"I feel like I’m walking on eggshells.”

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I met Ansel’s wife, Megan, when the home care agency I work with sent me to visit their home. Ansel has vascular dementia and is in a moderate stage of the disease. Ansel’s wife, however, is bearing the brunt of this disease herself. “I’m exhausted,” she sighed when we sat down on the couch to talk. It was clear immediately that Megan was doing the absolute best that she could, given the circumstances.

Megan went on to explain that, when the caregiver from the agency arrives, she takes that time to grocery shop, get her hair done, or just see some friends for a couple hours.

“I now know why people admit to crimes they haven’t done. You just want to give an answer so you stop hearing the same question over and over,” she shook her head.

“I feel like I’m walking on eggshells,” Megan explained. “He constantly talks about how he doesn’t need any help, and can take care of himself when I’m gone…but I know that’s just not true!” I agreed that this wasn’t true, and offered some advice. 

“Instead of walking on eggshells,” I said, “Walk away from the eggshells.”

Megan stopped and thought about this. “Walk away from the eggshells…” she repeated slowly to herself. “So, you mean I should avoid the conversation entirely?” “That’s right,” I nodded. “You’re never going to be able to convince him that he needs home care, or that he has dementia, or anything like that. So, just walk away from the conversation: change the topic, get him focused on a new activity, nod and smile.”

I called Megan yesterday to follow up with her and see how things were going. “I’ve been avoiding the eggshells!” she exclaimed proudly, and I could hear her smile over the phone.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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