Alzheimer’s and Social Networking

“I’d like to go golfing,” Bill said. The sun was shining, the grass is green and all kinds of flowers are in full bloom, including our spectacular, blood-red, Camelia Roses. Who wouldn’t want to be outside doing something you enjoyed while you soak all that up?  Trouble was, his Alzheimer’s has progressed to where he cannot find his way around the course without a buddy to guide him. He has a buddy who golfs with him, but he lives in New Jersey from September to May. And I can’t golf. So, Bill had to be content with just going outside and weeding flower beds.

When we were young parents and involved in working, raising kids and taking care of our myriad critters, we didn’t think about networking. Our work lives and home lives were quite separate. Outside work-related social events, we didn’t socialize with our work mates. We kept in touch with high school and university friends via letters (the old-fashioned, hand-written kind), cards, and the occasional phone call. If we happened to travel back to our old stomping grounds, we visited with those who were still there, but that was rare. Even rarer, some decided to travel our way during their vacations, and stopped with us for a day or two. New friends tended to be people whose kids were involved in the same activities ours were and, as we moved to new jobs in new locations, we eventually lost touch with them. We still keep in touch with school-days friends, but none of them has ever lived where we lived.

As our kids grew older, and I moved into self-employed ventures rather than salaried jobs, I began to search for more connections within the community. I got involved in community activities—went to events, joined a few clubs, volunteered with various organizations, started—or joined—some working groups who were pursuing the same goals I was. Through those activities, I made new friends.

Bill, however, continued to work in a salaried job, and when he got home from work what he wanted to do most of all was spend time alone. He spent all day with people, taking care of issues that arose among a staff of 80+, meeting with bosses and committees, and dealing with the demanding public. He needed time just to unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet of his own breathing. He loved doing the physical things that needed doing to maintain the animals, such as building stalls and fencing, and the high-energy tasks required to maintain our lifestyle, such as cutting wood. It was a complete shift of focus from taking care of business during the day. But it meant he wasn’t building a network of men friends. Even when he went golfing, a sport he’s enjoyed since he was a teen, he would go alone and do the round with whoever happened to be on the course at the time. He enjoyed getting together with other couples or my friends when I arranged things he could be present for, but he didn’t make any effort to socialize in any way on his own.

Sometimes, families can help fulfill this need. But none of either of our family members has lived where we’ve lived through our adult lives. And though we love any time we’re able to spend with our kids and grandchildren, they don’t live near us either. So, without a core group of male friends built and nurtured over years, and without family close by, today Bill must depend on me for all of his social companionship. That’s difficult for both of us.

Social networking is more important than either of us realized when we were young. A close group of friends provides inspiration, stimulation, challenges and support vital to one’s growth and well-being. Nurtured and cherished friendships are there in the good times, and the bad. I will go and walk the golf course with Bill (when it’s had a chance to dry out) but how much more fun would it be for him to go with a friend, with whom he could laugh and talk about things husbands and wives don’t.


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