Profiles in caring: Retirement not all porch swings, golf swings when dealing with Alzheimer’s
June 18, 2017
Dan Tyler said he knew something was wrong long before he traveled with his longtime partner, Betty, to visit friends in Dallas in 2012.
"Looking back, this had been going on for a significant amount of time," Dan said. "I thought she might be uncomfortable in the relationship or that there might be something else going on. I couldn't put my finger on it."
Betty lost her husband in 1993, and Dan was divorced in 1999. The two met in Steamboat Springs and started dating in 2002. They were an active couple who loved hanging out with friends, traveling and enjoying their golden years together.
"Betty is wonderful, gentle and bright," Dan said. "She has always been terrific."
But seven or eight years ago, Dan said he started to notice changes in Betty.
She seemed less comfortable in social situations, more nervous and developed a heightened sense of worry. There were unexplained body movements, and Betty tended to repeat herself. Dan said the signs were subtle and could easily be dismissed.
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"Sometimes, when you are in a relationship, you can't see the forest for the trees," Dan said. "That was my case.
"In the early stages I would get irritated when she might ask you to repeat something two or maybe three times," Dan explained. "But after a while, it would be five or 10 times."
Dan began to wonder if something was wrong, and when his friend in Dallas finally pulled him to the side to talk about the difference in Betty, it verified what Dan had already been thinking.
The couple sought medical help. Betty went to a sleep specialist looking for answers to her restless nights; then, it was on to other specialists. Eventually, the doctors confirmed it was Alzheimer's.
The couple decided to move into the independent living quarters at Casey's Pond, hoping they would be more comfortable and the facility would provide Betty with a safe living situation, where she could get the care and attention she needed.
But Dan said the situation was not ideal, and the couple needed to find a place to live that better fit their lifestyles. Dan didn't want to place Betty in an assisted care facility, but he was struggling with life in a retirement facility.
Dan began to explore facilities in Hawaii, where Betty's son lived; they looked at a center in Omaha, Nebraska, near where Betty grew up, and another in Denver, which was closer to Dan's children.
"They say when you are looking for long-term care, you are either way too early or five minutes too late," Dan said. "The problem is that, to get into a really good assisted facility can take years, and by the time most patients are ready, they have to be put on a wait list."
Dan and Betty passed on assisted living and went a different direction. Earlier this year, the couple moved to an apartment overlooking the convention center in Denver. Dan said the apartment has large windows and offers a great view of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It is also closer to Dan's family, which offers him the support he needs.
Three days per week, Betty has home care, which allows Dan, who is 83, a chance to get out and do the things he loves, such as playing golf.
Betty is also able to leave the apartment and often goes shopping or to the nearby botanic park with caregivers. But, for the first time in years, Betty, who is 81, didn't travel to England to go hiking with friends. Dan said he didn't feel it was fair to ask her friends to look after Betty during the annual trip.
"When you have Alzhemer's, you tend to lose a lot of friends," he said. "It's not that they are bad people, but they just don't know what to say."
He said the couple still enjoys making dinner each night, something Betty has traditionally led. These days, Dan offers a little more help, but he does his best not to interfere too much.
"It's a delicate situation," he said. "She has always handled the meals. I try to help her out a bit, but it's a fine line knowing how much I can do before she says, 'Do you just want to cook the meal?'"
Dan doesn't want to make Betty feel frustrated, and he doesn't want her to feel like she is losing control, either. So, he takes items out of the refrigerator and sets them on the counter to help get the meal started before he gives her a little space by excusing himself to take care of something else.
"I never know what I will come back to," Dan said. "Sometimes, it's an interesting concoction, and other times, it's not exactly what we planned. But there are other times when she is just fine, and she nails it."
Dan's advice to people dealing with Alzheimer's is to seek help early. He said the Alzheimer's Association offers great resources, but added there is a lot of information out there, and a person has to search to find what they need.
Dan says he feels lucky, because the couple has the financial means to seek different health care options.
"Of course we are fortunate," Tyler said. "We are lucky enough to have the assets that allow us to have a choice. Not everybody can do that."