Dear Carol: My husband is only 56 but he has early-onset Alzheimer’s. I’ve done my best during COVID to keep him interested in activities and Zoom calls with the kids and friends. Now that we’re vaccinated, he could go out more, but I’m having trouble finding the line between giving him the social exposure that’s recommended and pushing him into anxiety.
Since he’s still in the earlier stage of dementia, the doctor wants to wait before trying anti-anxiety medications. Our kids think now that it’s safer I should have him out more. In a way they are right, but he can’t seem to tolerate much activity going on around him. Some of it could be that he’s used to the quiet of our COVID life, but he was showing signs of this intolerance before we started to isolate. Twice I’ve tried to take him grocery shopping with me and he gets so anxious that I’ve had to take him out of the store. As soon as he’s back in the car, he’s fine. How do we know what’s beneficial and what’s negative? — JH.
Dear JH: I’m so sorry about your husband’s diagnosis at such an early age. You sound as if you coped admirably during COVID isolation so congratulations for stepping up to that challenge.
You’re probably right that necessary isolation before you two were vaccinated could have exacerbated his tendency toward anxiety around others. In fact, we’re hearing about many people who were social prior to COVID finding themselves somewhat anxious about reconnecting in person.
As you said, now that you’re vaccinated there are more opportunities for you to take your husband on outings, but choosing where to take him will be the challenge. Your kids mean well but you are the one who is by his side day in and day out, so you need to go by your instincts.
Maybe rather than a grocery store, you could take him for a walk in a park where there may be people around but not in close contact. Once he’s done that a few times, you could arrange to take him to see your kids or your mutual friends in their homes. If these groups are small and activities are kept reasonably quiet, he may be able to handle it.
Once he’s had a little more exposure, you could try a grocery store again or something else more public.
As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you already know how different each day can be for someone who lives with any type of dementia. Trying to take your husband into social settings on “good” days seems like an excellent idea. Tough days might be better spent at home even though it could mean contacting your hosts to cancel.
I know it’s a challenge, JH, but try to arrange times when you can go out on your own, too. Maintaining your health is important to you, of course, but it’s also vital to your husband’s ongoing care. He needs you long term.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.