When I asked Dr. Ed Anderson what his best moment in the past six years had been, he didn’t hesitate: “Seeing Bev hold and interact with our granddaughter soon after she was born. It was so instinctive for her.” They were visiting their son and family in Philadelphia.
Bev was diagnosed in 2011 with mild cognitive impairment. MCI can lead to Alzheimer’s, but not always. They’d been married about 42 years.
Ed is Bev’s primary caregiver while continuing full time in his practice of internal medicine in Nashville. Bev spent her career in education. “She was vibrant, warm, loving, and smart” with her students and, he says, with their three children at home. Today, Ed leaves Bev with a caregiver when he heads to the hospital or his office at seven or so; he returns home about five, when he becomes Bev’s full time caregiver in the evenings and weekends. In addition to their son, a daughter and her family live outside Atlanta and a daughter lives in Nashville. Bev and Ed have six grandchildren.
They do several things together when he’s home, Ed says. “I stumbled on adult coloring books, and that has become a major way for Bev to pass the time, both when I’m home and with caregivers.”
When the weather permits, they walk around Radnor Lake, a state park, on Sundays. And they go to Vanderbilt football and basketball games and share Titans tickets with three other couples. “Bev enjoys the basketball games and we sit with friends; the football not so much. I'll probably drop those tickets soon.” They also go to church most Sundays, “but I’m not sure how much Bev connects with these days.”
One of their worst moments was taking the car keys away. “Fortunately, I didn’t have to be the bad guy; the doctor who tested Bev was.” (That, too, was one of the hardest moments with my wife Martha, which is described in my book A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s.)
Interestingly, both Bev and Martha went to Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, starting the same year in fact, 1965. Ed also entered Georgia Tech that year with a football scholarship; I was two years ahead of him. Our paths had not crossed in 50 years until he emailed me after seeing my post last fall on the Alzheimer's Association website.
I asked Ed some more questions, to which he responded with candor and sensitivity…
What kind of support do you have from friends or family? Real, tangible help, and not just moral support?
“Our daughter here in Nashville often is able to stay with her mother on Saturday mornings. Plus, a huge part of Bev’s care has been her group of friends. Karen, who’s a retired event planner, has prepared a weekly schedule since Bev stopped driving in the fall of 2015.” He showed me a sample calendar in which about 14 friends had signed up to help Bev get to her destinations during the course of a week. “The calendar now has changed from being mostly friends to mostly (paid) caregivers as Bev's needs changed.”
What are your evenings like when you get home?
“I do most of the meals and getting ready for bedtime. Meals are usually grilling, microwave veggies, and salad kits. And we eat out or get take-out a couple of times a week. Our dog Toby—Bev’s companion and my therapist—loves to ride, so it's fun to take him with us when we get take-out. Also for Christmas our kids gave us some delivered meals; I think they don’t trust my cooking.”
How did you notice that Bev might be having a problem?
“She began to lose and misplace things more than normal. There also were the changes in her sense of cleanliness and neatness; Bev often cleaned up after our housekeeper, but that suddenly stopped.”
“And then there was the time Bev went grocery shopping and left the keys in the car. When she came out the car was gone, stolen. So she walked a mile home with an armful of groceries.”
What do you do to take care of yourself?
“That’s always a challenge with a medical practice. I do try to exercise three days a week, and we take those walks in the state park. I try to read in bed, but I fall asleep pretty quick.”
What did you and Bev feel when you heard the diagnosis?
Our conversation stopped with this question. In fact, I thought we’d been disconnected. But after a long pause, Ed said, “I need to collect myself. Let me email you later.” In essence, Ed wrote that when they got home Bev was crying and more than distraught. Her diagnosis was magnified by the fact that Bev had been the primary caregiver for her grandmother, who died with dementia. And Bev was caring for her mother, also with dementia, until her own diagnosis.
What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned so far as a caregiver?
“Probably being patient, letting Bev know that I love her, and reminding myself that she’s not responsible for her behavior. I continually have to be creative in coping day-to-day, in actively managing situations as they arise. Plus, having to acknowledge that I need help.
Has being a husband-caregiver been of any value to you as a physician?
“It’s certainly made me more empathetic with families that are dealing with these kinds of issues. I understand what they are going through and can give some practical suggestions.”
Thank you, Ed. I’m sure a number of readers, who may be dealing with this kind of crisis or another, will benefit from what you’re sharing.
P.S. I had two recent interviews you may want to check out, or not. First is an audio conversation with the Mockingbird website. Nobody does a better job of exploring, dissecting, and skating through the intersection of pop culture and religion than this group of Gen X’s, Y’s, and Millennials. Click here for our interview.
P.P.S. The second is from a neighborhood newspaper here in St. Pete. Click here for that Northeast Journal conversation.
P.P.P.S. Feel free to forward this post to your friends and family. If you’d like to sign up for my blog, it’s free; just click here.