Northwest Herald

Oliver: Sometimes questioning one’s own sanity can be part of being a caregiver

In the 1944 film “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, a husband with nefarious intentions tries to persuade his wife that she is going insane.

The husband would remove items from where his wife expected them to be, dim the lights at random times of the day and accuse her of being a thief, knowing all along that she hadn’t taken the item.

Not surprisingly, the wife starts to doubt herself and question her own sanity.

These days the term “gaslight” is used when someone is trying to manipulate someone psychologically to make them doubt their own reality or memories.

Living with a husband with Alzheimer’s disease often makes me feel like I’m going insane. And if I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was living with an evil genius.

For instance, my dear Tony often hides items around the house. For a long time, he would do that with his socks. I would find them behind pillows, in random drawers or tucked into places where they didn’t belong. I let this go on for a while because one or two pairs missing wasn’t a problem.

Then it started to get old, particularly when he would hide more and more pairs, to the point that I was spending a good amount of time trying to locate them all. So, I hid the socks myself.

I chuckle at all the items that I’ve had to rehome because Tony would become fixated on them and start hiding them in different places.

This reminds me a lot of what my mother used to do. Her dementia told her that someone was always trying to steal her things. The “little people” would make her want to hide her belongings. I tried to get ahead of her by offering to help her find good hiding places. That just meant I’d put those things in places she didn’t know about so she couldn’t hide them and forget where they were.

In Tony’s case, I’m not sure what his motivation is because he stopped talking a long time ago.

These days his fixation is on the towels in the kitchen. He likes to fold and refold them and then find new places for them to go. Using the old sock theory, I have enough towels out so that if he manages to hide one or two, I can still function.

Over time, I’ve learned that I cannot leave any utensils out, lest a spoon disappear for days. The same goes for pens, pencils and any other writing implement. A pen was left out the other day, and I wound up looking in just about every room of the house before I found it tucked in with my hair gels in a basket.

Lately, though, Tony has upped his game. Like a lot of Alzheimer’s patients, Tony enjoys turning things, unzipping things, unscrewing things and turning things on. Unfortunately, he isn’t interested in doing any of those things when it’s an activity meant to keep him occupied. No, he’d rather find his own way to amuse himself.

One day I heard what could only be described as a piece of metal hitting a tile floor. I looked around the bathroom and found a piece of metal on the floor. I didn’t at first know what it came from. After a few minutes it dawned on me: It was one of the knobs from the small cabinet near the sink.

These sorts of things do come loose from time to time, so at first, I didn’t really put two and two together. That is, until one day Tony handed me a knob to one of our kitchen cabinets.

Once, I saw him detach another one when I happened to walk up on him. Then there was the time that he had a knob from one of our bedroom dressers in his pocket.

Nowadays, I don’t question my sanity when something becomes loose. When I have a pantry knob come off in my hand, I know immediately what had happened.

Still, there was a period when I was still trying to figure it out.

The worst case of this had to be a few weeks ago when I turned on the kitchen faucet and water started spraying everywhere. Somehow the base of the faucet had come loose, so loose that it detached in my hand.

Any guesses who could have done that?

These days, there’s little doubt.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.