FTD -Living with Dad

Happy Father’s Day to all those men out there who are dads, granddads, stepfathers, foster dads, and those who step up when dads are absent, including the many mothers who do double duty.

Today, we honor those men who are or have been in our lives to guide, teach, support and love us. For those of us whose father is no longer with us, it is a day filled with memories, hopefully good ones, and love. My fatherly experience was very good. My dad was a hard-working, dignified, decent man who loved his family. He died in 2000 at the age of 68 from the lung cancer that had been growing, despite his smoking cessation fifteen years before. My father-in-law also met the same fate at the age of 44. My husband was 19 when he died and had been looking forward to spending his adult years sharing good times with his dad. My brother-in-law was 11. His dad’s death at such a young age had a significant effect on his life. So, our Dad longevity track record is not very good. My husband loved his boys. Although they were grown men when FTD made its appearance, it still had a devastating effect on them, as it does on all of us.

IMG_2893
My Dad aged 17

“Dad” memories for me are filled with Christmases – all of us in his and Mum’s bed on Christmas morning, him trying on a new gifted hat in his pajamas. With summer vacations, candy and comics on a Friday night (payday). Walking half a mile down the road to meet him from work, just so I could get a ride home on the back of his motorcycle. The “What time d’you call this?” nights. The “yes, I suppose I’ll come and get you” midnight response to my pleading phone calls when I missed the last bus. (I was banking on the fact that by the time he got to me his fury would have subsided, which it always did). The memories of my dad include family Sunday dinners and early morning breakfasts together, just the two of us, then he would take me to meet my ride for work. Happy times. I was shielded from a lot of the ugliness in the world and will always love him and my mother for ensuring that my brother and I had such a happy childhood.

He made some mistakes my dad, which meant that we did not see each other as much as I would have liked when I was older. He married another woman after divorcing my mother to whom he was married for over twenty-five years. I was married and in my own home by that time, but the realization that he wanted something other than “us” was shocking to me. We saw each other of course, but it was difficult for me get over the fact that he had wanted to destroy our family unit and be a part of someone else’s. But he did and I accepted it because it made him happy. It was hard to watch and be part of but I did it.

When your father has FTD, he becomes like mine did – absent. Thankfully my dad did not “disappear” during my formative years, but after I was grown, but it was still hard. Having your dad at home while having FTD is painful. It makes you angry and resentful. Why can’t you be like other dads? Even though my sons were adults, it was so difficult for them to watch, I know. My elder son, Chris, was living in another state at the time, so he lived it vicariously through his brother and I. He would call and talk to his dad, and as time went by the conversations became more and more one-sided. But Alan so loved the calls, even though he could not speak very well. Just the contact made him feel “normal” again I think. My younger son, Adam, lived just around the corner from Alan and I, so he was much more involved in the day-to-day aspects of FTD care. He watched as his dad disappeared slowly into the abyss, feeling helpless. He was very protective of me. We would talk about what was coming next and how we would handle the increasingly bizarre and agitated behaviors. He has told me since that he would dread every text or call from me – anticipating that some dreadful event had taken place. We discussed how cruel it is to watch someone you love go through FTD and that there is no way out until the disease decides it is time.

March 1999 leaving EnglandOur boys had a close relationship with their dad – one of the ties being football. After we moved to the U.S., we would gather at the weekends, sometimes at 4am, to watch our beloved team play as the game was broadcast live from England. Chris is most like him, but Adam and Alan shared the passion for football the most. It broke Adam’s heart when, as the disease progressed, Alan could no longer sit and focus on the game, getting up and leaving the room to attend to laundry or some other imagined matter more important. His responses to the game would be to repeat comments by either Adam or the commentators. He had lost his passion for the game and the very essence of who he was. It was hard for Adam to see and it was hard for me to watch as their relationship faded against their will. FTD unremittingly takes every last drop of passion and volition.

If you are a child, living with a father who has FTD must be strange to say the least. Protecting one’s children is a priority, so those women who are in this position have to do double duty. Trying to ensure that the children have as “normal” an upbringing as possible, and caring for a partner who has no insight into the terribleness that is being wrought upon the ones they love has to be the most difficult thing they will ever do. It’s doubly heartbreaking for them since they know that their children’s father will never see the dance recitals, track meets, swim meets, weddings and grandchildren that are to come. FTD knows no bounds. Fathers become children before their children become fathers. The slow regression must be, for the children, like welcoming a new baby into the family. But how hard is that explain to your friends? How strange to have to explain your dad’s behavior to your friends. How uncomfortable for you to have your friends over and have your dad act all weird. Some kids of course, take it all in their stride, at least on the surface. They accept and accommodate with the resilience that we know kids have. But the resentment, for which they feel guilty of course, is bound to come. Other kids have parents who divorce, or have cancer, or die in an accident. But these kids of FTD have to live with changing behaviors every day, with no end in sight for several years. They may have to move, change schools, give up things due to financial constraints and lose some of their family or friends because they just don’t understand and fade away. Their dad is around, but unable to go to graduation. Present but unable to contribute at the PTA meetings. At home, but needs a babysitter. Alive, but no longer with us.

So, this Father’s Day, I wish all dads a lovely day. But I send the FTD kids a special wish that somehow, their life will be enriched by the experience of being forced to care. That they will one day understand how important they were in their dad’s life. And that they will be able to celebrate future Father’s Days with fond memories from better times.

Daddy and me

FTD – The Empty Chair

empty chair

Back from a wonderful vacation, I am sitting here this morning, reading my email, checking my bank account, generally loafing around drinking coffee. I came across several new posts on a Facebook Support group page of which I am a member. The sadness, anger, grief and frustration reminds me of what once was for us and also how thankful I am that part of my life is over. I also noticed that since I joined the group over three years ago, the numbers have risen from a little over 400 to more than 2000 today.

The same issues and questions arise on a weekly basis – “my husband keeps escaping at night”, “my wife uses the ‘F’ word frequently in public”, “my mother does not acknowledge my new baby”, “how do I get my loved one to eat anything but Cheerios?”. It is tempting to comment about how the issue has been discussed previously in the group, but these “new” people don’t know that. They are caught in the maelstrom of just trying to get through every day. Fighting against apathy, fury, cursing, incontinence and constant pacing. It is hard to see outside of your cage when every fiber of your being is just focused on keeping everyone safe and surviving with your own sanity intact. The endless days morph into one long purgatory, all while watching your previous life disappear.

I conjure up in my head, some way to consolidate all the things we know. All the tips and tricks that the ingenious care partners come up with every day, in order to make their lives a little easier. To maintain independence and dignity for their loved ones as long as possible and to maintain comfort and safety, health and wellness for all concerned. It would be a mammoth task and would take someone far wiser and knowledgeable than me to write. I am not a clinical expert, nor did I face many of those challenges on my own journey with my husband. since every FTD patient’s path is different. It would be difficult to have the perfect guide. There are many, many tomes out there that talk about “dementia care” and “caregiving”. I have read some of them, but often find them a little patronizing and authoritative. I think what’s needed is practical advice for sure, but also incorporate the humor, humility and understanding of the sadness that accompanies taking care of someone you love.

I think that perhaps I would be a little reluctant to even take on this huge task because 1) there is a potential for rejection (I am only human after all ha ha!) and 2) I cannot even come close to pretending to know even one-quarter of what there is to know about FTD. So I guess I would really need to know from all of you, what would be the most helpful? Most caregivers have little time to sit and read a book or watch a video, so how can this information be best communicated? Quick-read lists? Page-a-day bullet points? I would love to know.

It occurs to me that in the three years since I started talking to these wonderful people in the FTD world, little has changed. Much has been discovered about the condition and physiology of FTD, but nothing about how we can treat or even cure it. Progress is slow indeed. So the focus needs to be on education and awareness, on talking endlessly about FTD and its effects. Susan Suchan, a courageous woman who is diagnosed with FTD and early Alzheimer’s disease, fights the good fight on a daily basis. She puts herself out there, faces her demons and talks openly about what her life is like with her constant companion, the bastard disease. I can only aspire to the level of strength and dignity she shows us.


My vacation was tinged with more than a little sadness. I traveled with my husband’s younger brother David, and his wife Lydia. We have a very close relationship, both before, during and after FTD slapped us in the face. Throughout the trip, I was very aware several times of the empty chair that was usually present at the table where we were enjoying drinks, a meal, or  show. Just laughing together as we always have. Tables are usually set for even numbers of people. Since there were three of us, or five if we were joined by another couple, I was acutely aware of the space where my husband would have been. I’m pretty sure David felt it a couple of times too. The four of us always had such great times together, it would be hard not to. It didn’t spoil the trip, we still had fun and laughed a lot. It made me smile that we carried him to that place in our hearts and included him in our conversation and jokes. People we met always asked where he (my husband) was, assuming I was separated or divorced until we explained our relationship.

Since I returned, I have reflected on the comments and responses I received from those people. They meant well of course. Sympathy and smiles usually. When I jumped back onto Facebook this morning and read the anguish and pain of those still in the trenches of FTD, I realized that sharing our journey is more important than ever. Sharing the frustration and hurt so that others understand, even though I still don’t. Of course, on vacation, that is not what people want to hear. They smile and nod politely when you explain that your husband died. I did not share the causes or reasons: or at least, I did not go into great detail –they don’t really want to know. Neither would I in their situation. But the experience reinforces that we exclusive FTD club members have to look to ourselves for support and help.

Hence the desire to produce some kind of tangible assistance. We say that if you have met one person with FTD, you have met one person with FTD. The uniqueness and singularly different behaviors, conditions and attitudes means that there can never be a one-size-fits-all solution. Even in the heady, hoped-for days to come when there will be a cure, or at least some kind of treatment, it will never fit everyone. Our unique human DNA means that no single solution will help everyone. So, right now, the best we can hope for is better understanding and awareness, and better resources with which to manage the daily horrors and heartfelt misery which sometimes, often — engulfs the FTD caregiver.

I feel so very thankful and fortunate that I can take vacations and generally enjoy life, different though it is from how I thought it would be.

AZStateCapitol

Yesterday, Sunday June 12, I had the honor of speaking at an event at our State Capitol building. An Awareness vigil to bring FTD to the forefront as we are part of the “tsunami” of dementia – Alzheimer’s, FTD, CBD and all the other sub-types. Our Governor has declared June 2016 as “Alzheimer’s Awareness month” in Arizona. The Capitol building will be lit up in purple for the whole month. Hopefully, this will be an annual event. Governor Ducey made an official Declaration to that effect. The Mayor of Tempe, Mark Mitchell,  has declared his city as a “dementia-friendly community”. Progress indeed. As different as we know FTD is to Alzheimer’s for many reasons, we are such a small number, relatively speaking, that the only way we can bring attention to ourselves is to be a part of a much bigger effort to combat all types of dementia – young and older-onset. We FTD people can be a little precious sometimes about our sub-type. “It’s not like other dementias”, which is definitely true. However, we cannot isolate ourselves from the potential publicity, funding and general awareness that must surely come. I plan to keep moving forward with that goal in mind, always aware that the empty chair is the one that will bring me the most power and the courage to speak out.

The empty chair needs to be filled with love and understanding in honor of our loved ones’ fight against the bastard disease and others like it. Awareness is everything. The behaviors and challenges that arise from dementia seem insurmountable at times. Overwhelming for those who are constantly struggling to keep it together -raise children, care for aging parents, hold down full-time work, pay bills, hold on to their own sanity. Feeling the burn from family members and friends who desert you can be the ultimate insult. Shunning by members of a less-than-educated society can make the isolation one feels even worse.

So what if someone points at you in a restaurant? So what if someone is speaking louder than is usually considered appropriate? Hell, people without dementia do that all the time! People chat loudly on their cell phone in public like they were in their own house, even at the movie theater. FTD’s childlike behavior is regarded with uncomfortable sideways glances, table manners suddenly become the focus in public -like everyone eats with etiquette anyway these days. It can seem as though every little foible that develops from FTD is a reason for others to regard someone as inferior. Caregivers have to develop a pretty thick skin to ignore that. The shame and embarrassment of public outbursts, incontinence or inappropriate behavior is constant. Let them stare. let them tut-tut. Let them sit in your chair for a day. Then let them tell you how they “had no idea!” That they did not understand what you are dealing with on a daily basis. Then and only then do they even come close to having a right to an opinion.

I would swap the empty chair at my table for being able to stand proud and give rebuttals to remarks or just give an onlooker “the look”. You know, the look you used to give your kids when they were about to start doing something in public that they shouldn’t.

The empty chair at my table is reserved for those with understanding, empathy and love. It is not for the faint-hearted, not for the weak.  It is built  with strength to love and support those who go on, fighting every day for awareness and understanding, for resources and education. Many people sit in the chair. They can never replace the one who left it, to whom it will always belong, but the new people who briefly sit there bring me hope and strength.

The keynote speaker at our Awareness vigil yesterday spoke of the statistics and data surrounding dementia; of the sheer numbers of people who will be affected by dementia in the years to come.  Those diagnosed and those who will care for them. Shouting about it now may help to deal with it all, but we have to do it now. This is not something that can wait. It’s here, it’s already started. Without adequate resources for care, entire families will succumb to hardship. We cannot let that happen. I for one will use my knowledge and strength to raise the banner of awareness. To quote Maya Angelou,  I hope I can –

Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud

Rainbow cloud 3

FTD – R and D? Finally! Happy New Year Arnold!

So here we are. 2015. Happy New Year! I hope that FTD is kinder to you this year. It seems like we are finally seeing a little money being made available for research into defeating the invader into our lives – FTD. Check out this link to further details:

http://www.healthline.com/health-news/nih-grants-30-million-to-study-frontotemporal-dementia-011015#1

Arnold Pick2As you may know, Arnold Pick is arguably the most famous person to describe a premature kind of dementia that we now know as FTD. He called it Dementia praecox” In 1891, Dr. Pick described rapid cognitive disintegration, often beginning in the late teens or early adulthood.  Nowadays, frontotemporal degeneration refers to a group of conditions. But at the end of the nineteenth century, work was just beginning on discovering more about this group of disorders, which originally were thought to be psychiatric in nature.

There had been many other physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists all the way back to 50 B.C.E, when a man called Lucretius used the term  “dementia” to describe “being out of one’s mind”.

LucretiusSo, after two thousand and sixty-five years, it’s probably about time for some some money to be put into research, since so much is still unknown about this demon that we battle every day. We hear about Alzheimer’s Disease ad nauseum. I truly understand that caring for anyone with any kind of cognitive disorder is draining,  deflating, soul-destroying. Believe me I know. But the powers that be really need to wake up to the fact that the vast majority of people who develop Alzheimer’s Disease are elderly and require a completely different kind of care to those amongst us who have three children under the age of ten, or teenagers who are grappling with the fact that their parent is not their parent anymore.

Awareness is paramount to the cause of those young men and women who are the partners, wives, brothers and sisters of those afflicted by the bastard disease. Those people who have had their lives snatched away, chewed up and spit out so that their loved one is now an infantile version of their former self. Those beloved ones who are thirty-some, forty-some and fifty-some years old and who will never again understand their role in life. It’s not as rare as one might think or be led to believe by the article above.

Lucretius knew. Arnold knew. They just didn’t really know what they knew then. I would love for them to be spirited to the here and now and see how epidemic their discoveries have become. Of how millions of lives are affected. I wonder what they would think of the vast array of technologies and advances available to us now and despite our knowing much more than they did then, we still don’t know enough to make it go away. Maybe we would know more if we dedicated more time and resources. If we threw everything we had at the bastard disease. If politicians were less concerned about where their next “business’ trip is coming from (or going to). If big pharma were less focused on making money selling their wares and more focused on finding cures. If governments (and not just ours) were dedicated as if it were their own spouse that needed the help.

The zeitgeist needs to change. If you have loved or even just met someone for whom FTD is a reality, you know that social perception and awareness is light years behind the reality.

FTD is occurring globally on an ever-increasing scale. Social media groups are popping up all over the place, with more and more new members seeking support from one another. There are scant resources to help them. They only have each other. The lack of knowledge, the guilt, the resentment, the love. It’s all there. People don’t know which way to turn. There are people who gladly share their knowledge or experience, but sometimes it all seems so futile, Is this what it was like for those people who experienced those things of which we are now so accepting but were the FTD of their day? HIV/AIDS?  Unwed mothers? Homosexuality? I realize that those things also carried (carry?) social stigmas, but FTD can do that too.

Friends, or those we once thought were friends, shy away, not calling or coming to visit. Making excuses not to go out together. It all comes down to fear. Fear of the unknown, of the “I don’t know what to say”. Of feeling embarrassed.

Sometimes I wish someone famous would develop FTD. Then maybe people would sit up and listen. Not that I would actually wish the bastard disease on my worst enemy of course, but anything that would bring a huge public eye-opening about what is happening would be a major breakthrough.

We’ve all heard of Arnold Pick, but most people have not. If he were here now, more glamorous and in a position of power, people would really sit up and listen, right? Right, dream on. I guess there are too many people and groups with vested interests in too many other things.

I always think it’s sad that money dictates how much attention, time and resources are dedicated to one thing or another. If we are humanists, shouldn’t we be doing these things for the greater good? Of course, the researchers all have families to feed too, so I can’t begrudge them that. Just don’t want to line any fat cats already-bulging pockets. Anyway, not to be ungrateful, I think it’s wonderful that $30 million is dedicated to our cause.

To end on a lighter note,  here’s a little dementia humor…….

Return to Rita

 

 

Thanks to FTD – (un)Happy Birthday! Cheers! (with just a little dash of sarcasm)

eeyore birthday

Birthdays don’t have the same meaning once FTD takes a hold. For you or your loved one. Somehow the apathy, lack of insight and total indifference to anything once joyous overwhelm all concerned. Despite best efforts, it is difficult to enjoy those high days and holidays (more to come on that topic in the next couple of weeks).

Anyway, tomorrow is my birthday. My birthday three years ago was a significant turning point in our lives. Not least my husband’s. It was the last day he spent at our home. At three o’clock that afternoon, after waiting around the house all day making phone calls, faxing papers and hiding my anguish, I took him to an inpatient psychiatric unit where I left him, never to return.

So, as hard as I might try, it is difficult for me to “celebrate” the day of my birth anymore. The day comes tinged with sadness and a sense of disbelief that it was three years ago. A feeling of shock that I actually went through with it and took him. Despair (still), that I had to do it for the sake of all our safety, not least his. You may come to (or already have) a similar point in your FTD journey.

It is such a personal, individual moment, just like a birthday really. It belongs to you and you alone. Your feelings as you take those steps to changing your lives forever will be unique to you. Painful, baffling, fearsome, but unique. For me, that turning point shaped the next three years and still does to a certain extent.  If you have been together for a long time, as many of us have, or your FTD’er is your parent, making the decision to move them out of your home is devastating. Then, once the decision is made, you have to actually do it. That’s the kicker. Physically taking them and knowing they are not coming back. They are blissfully unaware of course. Well, if you have played your cards right and not told them. Please don’t tell them. Don’t discuss it with them. Don’t ask them. They are no longer your partner in these kind of decisions. You have become a parental figure and must make these agonizing choices for them now.

They won’t like it of course. Anything that changes their routine, their comfort zone, will not be popular.  That’s why you are not going to run it by them for approval. It’s like choosing your child’s elementary school. You don’t really consider their preferences when they are five after all. It’s the same for your FTD’er. Not capable of making informed decisions or good choices.

You may find it hard to find a “good” place. Of course “good” is an entirely subjective term. A psychiatric inpatient unit is only a temporary measure. After that you will need to find a more permanent residence.  One of the most difficult things is not having the person who previously shared these decisions with you at your side. Hopefully, you have a family member or good friend who will help you. Someone who can remain objective and is not swayed by the emotion of actually doing what you’re doing. Rushing around town to look at suggested places is, at the very least, stressful.

You don’t really know what you’re looking for or at. mazeYou don’t really want to do it, so you still hang on to the faintest hope that even now, there may be, just may be, the possibility that it will all be ok and you can take them home after all. Depending on where you live and how much financially you have to contribute, there are other stressors too. Finding $6-8,000 a month is no mean feat. And believe me, not everyone has your best interests at heart. Don’t assume that because they claim to be healthcare facilities that they actually care about you or your FTD’er. It’s big business, residential care.  Choose carefully and don’t give in or give up. Don’t believe everything you are told and don’t settle. Make it very clear from the outset that you know what’s what (even if you don’t, you will find out). Speak authoritatively and make it clear that you are the one in charge of your FTD’er’s care and they are merely working for you. Which they are. And for $6-8,000 a month, they’d damn well better be good.

So, now you’ve actually got them to their new digs – now what? What does that mean for you? Thanksgiving 2011 was a quiet affair in our household. We spent the day at home, each of us internalizing what had happened and thinking about how things were going down at the psych unit. I called of course, but my husband was still raging and unable to understand what was happening. He was quite dangerous at that point, throwing furniture and trying to escape at every opportunity. After a few days of medications, we were able to visit and talk to him on the phone. But he never understood that he would never come home again. So, for the person with FTD, the transition from home to residential care means change, uncertainty, fear and insecurity. All the same things it means to you. Your life has taken on new meaning. New horizons.  A different life.  Regardless of your relationship before, moving your FTD’er into care is unsettling for everyone. But it has to be done sometimes for safety, for peace of mind.

So, my birthday brings mixed emotions. My husband’s birthday is ten days after mine. This year he would have turned sixty. The fact that many of our friends are celebrating this milestone too over this past year and into next brings feeling of envy and sadness. The parties, the cruises, the trips and other celebrations all serve to remind me that we will never experience those things together again. I am happy for them of course and don’t begrudge them any of it.  I just miss my darling at this time of the year more than any other. From October to January, we had our anniversary, both our birthdays, and his favorite time of year – Christmas and New Year. So, I approach this upcoming holiday season with more than a little heaviness in my heart. It’s my favorite time of the year too, at least it used to be. I still like it but it no longer holds the same excitement.

So, Happy Birthday to both of us. I’m sure that wherever he is, he is raising a glass of something in a toast.

love champagne

FTD – No Need To Explain!

I could really write this post in three words –

STOP.  EXPLAINING.  YOURSELF.

But let me elaborate.

By the time your loved one reaches the middle stages of FTD, they are, generally speaking, often beyond comprehension of most of what you are saying. That’s not to say they don’t understand the individual words.But their understanding of what they mean all joined together and in context is very skewed.

Blackadder-Confused-Look

Their grasp on the social niceties for example, is almost non-existent. So asking them to speak quietly, or stop staring will fall on deaf ears most of the time. You see, it’s not that they don’t know what you said, it’s just that they don’t understand why it’s important. They think that they have as much control over their behavior as they always did. And therein lies the problem. They have the ability to make you think that too.

As I have discussed before, we tend to give our loved ones the respect and consideration that we have for the last twenty, thirty or forty years.  It’s a natural thing to do. It’s the same if the FTD’er is your parent. Any relationship based on love and respect falls back on these things during times of stress. You have an invisible understanding that you just don’t do or say certain things. FTD takes that away.  The FTD brain has so many holes caused by the degeneration that appropriate and seemly behavior become a thing of the past. But not to them. Not to your loved one. They behave just as their FTD Taskmaster tells them to. It’s like having that little devil sitting on your shoulder. “Go on, do it!”. But now there is no angel on the other shoulder – their conscience, telling them not to. Everything is fair game. Even to the point of hurting, physically, mentally, emotionally. grotesqueringmaster

The bastard disease is the Ringmaster in the circus that has become your life.

So, if you accept that your FTD’er is no longer capable of deciding what’s best, you must come to the conclusion that you know what is. Yes, I know it’s not the position you want to be in. Deciding someone’s fate is overwhelming. But one of you has to make decisions and that someone has to be you. Here’s the thing. Once you accept that, you must also accept that your decision is final. No do-overs, no “well maybe’s”, no “we’ll see”. You can say those to your children. Your children can tell when you are undecided. But when it comes to decisions for you and your loved one’s safety, you cannot compromise and dither. The ultimate end to this is that you must not stop to explain. Explaining leaves room for choices. You know that your loved one can’t choose. They think they can, but when they do, it’s often a poor choice. Why else do we have advance directives? Because at the time the person makes those decisions, they are have a clear mind and are making rational decisions.

Explanations leave you vulnerable to “No” .

Explanations offer a chance for the person with FTD to make a poor choice.

Explanations answer the “What?” with “Because” and the because will probably be unacceptable.

Because they don’t understand the “Why” or the “How”.

Because FTD has addled their brain and their thoughts can’t get through the tangled mess.

You explain because it makes sense to you.

Because you have done it for years. Because it’s respectful to give the “Why”.

Because you love them.

Yes No

Explanation can cause more confusion and provide fuel for outbursts of defiance. You’re explaining because it makes sense to you. I have said many times before – “Don’t ask -tell” and this tags on to explanation. Don’t ask a question, don’t give an explanation other than “we are going in the car”, or “Sit down. Put on your shoes”. Anything more complicated will illicit either a blank stare or “No”. If they do ask “Why?”, keep it simple. Say “We have to go somewhere”, or “We are going out”. Try to keep these conversations short, keep them busy but don’t hurry them or they will get flustered. Let them put their shoes on/take a shower/walk to the car at their own speed. Your frustration will rub off believe me. Just make sure you allow enough time for slow movement and bite your tongue.

Explaining comes naturally to us. We are accustomed to people needing to know why we want them to do something or what we are talking about. Your loved one with FTD no longer has the capacity to rationalize these things. For them, it’s about the here and now. You may have heard the term “WIFM?” – “What’s In it For Me?”. This is the perfect acronym for your FTD’er. They are not being selfish. Their sense of self is diminishing fast. Selfishness relies on a purposeful action that will benefit only one. FTD brings out instincts in a person that are usually controlled by social mores and respect for others. Filters and inhibitions are eventually so eroded in the FTD brain that thinking of anything other than mere existence is impossible. There comes a point when even that is gone and risky behaviors result. The concern for self-preservation deserts your loved one and it will be up to you to protect them. It’s a jaw-droppingly scary position to hold – Protector of the Vulnerable. But you can do it. You will make all the right decisions. Trust your love and your instinct.

Just don’t explain why.

There is another aspect to the explanations also. In a perfect world, your family would respect and understand why you do the things you do. Sadly, people in your family may not appreciate your now-seemingly bombastic approach to caring for your loved one. If they are not around FTD much, your behavior may seem akin to that of Attila the Hun. Their denial may lead them to the conclusion that you’re a know-it-all control freak, with Hitler-like tendencies. I have to say here that my own experience was not like this at all. My family and friends were nothing but supportive and helpful and for that I am eternally grateful.

Well, to hell with those people if they refuse to accept your explanation, demonstration, literature and.or pleading. They are human yes, but they should respect your decisions. They are not entitled to an opinion unless they are there 24/7, see what goes on in an FTD house and contribute to the s**tstorm that your day can be.This goes for those curious people at the grocery store too. I hear time and again about families who just flatly refuse to accept that it’s as bad as it is. But they don’t ever want to come over to your house and experience it either. I know of many people whose already effed-up lives are further disrupted by constant denial or even obstructive behavior such as encouraging ‘normal’ activities in an person with FTD who cannot possibly understand the why or how.

Don’t explain anything to them once you have come to the conclusion that they are ignoring your advice and wishes. Stop validating your actions with people who are ignoring the inevitable. It’s not worth the energy. They will either come around or they won’t. But you have enough on your plate.

Stop explaining.

When you’re down and confused…….

Love the one you’re with 🙂

FTD – For 10 points, your first question is……..

Question mark purple

At the end of 2013, I asked if there were specific questions to which you would like me to respond. The responses and subsequent questions and comments were interesting and varied.

Most people seem to want to know what it was like for me. How did I cope? What little things made a difference to me? What gave me strength?

I have also been asked – How long was my husband ill for? How did I know when to move him into residential care? What was that like for me?

Other people seem worried by what moving forward to the next stage will mean. For them, for their family, for their loved one.

There are a million questions it seems. Obviously I don’t have all the answers. No-one does, nor can they. The uniqueness of every person means that we cannot generalize. The general rarity of FTD in relation to other dementias like Alzheimer’s means that the answer for one person may not be right for another. It seems that no two people or their caregivers have exactly the same experience.

So I feel that all I can do, post by post, is to take each of the questions and give a summary of how I dealt with that particular problem, or how someone I know dealt with it. Hopefully, you will find ideas to create a solution to your problem of the day, week or moment.

Number One 10The first topic – what things made a difference for me? Made it easier to cope?

Well, mainly my family and friends. Without them I would have gone completely insane. Their unconditional love and ability to know when I just needed someone on the other end of the phone was uncanny. To just listen to my crying at the other end of the phone. Just to hold my hand without speaking. To go and look at Care Homes for my husband, even when they didn’t want to.

I consider myself lucky in the extreme to have them in my life. My coworkers were amazing. Every day. every week. Every month. Listening, covering for me. listening some more. Shoulders to cry on, hands to hold. Hugs to give.

For three years, I had to put my usual fierce independence aside and take the help that I had always eschewed in the past. I could not do it alone. Don’t ever think that you can. Don’t even try.

I know people who had to do much of it alone. They were not as lucky as me. They had no family to speak of. One woman would tell us at the Support Group that her in-laws would not believe what was happening to their son. They refused to accept his illness. They accused her of controlling his life and keeping him from them. But they never offered to have him stay with them or come over and stay at their house while she went out for a day. They would never accept that he was no longer capable of making his own decisions. Not until the end stages.

Once he could no longer walk or talk or feed himself independently. Once they saw that his wife had to call the local Fire Station to help get him up if he fell down. Once they saw the soiled bed she slept in next to him every night. Once he died in his own home after she had taken total care of him for three years. Sacrificing her life and her work for him. Without them.

Without them. With the help of friends and respite caregivers. Without his family’s help.

Everyone deals with things in their own way of course, but I doubt she will ever forgive them for being so cruel.

So rally your friends & family. Tell them everything. Pull no punches. It is what it is. It’s not your fault. It’s not your loved one’s fault. There will be unpleasant, painful, exhausting times ahead. Rally the troops and figure out a plan. If it’s early days, ask your loved one what they want. How they want to be cared for. By whom. And what they want for you.

Don’t leave it too late for those conversations. With your FTD’er and your family. Don’t put it off. It’s important.

I was asked what made a difference to me during the time I cared for my husband. It was people.

All the people that make up the circle of my life. They were with me then and they are with me now.  They are not just people. They are MY people. I love them.

They know who they are. They love me. When I have red eyes, when I’m sobbing, when I’m complaining, when I was just damn exhausted and could not go on. They helped me go on. They made it possible for me to get up every morning and do it all again.

Thank you.

All of you. I will never forget what you did for me.heart and hands