By: Phyllis W. Palm, PhD
Publication Date: January 2012
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: April 2012
Many of us have either personally experienced dealing with a loved one slowly slipping away due to Alzheimer’s, or know of somebody who has dealt/is dealing with the disease. It is difficult for all involved and unfortunately, those who are thrown into the role of caregiver suffer as well. They may not know what to expect, what to do, and feel abandoned and alone. Phyllis Palm, who experienced all of these emotions as she cared for her ailing husband, also put pen to paper to share her experiences with others in the hopes of easing some of their angst and confusion. While therapeutic to write, the author also wanted to share her experiences so that others might recognize the early signs of dementia and seek medical help quickly.
Phyllis and Bob had a wonderful life. A second marriage for both of them, they each had grown children from their first marriages, and they were deeply in love. They traveled, went to Broadway shows, and dined with dear friends – in short, the perfect life. That was, until Alzheimer’s began to take its toll.
Looking back, the author now realizes that there were little signs that her husband was having problems. At the time, however, she chalked it up to simple aging issues. One day Bob announced that he wanted to sell their house, a house he had loved for 36 years. Phyllis thought it was, perhaps, because he felt the need to downsize but still, she couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t right for him to part with his beloved house. But Bob also began forgetting to send his children birthday cards, something he’d always enjoyed doing, and got annoyed when reminded. Then he decided not to send cards at all. In addition, he no longer wanted to drive the car, he preferred staying home and was relying on Phyllis more and more to make decisions. With the urging of her friends, Phyllis finally made an appointment with a neurologist.
The author recounts her frustrations with the medical community, from the doctor who seemed to blame her for her husband’s condition, to the doctor who seemed totally inconsiderate of Bob’s condition. Many doctors, she noted, seemed to be in competition with each other which led to drug interactions and other problems. Bob, meanwhile grew more confused and agitated.
As Bob’s condition deteriorated, Phyllis changed her schedule, and life, around to accommodate his needs. Her whole world was soon consumed with Bob’s welfare. And, as she recalled, “Nothing is stable, nothing is predictable and nothing stays the same for very long.” (pg. 119)
When Bob was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, again the medications needed to be adjusted and Phyllis was the one who had to deal with all the repercussions. As well, she had Bob’s children, who seemed to initially blame her for many of the problems, to negotiate. But it was the changes in Bob’s personality, going from a mild-mannered, sweet, loving man to a stranger who might explode in a dangerous tirade at any moment, that frightened and challenged Phyllis the most. Medication helped, but not every problem can be solved with more medication.
The author has written a very personal, very informative book about life with a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. More than a document about what to expect (and the author acknowledges that the effects of the disease are different for each person), and how early diagnosis can help, this book addresses the needs of the caregiver. Many times Phyllis admits to feeling like a failure, that she somehow didn’t do enough for her husband. Her health suffered and it was only through time, and with the support of others who were in the same situation, that she realized she needed to take care of herself. “I take very seriously the admonition that we caregivers must take care of ourselves…” (pg. 168) If you are looking for a book that addresses all aspects of life with an Alzheimer’s patient from a caregiver’s point of view, you should consider Put That Knife Away.
Quill says: More than a look at one family’s battle with Alzheimer’s, this book is a survival manual for caregivers and reassures all that you are not alone.
For more information on Put That Knife Away: Alzheimer's, Marriage and My Transformation from Wife to Caregiver, please visit the author's website at: www.phylliswpalm.com