Working Effectively With Your Care Partner


Tonight my wife and I are going to an Alzheimer’s support group meeting at the Gloria Dei Lutheran church in Urbandale IA. After hearing from a speaker the group then breaks down into sub groups. A couple of the sub groups are made up of care partners and other subgroups are made up of folks like me who have some form of the disease. How many groups there are depends upon attendance.


I usually moderate a subgroup and try to get those in attendance to share their stories, how well they are doing and any challenges they may be facing.

Tonight I would like the group to share their issues, concerns, challenges and successes as they relate to getting along with their care partner. In many, but not all the care partner is a spouse and in some cases the spouse has a myriad of their own challenges. A large majority of care partner spouses are a similar age to the one receiving the care and that may mean both over 70. At that point I would suspect it is a greater challenge. I am a bit lucky in that my spouse is 18 years younger then I am and also in pretty good health.
That does not mean we do not face challenges and I believe the biggest challenge we face is that the disease is not linear. It does not continue on a straight downward path. I may feel worse one day then the next, or sometimes I feel better the next day. How this plays out in real life is that on one day I can’t begin to balance the checkbook and maybe tomorrow I can. That tends to corrupt our arrangement that we have to always review the checkbook together because most of the time I need her assistance-except for a day that I might not. It even gets more complicated, because on some days I think I don’t need assistance, but I actually do. Run this issue over a number weeks and many issues and a number of discussions over how well I’m doing-or not and we can see a problem in need of a solution.

So- what is the solution? Here is mine- CONTINIOUS COMMUNICATION WITH EMPATHY.

A few years ago, I was privileged to have dinner with former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and I came away with a life lesson I will always remember. Ambassador Crocker is one of the most highly decorated Foreign Service officers to ever serve in the US government.

Over his tenure he served 5 US presidents and Ambassador to 6 Middle East countries. He told me one of the most important words in State Department jargon is empathy.

Empathy is not sympathy, but is the acquiring of a deep understanding of where the other person is coming from and why they are taking a particular position. I think I find the word empathy to be as useful in understanding this disease and care partners as in understanding the Iranians. I submit the thought to this group and hope it helps in understanding your care partner as well as them understanding you.