How My Mom's Alzheimer's Changed Our Family Dynamic
Last updated: February 2023
All through my childhood and into my young adult life, my parents had a very traditional marriage. My dad worked full time outside of the home and my mom was a stay-at-home mom and housewife.
My mom did everything from cooking, cleaning, and laundry to grocery shopping, paying the bills, and taking care of my sister and me. In addition to his full-time job, my dad cut the grass, took out the trash, and fixed things around the house.
Our family dynamic before Alzheimer's
My parents took turns driving my sister and me to school, practice, and other activities, while my mom picked out all of our Christmas presents, birthday cards, and other gifts. She provided most of the emotional support, while my dad provided for us financially.
After I graduated college and moved out on my own, my parents still continued on with their very traditional roles as husband and wife. My dad worked full time and my mom ran the household.
Even though my mom no longer had children to raise, she never pursued work outside of the home. I believe that was because she was already experiencing the symptoms of cognitive decline before I had even graduated college.
Mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's
My parents' lives were turned upside down when my mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 62. Their roles were no longer black and white. Although the transition was not immediate, my dad eventually had to take on many of the tasks and responsibilities that my mom once handled.
A man who never did a load of laundry, washed the dishes, or scrubbed a toilet in his life suddenly found himself thrust into these household duties. My mom, who had always kept an immaculate house, was no longer able to complete these tasks. She stopped cleaning and dusting. She no longer knew how to use the washing machine. And she could no longer manage to pay the bills and balance the checkbook.
All of these responsibilities fell to my dad, who was still working a full-time job outside of the house.
How Alzheimer's changed our family dynamic
My sister and I first began to notice this shift when we would go to our parents' house and notice that everything was out of order. Not only that, but the house was dirty and no longer looked like the pristine home we grew up in.
We also noticed that our dad was suddenly asking us things like how to use the dishwasher and how to separate the laundry. Over time, he was able to figure things out and manage the household on top of his job until he eventually retired and hired in-home help.
But perhaps the even bigger shift was when my dad became the one to pick out our Christmas presents, birthday cards, and other gifts. And when my mom could no longer read or write, my dad became the one to sign our cards with love, always putting both of their names.
Seeing another side to dad
Although my mom's Alzheimer's was extremely heartbreaking and difficult, it allowed me to have more of an emotional relationship with my dad – something I'm not sure we would have ever had otherwise. We are able to talk about our feelings and support one another.
I think my mom would be very proud of him. I know I am. How has Alzheimer's disease changed your family dynamic? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
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