FTD -Ever Decreasing Circles

As one who has passed through the weird “Looking Glass” of FTD and back again, I now have a different perspective on the day-to-day oxymoron of “frantic meanderings” through tantrums, crises, tears, laughter and frustration that comprises those days.
Looking Glass gif

As your life turns in ever-decreasing circles towards the inevitable end point, you become completely caught up in all aspects of the caregiver life that has been thrust upon you. Your world becomes smaller, more focused upon the minutiae of feeding, cleaning and keeping your loved one safe. Everything gets smaller – your circle of friends, your sphere of social activity and even your one-to-one interactions with your spouse, parent, child or partner. In fact, your entire world becomes one specifically centered around ensuring that everyone is safe and as comfortable as possible. This is almost im-possible when it comes to FTD. The degeneration of the brain can be imperceptible on a daily basis, then all of a sudden, they can’t do something that they could do yesterday. Or won’t eat something that was the only thing they would eat yesterday. But sometimes, there are things that persist all throughout the course of the disease process without fail.

Lately, I have been hearing a lot about “pacing”. This was something my husband did all the time, even up to about a week before he died. He was weak and frail and did not eat or drink for the last eight days of his life, but by God, he could still pace. Eventually, he was so weak that he spent more time in bed than he did pacing. Not for lack of trying though. He would still struggle and try to get up even when he physically was no longer able. He struggled right up until the last two days of his life and even then, sedated and pain-free, he moved his legs in the bed as if he was running, running for his life, which he was. Pacing was the one thing that relieved the anxiety that persisted throughout the latter half of his FTD ride. He was not an easily “soothable” man, but the physical exertion was the only way he could relieve the pent-up energy that was still generated in a young(ish), fit man.

Pacing, if overruled by medication in the form of anti-psychotics or anti-anxiolytics like Ativan,  can often lead to uncontrolled screaming and agitation because the anxiety that persists has to come out somewhere. Pacing is not the cause of anxiety, but a symptom of it. Yes, medication can help, but in addition, a less stressful course of management can be bouts of physical activity balanced with periods of rest. This will enable your FTD’er to use up that energy and sleep during the day, hopefully encouraging a more restful sleep at night – especially for you. I hear constantly about the exhausted caregiver who cannot sleep at night because their FTD’er is up and around, rummaging in drawers, or kitchen cabinets, or just pacing. It’s difficult to prevent this behavior but there are some things you can do to alleviate your frustration with it.

Frustration

  • Mental and physical activity is vital. Not to the point of exhaustion, but to let out energy.
  • Remember that “stimulation” is not what you are aiming for – that can cause more frustration – but rather a use of the faculties that are still remaining can bring a degree of satisfaction, especially in those still high-functioning FTD’ers.
  • Don’t rule out anything that you feel may be an insult to their dignity. I was the biggest proponent of maintaining as much independence as possible for this very reason. But remember, that as the disease progresses, so does the mental development age. So, those distractions that would amuse an 8, 5, or even 3-year old may suffice for a short time. Jigsaw puzzles, age-appropriate children’s books, coloring (be careful they don’t eat the crayons!), or a simple ball game.
  • Think about how “dignity” looks in a 3-year old. They are much less inhibited and conscious of social norms and it is likely that your FTD’er will be too. Often it is your own embarrassment or humiliation that prevents you from offering activities that you may consider “childish” or inappropriate for a man or woman of 40+.

One person I know keeps her husband so busy, he doesn’t have time to “get into mischief” so much. Long walks, jumping in puddles, hot tub baths, large toys, craft activities, she is very imaginative. I know, I know, being this creative can be exhausting for you, but you will reap the rewards in a different way if your loved one sometimes rests in the afternoon and sleeps at night.

Powerwalk

 

If they are a pacer, let them pace. My mantra was always “If it doesn’t harm him or anyone else, it’s ok”. Walking with a purpose or end goal is not the point here. Just the act of walking can be enough to soothe a troubled soul. Everyone is different. Some high-functioning people are able to go shopping, visit the park, spend time in social situations for a long time into their illness. But, eventually, these skills will diminish too and you will have to think of new ways to occupy those long days, especially if they are physically fit and healthy.

It’s important to remember that what you consider to be boring or mundane, may seem like the most important thing in the world to someone with FTD. The obsessive- compulsions, or repetitive behaviors like tapping or humming, may drive you crazy, but they are self-soothing mechanisms by which the person with FTD is trying desperately to hold on to some sense of control. As difficult as it is to ignore, your own sense of frustration will lessen if you can switch off from anything that is not destructive or harmful. It’s a little like when you have kids, you have to change your priorities and what you would like to be done and perhaps lower your standards of how tidy your house needs to be.

Rest for all is equally important. Not necessarily sleeping, but sitting quietly and doing nothing. My husband would only do this if I was sitting next to him, which was frustrating since I could think of a million things I could be doing once he was sitting down. But, the minute I moved, he would become restless again. The only way he would sit calmly was if I would sit calmly too. Looking back, that was not necessarily a bad thing. Those little enforced breaks meant that I had moments to treasure later. Moments when it was just the two of us and I could pretend that FTD was not holding us hostage. Although it did mean that laundry and housework didn’t get done. Oh well.

In residential care, Alan became an expert pacer, forcing his caregivers to follow him down the long hallways, complete a circuit of the pool table and then trot back down towards his room at the end of the hall, to begin the process all over again. I was amazed at their patience and tenacity, along with the fact that they never questioned it, or tried to stop him until they could see he was becoming exhausted; at which point they would try to distract him with food or something, in an effort to get him to rest. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes he would almost fall asleep while walking, at which point they would skillfully guide him back to bed for a nap. He paced when I was there too, and I would follow him and guide him around obstacles, which at that point, he could no longer maneuver. Thankfully, he never fell, which is a miracle in itself. As boring as it was to walk those halls, he would hold my hand and walk ahead as if showing me around the place. We would stop and talk to the staff, sometimes he would try and go into other people’s rooms, but was easily redirected. As weird as it may sound, we made some fond memories under horrible circumstances and I am grateful to the staff there for making the last weeks of Alan’s life as pleasant and comfortable as it could be. It was a time of great reflection for me, living alone for the first time and working without worrying about what he was up to at home. Although I became exhausted in a different way – emotionally – having the time to reflect on what our life together had become and what the future would be for me.

So – pace yourself! The ever-decreasing circles of your life will take stamina and determination. Those days when you are utterly exhausted and tired of being the nice guy will make you weary. Do whatever it takes to make it less so. I slept in a different room for the last two years my husband was at home. It’s amazing how a good night’s sleep can improve your outlook. I used to hear him sometimes, shuffling around, opening and closing drawers, rearranging his closet until late at night. Once I knew he could not get out of the house or into my room, I could rest easy and let him do his thing. Eventually he would fall asleep after wearing himself out – sometimes sleeping on the floor in his room. The upside of this was that he slept in in the morning, leaving me the time I needed to get ready for work, before I woke him to get ready to go to adult day care. If it’s possible to have someone come and be at your home overnight and be prepared to attend to your FTD’er while you sleep, you should definitely take them up on it.

Throughout this exhausting process, be sure to do a few things to take care of you. If you have someone who can sit in your house for a few hours, go out and do something you like. Guilt is not an option. (There’s a whole other blog post on that!). You need to recharge your own batteries. Believe me, I know what it is to drive yourself into the ground caring for someone else. As the old saying goes, “If I knew then what I know now………”. You get my drift anyway.

There comes a point where you have to make ever-increasing circles without them, even before they are gone, but especially in preparation for after. I think about all of you out there every day, believe me. I know it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done or probably will do. My heart hurts for the things you are going through. I feel a personal connection with all of you, even though we have never met.

Love drop

FTD – Mission Impossible!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Work – it means something different to everyone. What is it anyway? I have written about it here before, about what it means to someone with FTD. It represents having control over one’s life, contributing to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As much as we all say “Oh God, it’s Monday already?”, work gives context to our lives, it gives us purpose and drive. If you’re lucky enough to love what you do, then it isn’t “work” in the true sense of the word.If you have a calling, a vocation, then your work is the very meaning of your life.

Three weeks ago, I went into my job of more than ten years as usual. It was the place where I had received a huge amount of support during our FTD years. The place where I felt safe from the ravages of the bastard disease, if only for a few hours. Work was my savior on those days when my world was closing in and FTD commanded my every waking moment. In a responsible, high-level position, I had to focus on other people and their needs, instead of mine and those of my husband. It gave me a wonderful sense of pride and humanity to be in a place where only those closest to me knew what was happening in our lives and those I served had no clue.

Three weeks ago, I went there as usual, bright and early. Two hours later, I was in my car on my way home from that place for the last time. Ten and a half years finished and over. My supporters and antagonists left behind to move in the “different direction” that, it had been decided, did not include me or my position. It’s ok. I tell you this not to glean sympathy or pity. I tell you this because I am happy that I am healthy enough, mentally and physically to understand what freedom this new turn of events will offer.

donald trump

It has given me fresh perspective. I don’t think that the decision was intended to please me, or make me happy, but it actually did and does. Now I have the time and energy to devote to –well, whatever I damn well please. Now, I have the benefit of knowing that I have spent the last ten years working towards this moment. Five of those ten years have been spent in grief and loss. But those people, that place, gave me the strength to get through whatever FTD had to throw at me. My work sanctuary sufficed to give me the stability I needed to survive the last five years and I did.

Actually, I did more than survive. Because, despite the best efforts of the bastard disease, I not only survived, I thrived. I thrived because I had the support, the love and the salvation that I needed to get through it all. All those things that you are going through are survivable. I’m pretty sure you don’t think so, I never did. Actually, I never even really thought of it in that way, I simply got through the day-to-day, just like you do. But now, on the other side, I can see that everything I had in place – my family, my friends, my work, were all just crutches that were available to help me. I know that some of you feel that you have little or no support., your families, or those of your loved one having abandoned you in some way, or they just don’t get it. But, even though you may feel alone, be patient, because someone, somewhere will be coming along I am sure. Not in the romantic sense, but a person or persons who will be a support and comfort to you.

Along my journey, not long after Alan died, I met a woman, a minister no less, who had also lost her husband to FTD. The chances of this happening are pretty random, but meet we did and share we did. She was just in my life for a very brief time before our paths parted, but I believe she came into my life for a reason and I am very grateful for that. She was part of my “life in progress” situation.

The FTD path is never easy, and I mean , never. You all have a different story to mine and to everyone else who is caring from someone with FTD. Some of you work outside the home in addition to caring for your FTD’er and that is challenging indeed. At the various stages, some of which only last for a few days, you come up with ways that will ease your path and get through this particular stage.

For example, when my husband’s sense of time was slipping, I would leave for work before he was awake,  prepare his breakfast, leave a note out on the counter to tell him his lunch was in the fridge and put a note on his sandwich in the fridge saying “Lunch”. Phew!  One time my son went over to check on him at 10 am and he had already eaten his lunch. Hm. So my devious plan didn’t work then.

So with FTD, your new mission, should you choose to accept it, is to invent and reinvent new ways in which to keep your FTD’er alive and well. Every single day. If you’re lucky, you may get through a few weeks, or even months, without a significant change. But change will come, as sure as the sun rises in the morning. It will keep you on your toes that’s for sure. Reinvention of yourself and your routines and schedules is the only way to cope.

  • A sense of humor will keep you sane. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Cry at the futility of everything, then laugh again in the face of FTD and give it the bird.
  • No matter how ridiculous a solution seems, give it a try. You never know. Chocolate ice cream for breakfast? If it gets you out the door to work and them to day care, what the hell? Puddle jumping in wellington boots? Sure. Reruns of “Two and a Half Men” on a loop? Heck yes, if it gives you 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to do something you want to do. Fake ID/credit card? Thank you. When it doesn’t work?- “Oh those things are hopeless, I’ll call the bank/DMV tomorrow and complain”. Kid’s toy paper money? Oh yes.
  • Flexibility with work schedule is a godsend if you can do it. I used to go in at 4am so I could be home at noon. Since my husband rarely rose before 8am, it worked. I realize that’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • “Therapeutic fiblets” are invaluable. “The car is in the shop”, “I will call _______ tomorrow”, “That door lock is broken”, “The store is closed” etc etc.

As you can see and you know, being an FTD caregiver is in itself a full time job. Being inventive and creative about your life is a necessary part of it. Don’t be too hard on yourself is probably the single most important thing. No-one ever died from not getting a shower today, or eating vanilla ice cream for three meals a day, even with diabetes. Co-morbidities, or other illnesses that your loved one may have in conjunction with their FTD, become insignificant once you’re faced with the inevitability of FTD. Keeping them healthy is a poor second to keeping them safe.

One of the hardest things sometimes is to do what everyone urges you to do – “cherish every moment”. Good advice indeed, but sometimes that takes work too. Sometimes all you want to do is lie down and sleep, even if it means missing a momentary spark of lucidity. There comes a time when you have to give in to your own emotions and exhaustion and give yourself some succor. Being an inventor is exhausting. You come up with a million ideas, but only one of them works. It’s worse than being on Shark Tank. Your efforts will be dissected and rejected. Your FTD’er will give you that glazed-eye look and your plan will bite the dust. Oh well, on to the next thing.

The constant need for change is defeating too. You are trying to keep all the balls in the air – work, home, children, school, aging parents, and that annoying ticking noise in your car. And then come up with a solution for how to hide that bag of Doritos in a place where it cannot be found – again. If you are like me, your job is a haven of non-FTD related stuff. The people there are demanding in a different way and, for some reason, don’t seem to be nearly as much trouble as the one you have at home. The separation is bliss. Of course, many FTD caregivers don’t have the luxury of going out of the house alone every day. For them, life is a constant loop of invention and distraction, cleaning and hiding. You people are warriors of a different nature. Hardened to the sights, smells and sounds of your love slowly drifting away. I for one feel that I got off lucky in some respects. Going out to work saved me from my own insanity. I salute you for being there 24/7 and giving your all. Caring for someone with FTD is definitely not for wimps and Mission Impossible is handled every day.

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