to a wide circle of people, and even to personally dangerous outcomes. If only some of the above actions of your partner becomes evident to you or your family, you must talk to your doctor, as I did, eventually.

Dorothy had always been supremely cool and calm in any stressful situation, proven as a mother of our five active children! So, it should have alerted me when she began to be significantly ‘less cool’. But I missed that, too. Her patience and forbearance were legendary in our family, and when she showed signs of anger towards me for an imagined misdemeanour I was, at first, inclined to take it on the chin and apologise. Repeatedly over time I recognised that there was no misdemeanour, no mistake or fault, either by me or her. It was her inexplicable reaction to an imagined scenario; like not being able to find a book that had disappeared, or a dress or a pen, or cooking ingredient. Almost anything could trigger an outburst, an argument or at least an unpleasantness in some way.

Mostly, even in the later stages of her life, Dorothy was complacent, compliant, and courteous. Those rare and unexpected outbursts of temper or anger should have signalled yet another alarm to me. Changes were happening, not only our relationship, but to her life and her interaction with things around her and to other people. Believe me, those changes to relationships and attitude were hard for me to accept. I felt, at that time, it was me, that it was my fault. And I felt guilty; I compensated. I redoubled my attempts to love her more and to accept it was all my fault, that I had driven her to this disastrous point. Nothing I did seemed to help.

Little did I realise at that stage how both our lives were about to change, even more. It was just the beginning…….