Anchors Aweigh

It is 7:30pm and Jeff is in bed. This is a condition which may or may not last until I join him myself in a couple of hours. Despite all the static that’s garbled the lines of communication along our 7+ year journey into Alzheimer’s, I remain–whether I like it all the time or not–his anchor in a sea of disorienting stimuli. Until I am snugly ensconced in our too-small, antique, full-size bed, the probability that he’ll wander downstairs in a haze looms large.

That’s my one-word job description these days. Anchor. I anchor the health requirements of our aging, high-maintenance pets. I anchor the comings and goings of four young adult children. And perhaps most definitively I anchor the fading life of the fine man who’s been my life-partner since 1984.

It helps to be made of iron when you’re an anchor. Sure, you’ve got to keep scraping that surface-rust off, and every so often someone bangs a knee on you, and wishes you were a little softer. A bit less solid. Not quite so salty.

But this is the natural metamorphosis of an Alzheimer spouse. Unquestionably, dementia in loved ones cuts hearts to ribbons across the board, but when it’s your spouse, there’s an added dimension. As a rule, it’ll be your primarily relationship and number one support-person whose personality dematerializes exactly as you are called to muster, from reserves you didn’t know you had, the strength of an emotional Titan. Or at least a Titan wanna-be. Because, heaven knows, we caregiving spouses can goof up big time.

I am delighted to be joining the Fisher Center blogging community. I’ve discovered here a wealth of information and links I have only just begun to click. Of particular recent value to me has been Dr. Barry Reisberg’s comprehensive outline–with helpful examples–of the 7 stages of Alzheimer’s.

Jeff’s progress has been a little tougher than average to chart. He’s hewn to a path that’s closer to the Posterior Cortical Atrophy visuospatial variant of the illness, more than to the classic textbook model. As a result, he knows who his kids are and where he lives, but those same kids help him open the car door and fasten his seatbelt.

Thanks to Dr. Reisberg’s clearcut guidance, I can plot our position on the Alzheimer’s map. We have, apparently, just crossed the murky border between stages 5 and 6, and are abiding tenuously in 6a, having recently lost the ability to put a coat or shirt on right-sides up and out. And here’s where my anchor analogy trips over its own immutable robustness. An anchor isn’t flexible. An Alzheimer spouse must be. I have not used my arm-threading skills to slide a human into his own overcoat in roughly fifteen years, when my youngest was three. But, like riding a bike, it comes back. Take it out, dust it off, put it back into the daily routine. And weigh anchor as flexibly as possible, because there’s a new squall a’comin’ and it’s name is 6b.