Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I have a friend aged 72 whose husband of thirty years walked out on
her six months ago. He said “I lived through the breast cancer, but
now she’s starting to forget things. I just can’t do it.” Ignoring for the
moment what a royal s.h.i.t. he is for leaving, I need some help
figuring out how to help her. She’s terrified because her own mother
died with dementia, so she is completely resistant to talking about it.
I’ve spent the last few months really scrutinizing her behavior and the
ex is right. She’s starting to forget simple things, has reported driving
around without remembering where she’s going, and is paralyzed with
indecision about relatively small matters. I understand that she’s also
grieving the marriage, but she has only one daughter who lives far
away and doesn’t seem inclined to want to help, at least at this stage.
Scared for Her
First of all, you need to get your friend to do a complete medical
workup. I’m not an expert but I think this means both an MRI and a
neuropsych exam. You want to find out what’s going on with her
mechanics of her body, and then see how that’s impacting her
behavior. I’m sure she’s scared, and will resist, but there’s no choice
or substitute for information, which you might be able to sell her as
“baseline.’ If you’re accepting responsibility for helping her on a day-
to-day level, she owes you a commitment to the facts. Offer to go with
her, and to sit in the doctor’s office with her if she’ll let you. You also
need to deal with who has her medical power of attorney in case
there’s an accident or crisis. Communicate with the daughter once you
know what you’re dealing with.
The other thing you can do to help your friend (and yourself) is to
educate yourselves by learning and utilizing good daily coping
mechanisms. They can range from brain exercises like crossword
puzzles or quizzing one another on trivia, history, or any topic of
mutual interest. Insist that she write down on a piece of paper where’s
she’s going, the phone number of the destination, and your cell
number whenever she drives. If she takes meds, set up a schedule
and alarms. Talk to her doctor, and troll the internet for memory tips.
She’s very lucky to have you.