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Alzheimer’s Caregiving and Pride Don’t Mix

Some people with Alzheimer’s are sweet and easy to get along with, but others can be extremely difficult and temperamental. My Romanian life partner, Ed, fell into the latter category, at least during a certain stage of his illness.

At that time we began having major ugly arguments on average once a week, and he didn’t get over them very easily. He had angry outbursts during which he would yell at me, tell me to get out, slam down the phone on me, and refuse to talk to me for days. He even made scenes like those in public.

The only way to move forward after these displays of anger was to send him a letter of apology, even when I had done nothing wrong. That rubbed me the wrong way. I was very proud. I was right and I liked to be right. I hated apologizing – pretending to have done something wrong when I hadn’t. In desperation I had lunch with Irene, a friend who was a geriatric social worker. She gave me three pieces of advice:  

  1.  Don’t even bring up topics you think may upset him.
  2. You can’t win an argument with a person who has Alzheimer’s. Agree with whatever he says – no matter how absurd – unless there’s a compelling reason not to, and there rarely is.
  3. If he does start to get agitated, quickly change the subject.

“I can’t promise following these guidelines will stop all the fights,” Irene said. “But it’ll help. Why don’t you try it for a while and see what happens?”

“But Irene,” I said. “I can’t agree with him when he says stupid things.”

“When that happens, just ask yourself, ‘Do I want to be right or do I want to have peace?’”

I decided I’d prefer peace and so I did take her advice, and once I mastered the rules (which took quite a bit of time) it did work. It worked like a miracle. The frequency and intensity of our arguments declined significantly. For the most part we returned to our previous easy-going relationship with just a mild disagreement now and then.

I also noticed that when other people didn’t follow these guidelines when interacting with Ed, ugly arguments typically ensued. I finally learned it really was really better to have peace than to be right. It really was best to let go of my pride.

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