Everything changes

High School students will probably remember Newton’s first law of physics, which is something like: “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it”.

Wow! That’s true of our human bodies, too, isn’t it? It seems to me that most of us, in general, are resistant to change. We tend to strive for stability, steady progress, predictability. So, when confronted with a disturbance of that balance, we often find a way to ignore it or circumnavigate it and keep on doing…well, just the ‘same as normal’.

And it’s my experience that when confronted, eventually and finally, with the inescapable truth that my partner had begun the dementia journey, I did the same. We all tend to rationalise; we say it’s just a temporary aberration, or even blame ourselves – it’s my fault – I should have explained, should have managed the situation, whatever it was, differently or better. Or perhaps just ignore the strange reactions, the forgetfulness, the repetition, the moods. “I will cope” you say, “because we all forget stuff as we age, don’t we?”

Usually the acceptance, and the reality, of memory and behaviour change emerges slowly to a partner. Often it is picked up first by family and friends, then finally, with reluctance and trepidation, by the partner. As a devoted partner, we are usually quick to forgive forgetfulness, memory lapses and small behaviour changes. After all, who amongst us doesn’t have some difficulty remembering stuff?

To manage, to survive, we are inclined to go gently with the flow and just use the mechanisms we are comfortable with. We learn to adjust to the pace and manage to keep our distance from disturbing personal technology trends. At best, a few of us actually learn to cope with – or somehow manage or ignore – the fads and Facebooks of the current age. But there is a difference between that kind of adjustment and the major lifestyle changes that emerge when we need to cope with Alzheimer’s.

It can be tricky for us to even recognise that our partner’s behaviour is changing, sometimes in subtle ways. It’s not always quickly apparent, because we are wired to forgive! Our partner’s inability to adapt, to learn new skills and to communicate clearly may begin slowly then irrevocably progress. We tend to ignore and rationalise the minor changes, ascribing them to just getting older and forgetful.

That is exactly what happened to me and will be happening to others who are facing Alzheimer’s in their partner. Dementia discloses its presence in so many diverse ways, and recognising and dealing with those changes in your partner’s life is always difficult. Some situations will certainly test your patience and love. Persistent and unpredictable responses and behaviour are always a challenge!

At each stage of our lives, all of us will be changing, for all sorts of reasons and often in subtle ways. We are inclined to make allowances and to forgive unintended events. But ultimately, we must face the reality of a distinct and ongoing trend when our partner’s behaviour is persistently different, sometimes covert, and unquestionably, can even be unsafe.

Talking to your family, and to your doctor, as we discussed earlier, is the first step and takes some courage. Alzheimer’s is seldom self-diagnosed. So, you need to be proactive and, with love, take steps to ensure that you manage both your lives – to continue and enjoy being together for as long as you can, in this changing world….