Two years ago, Centennial couple Barb and Harold Arnold surprised many of their family and friends by sending out the first Christmas letter of their 41-year marriage. It wasn’t your routine “where did we go on vacation” letter. In it, the couple revealed Barb’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Today, the couple is issuing their third holiday missive with another surprising update: Barb is moving to a nearby memory care facility. While the news will be startling to some, the Arnolds want friends and family to know that they’re entering into this decision as a team with their eyes wide open.
“Barb deserves the best,” said Harold, holding his wife’s hand as they discussed the conclusion they reached jointly after months of deliberation. “I can’t tell you how much better I feel. If something should happen to me tomorrow, Barb will be taken care of.”
As they have throughout their 43 years of marriage, the Arnolds approached the subject as partners. They have visited nearly a half dozen memory care facilities over the past six months, but the time wasn’t right. However, as Harold reached age 85, he wanted to ensure that Barb could receive the around-the-clock care he no longer felt he could guarantee on his own.
The couple has adapted. He installed a tracking app on his wife’s phone so he could find her on those occasions when she might wander, but she didn’t always remember to carry her phone. So he bought her a smart watch with similar tracking capabilities, and it recently helped him locate her several blocks away, resting against a tree, too tired to come home without assistance. That helped confirm for him that the time was approaching for a change.
In recent years, the Arnolds have enjoyed long walks – keeping them active andhelping Harold as he recovered from a heart attack. Their route would take them several miles to Centennial’s DeKoevend Park, a scenic spot a mere two blocks from where Barb and her children lived 45 years ago when Harold was courting her. There, they enjoyed walking and cross country skiing, and had their favorite bench for resting.
Recently, a new memory care facility, Cherry Hills Assisted Living and Memory Care, was built overlooking DeKoevend Park, and the couple visited it several times, taking time to meet staff and residents. One feature that delighted Harold was the view from a room that became available –overlooking their favorite bench in the park.
After jointly making the decision to register Barb into Cherry Hills, the couple moved furniture into the new residence and Barb’s first words were: “I love it,” which sealed the decision for Harold.
“That was magic,” Harold said when Barb expressed her approval of the move, knowing that he would not feel comfortable with the decision if his wife wasn’t in agreement. “The way I approach it is, if that was me, how would I want to be treated. It was important that we make the decision,” with an emphasis on “we.”
Adjusting to the change
Barb and Harold have made daily visits to Cherry Hills in anticipation of Barb’s Nov. 26 move-in, helping her get acclimated to the new environment.
Harold’s daughter, Polly, baked cookies and joined the couple on a recent visit. At one point, she observed Barb get up and leave the room. Harold’s instinct was to follow her.
“That’s part of being a caregiver,” he said. But Polly held him back and gently reminded him that he doesn’t need to worry because Barb was in a safe environment.
A textbook approach to an unpredictable disease
There is nothing predictable about dementia since each case takes its own path and follows its own schedule, but Alzheimer’s Association professionals praised theArnolds for their thoughtful approach, understanding that the disease is progressive and puts increasing burdens on caregivers.
“Noone wants to see their loved one progress through the stages of Alzheimer’s,” said Amelia Schafer, executive director of the Association’s Colorado Chapter. “But until we find a cure, it is unwise to deny that changes will occur. Making this decision now – before a crisis might occur – helps guarantee Barb’s safety and the quality of her care. It also enables Harold to be the best caregiver he can without working himself into exhaustion.”
“We have no secrets”
Asis their style, the Arnolds are announcing their decision (“we have no secrets”) knowing that everyone around them may not agree with the timing. The fact that Alzheimer’s is a continually progressing disease can be challenging to those who aren’t day-to-day caregivers. But the couple is pressing ahead, and will celebrate the 2018 holidays at Cherry Hills.
Harold’s busy decorating Barb’s room with photos of their six children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, with names affixed to each. And everyone will have name tags for the holiday gathering, although in smaller groups as crowds can be a bit disconcerting for Barb.
You either laugh or you cry
The Arnolds’ journey with Alzheimer’s is already two years old. The road can be bumpy, but they continue to live their lives and enjoy every minute together. It’s roughly a two-mile walk from their home to DeKoevend Park, so Harold will continue to get his exercise as he visits Barb, and they’ll still get to spend time resting on their favorite bench.
“With Alzheimer’s, you either laugh or you cry,” said Harold.
“And I don’t like to cry,” chimed in Barb.
“We even laugh a lot,” he added, squeezing his wife’s hand.
“We can’t help that,” she added.