Monday, May 28, 2012

Conflict - Alzheimer's Style

When my husband was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, I had a definition in my head, but the definition wasn't connected to the reality of what my day to day living would become.  

The first Christmas season after the diagnosis, we were going to drive 45 minutes to my brother's house for a family gathering.  I hadn't finished all of my shopping so we stopped at the store before we left town.  It had snowed the night before and the roads were sloppy.  We discovered on the way to the store that we were out of window washer, so we picked up a bottle.

When we got out to the parking lot, my husband opened the hood.  He took a few minutes staring at the engine.  Then he started to open the only lid that I am familiar with, the one for the oil.  I really don't know where the washer fluid should go, but I do know where it should not.  I tried to talk him into waiting, but he refused, so, not knowing what to do, I slammed the hood shut.

He started to shake, pointed his finger in my face, and screamed at me, then walked off through the parking lot.  Not knowing what to do, I followed him down the street.  Since the sidewalk was covered with snow, he walked in the street.  I felt that his safety was in danger and so I phoned the police. 

I gave them an overview of what happened and told them where we were.  Then the 911 operator wanted a description of my husband.  Of course in that moment of craziness, I said, he is the only man walking in the middle of the street in front of Dillon's with a women trailing behind him.  Of course she was looking for the 6 ft. and so on details.  After giving those, they came out to talk to him.  He was very angry at me as well as at the policeman.  They finally talked him into going with me.  He held onto this resentment for nearly a year.  He could hardly remember what he had done in a day, but he could remember being angry at me about the window wash.

I was very puzzled for a long time about what had happened.  I had some anger too about what happened, until I learned more about this disease.  At no point did I think I played a part in what had happened.

The angry outburst had a name: a catastrophic episode.  This is an extreme response to too much stimuli.  I could have prevented it.  Who knew?  I am a special education teacher who works with emotionally disturbed children.  I  am not a stranger to emotional meltdowns.  If I had been working with a student, I would have given space, slowed my motions, tried to redirect and de-escalate.  I would not have pushed the student into a reaction, as I did my husband.  Also, I would not have waited to shop at the last minute to add more stress.  At work, I would have been reactive and I would have had a plan.  

It took me a while to figure out that the de-escalation tools that work at school can work at home.  My husbands reactions are from his disease and he does not have control over them.   I am grateful I have these tools and am now using them at home.

Do the tools always work?  Oh no, of course not.  When I over extend myself in other areas of my life, the stress shows in my face and actions and due to the disease he misreads me.  But since I know that I am the one that can prevent most of the problems before hand and I am the one that can redirect when something does happen, we have less  catastrophic episodes.  Less stress and chaos in our life leaves room for enjoyable moments of being together.

No comments:

Post a Comment