Thinking For Two

We’ve all heard the wives tale that a pregnant woman is eating for two. Most people are probably unaware that people caring for someone with memory loss requires thinking for two.

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After a visit with Mom, even a good one, I’m exhausted. Mentally, physically, I’m drained and it’s getting worse as she declines.

With most of my visits I try to take her out.  Giving her enjoyable moments is important even if she’s not going to remember them. She’ll remember that being with me is nice and that’s all I can ask these days. It was on one recent outing I realized I was thinking for her as well as myself.  

Mom is in the late stage of Alzheimer’s and she gets confused easily by shadows. We see shadows as shadows but she sees them as something treacherous and tries to avoid them. Because of this, walking anywhere takes triple the amount of planned time.

Thinking for her seems to help some. Noticing a spot that gives her hesitation, I’ll explain “it’s just a shadows on the carpet”. Pointing out something that she’ll find pretty, like a bird, helps prevent her from watching her feet. I fear she’ll fall since she’s bent in half but telling her to stop has been pointless. The overcast day we walked in the regional park made it clear that shadows are a safety concern for Mom. (Less shadows = less feet watching)

Thinking for Two Starts Intuitively
I believe that caregivers start thinking for their loved ones intuitively. It’s likely one of the many reasons caregivers feel they’re also losing their minds. Thinking for two is not how are brains are wired. Parents of very young children do this but there is a huge difference.  

Babies cannot walk away, turn on the stove or any other manner of dangerous things. Toddlers do get into dicey situations, but adults still retain the feelings of being independent even when they are not.

Giving instructions to our parent or spouse generally doesn’t end well. Just like verbally pushing a toddler to move faster, verbally pushing someone with Alzheimer’s is futile. It’s also generally counter-productive. The more we use words to attempt to get what we want, the more frustrated WE end up becoming.  

Unlike with the average toddler, a person living with Alzheimer’s gets worse over time. They can’t learn a particular path is an easy walk. Each walk on that path is new and each shadow is a new obstacle to figure out.

Especially challenging for adult children caring for a parent is their lack of desire to please you. It’s not natural for them to want to please you. Constantly giving them instructions generally doesn’t yield the desired result.

Thinking for both of you then becomes a necessary default. As the caregiver, we have to see the world through their eyes and anticipate what they may think or feel. If they sense a situation is unsafe and we’re hurrying them along, it’s bound to get unnecessarily stressful.

Mental Exhaustion from Thinking for Two
It’s challenging, but being aware that you’re “thinking for two” allows you to take steps to lessen the mental exhaustion. I mentally think through our outing before I take Mom out. Going to the same places makes this easier. Being aware of what challenges we might encounter gives us a chance to plan how we’ll handle them. There will always be surprises but by being prepared those surprises shouldn’t cause too many struggles.

Similar to dealing with a small child, keep in mind that some places are overly stimulating. Spending as short a time as possible in them is ideal. I know that Mom has the potential for overwhelm when she tells me how big a place is to her. Or she complains about how loud a place is.

Go places during the “off” time. The supermarket just after work can be overwhelming for the average person. It’s better to handle that task earlier if possible. Better yet, take advantage of ordering online and picking up yourself. That’s actually something I should do to save me some time each week!

My "Solutions"
For me, my outings with Mom generally don’t have to be errands. I handle those before a visit so she & I can do something nice. We take drives to the hills, watch kids in the park. All enjoyable and easy outings that generally don’t require too much “thinking for two”.

If you’re caring for a spouse or a parent full time, there are things you can do to keep them calm.  Keep in mind that repetition can be a sign of insecurity. They may be looking for something comfortable or familiar.  It’s hard to know when this is the case so watch for clues. Mom needs to have her purse with her so I make sure she has it. I’d rather she clutch her purse than “worry” her fingers the entire drive.  Even when she forgets it in the car, I make sure to hand it to her. Otherwise, she may ask a dozen times if she has her purse.

One of my biggest challenges with Mom is her apathy when we go out. She can be quite engaging with other visitors, but with me, I get very little from her. I’ve learned that being overwhelmed can cause apathy so I’m trying to ease into our outings. It takes longer to get going but if our visit is better I guess it’s worth the time.

More Useful Stuff
Another thing to keep in mind is this; as soon as you find a work-around to a particular issue, things will change. Understanding that you will always be wearing a detective hat might help you to feel more in control. Talking to other caregivers, listening to supportive podcasts and reading books will also help.

Everyone’s journey with Alzheimer’s or dementia is different but sharing our journey may help the next person some. If you’re like me and have challenging situations that others haven’t, share them. One less mystery to solve will give that caregiver extra brain power to solve the next mystery. Every caregiver needs as much brain power as they can muster.

For more helpful discussions, check out one of the 50+ podcast episodes. I talk to very informative guests who share what they learned on their journey as a caregiver! You can find Fading Memories on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Spotify as well as other podcast players.

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Fink, Producer of Fading Memories Podcast