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After a full day of stressful arguing, screaming, accusations, and pouting (all directed at ME by my AD husband), the light bulb went on for this English teacher/language therapist. “Aha”, thought I. The line from the 1967 Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke came into my mind – “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. Which, if I hadn’t been the object of constant verbal abuse, I would have probably figured out sooner.

The day started innocently enough. I said that we would go shopping “later” after I finished some web work. By “later”, I meant very much later, as in 3 o’clock in the afternoon. After an hour’s work, I came into the kitchen to get a drink, and was faced with a very angry, impatient husband. He was under the impression that “later” meant after he ate breakfast and clipped the coupons. Since I was in no way ready to go, and told him I meant later in the afternoon, the tirade started. He was furious because he was sick of being on “YOUR time schedule”. He wanted to go where he wanted to go when he wanted to go, and he wanted to drive himself, not wait for me. The entire shopping trip consisted of angry pouting and door slamming by him. Accompanied by dirty looks and more outbursts when we returned home, which continued until after supper when he calmed down.

Later on in the evening, I made another communication error. I “assumed” (very bad action when dealing with those who are communication impaired) that he was going to take out the trash when he asked me if I had anything that needed to go out in the trash. I said I would look in the bathrooms later, and if there was anything else, I would take it out to the curb. So, before I went to bed, I innocently asked him if he had taken the trash out. He said that he did not, because I had said I was going to take it out. I told him that I thought he was going to take it out. The 36 Hour Day talks about “catastrophic” reactions to simple events. That is the only way to explain what happened next.  I was stunned at the explosion of anger and accusations that I “twist” his words around; everything is his fault; I don’t think he can do anything right; I think he’s stupid, and on and on until I was reeling in disbelief.

Given my professional background, I should not have been so slow to catch on, but I finally “got” it. Although he lost much of his abstract thinking ability early on in the disease, he is now losing the ability for deductive reasoning and making inferences. He requires concrete, specific information and instructions often accompanied by visuals.

As a special education professional, when presented with a student who was unable to understand information due to cognitive impairment, it was my job to break down that information so they could comprehend it. Sometimes it is difficult for me to put on my “professional” hat when dealing with my own husband, but now that I understand what is happening in his brain, I will dust off the hat and put it on. As I did with my students, I will make sure that he understands exactly what I mean when I give him information, and I will set specific times, such as 3 o’clock, rather than “later” when I talk about going somewhere or doing something.

I have been “practicing what I preach” in the area of language since I first noticed his comprehension difficulties, but I am sometimes slow to pick up on a declining ability, which leads to his “catastrophic reactions” and escalating anger.

Lesson learned. I will be on guard from now on as to how I communicate my intentions.

For those of you who are coming on the cruise, I am giving a presentation entitled, “Huh? Effective Strategies for Communicating with an Alzheimer's Loved One.” I promise to make it fun and interactive. It will be available in paperback book form for a nominal fee. Then it’s lounge chair time!

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