What To Do About Driving

When I got home from Dad’s last evening, I discovered that Kate had run into something in her car. Her right front headlight was shattered, the bumper was loose, and the hood of the car crimpled a little. She told me that she bumped into something in the Belk parking lot. She simply hadn’t seen it because it was dark.

By itself, this is nothing to worry about; however, this has happened multiple times. It makes me wonder now if it was AD that played a role in other incidents that occurred before her diagnosis. I am able to recall that she had a panic attack when she got lost trying to find my brother’s house in 2006 when she went to Birmingham for our niece’sshower. I seem to recall that Kate was concerned about having AD at that time. We played as if it were a simple case of being geographically challenged as we continue to do. It is very clear now that it is more than that, but it makes it easier to say something about being geographically challenged. The big question for me is when does she stop driving. I know that will be a low blow. It also means that I need to be around her even more than I am now. That would mean going into the office less which I could do although it provides a nice escape for me.

Shortly after returning from dinner, I gave her a hug and told her I loved her. She said, “I like having you home with me.” She has mentioned this on numerous occasions, and I take it as a feeling of security she has when I am around. She encounters so many situations in which she feels the need to ask me how to solve some problem. When I am not there she simply has to endure her frustration. To some extent she wants to do this. Neither of us wants me to do everything for her. In fact, last night she asked what she could do to help with dinner. I started to say, “nothing” but I told her she could get the plates ready. Her facial expression told me she was pleased that she could play a role in dinner. I generally shy away from asking her to help with dinner because I feel she will do things differently than I want them done, but I may need to change this approach.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke on the phone with our pastor. I had called to invite him to our Sunday school class Christmas party. He is the only one that knows about Kate except for our attorney and the State Farm attorney who is representing us in the accident case in Alabama. He asked about Kate and to his credit asked if I were home with her. I told him I was and that she was on the phone in the next room. For that reason we did not say much. He did comment that in the times he has been with her he could not tell that she has AD. I told him one had to be around her as I am to recognize it but that it is easy to see from my vantage point. He then said that his only clue might be that she seems to look to me when we are together as though she is looking to me for security. I told him that is the case – that she depends on me for that security.

Mini-meltdown; others to come?

In my previous post, I gave an example of how well Kate is adapting to situations in which she finds her AD keeps her from doing things as easily as she could previously. Last night we had an example of just the opposite reaction. After I got home from Dad’s last evening, I poured Kate a glass of wine while I warmed up some quiche and cooked an onion for our dinner. She was working on her computer and didn’t get around to drinking any of the wine. (This, by the way, is another characteristic I am noticing. She starts on something and completely forgets about doing something else.) About the time I was going to bring the dinner into the family room, she closed her computer and was putting it away when she knocked over her wine on the table beside the new love seat we got in late August. She went ballistic. I rushed in with a towel and soaked up the red wine all over the table. It turns out that her concern was not the table but the love seat. Wine had dribbled down on the arm and then on the seat. We worked to soak it up and got most of it. We will have a permanent stain to remind us of this event. During the cleanup she was quite disturbed. Finally she said, “”I am such a disaster.” I told her that she was not. She said, “No, I am a disaster. I am going to make your life miserable taking care of me.”

As her condition continues to deteriorate, I can’t help wondering if this is something I am going to see more of. For her sake, I hope not. Once again, this is a good example of the frustrations that an AD patient experiences even as others fail to see that she has AD.

Happy Moments in the Midst of Sadness

We returned Friday night (this is Monday) from a visit with Jesse’s family for Thanksgiving. Everything went well. Kate got along well. I don’t think a thing happened that would give either Jesse or Greg a clue that she has AD. One thing I will note is that Kate seems to have developed a more positive view of other people than she had before. I have noticed this for a good while – perhaps a year. That starts with me. She tells me much more often than she used to that she is glad she married me, that I am good to her, etc. I see the same thing in her judgment of other people. In particular she comments about how smart people are. I think this is a reflection of her inability to do so many things and her seeing others do these normal things without any effort.

Now on to the reason I chose the headline above. This past Saturday we went to Gregory’s for lunch. Near the end of our meal, Kate wanted to take a moment to update her calendar. She is working harder to jot down things she needs to remember in her calendar. She asked me when we were leaving for New York. I told her Wed., Dec. 5. I also told her that I thought she had already entered the information. She checked and said that she had. She asked me what time we were leaving. I gave her the departure and arrival times. First, she is getting good at trying not to digest too much information; so she held her hand up to stop me when I went beyond the departure time. Before moving on to the date and times for our trip back to Knoxville the following week, she struggled to get the correct information into her calendar. It took several minutes before she was ready to move on. I then gave her the arrival time in NY. That took her a little bit of time. Then we went to the return trip. This became a struggle, and she finally asked me to do it for her. When I checked the departure date and time, I found that she had entered it incorrectly. My point is that this can be looked upon as a sad situation and a frustrating one; however, we both laughed through it from beginning to end. This is not necessarily typical of these situations, but it is common. It reminds me of the way Dad reacts in many situations. He will just smile and say, “”My brain just won’t let me do it.” It is really something going through these things with both of them, but it is good news that we are sometimes able to make light of the situation.

An hour after writing the above I received a call from Kate asking me for the phone number for the president of our neighborhood association. The interesting thing is that I had just given her his cell phone number 20-30 minutes earlier. She also has both his and his wife’s cell phone numbers and home phone in the directory that she was using yesterday to make calls. She specifically indicated she had their numbers. I am sure, however, that she is simply unable to remember where she put the number I had just given her or that she has their number in the directory.

Phases and Frustrations

I don’t think I was explicit on the change in my schedule as a result of care for Kate and care for Dad. Let me be clear now. When I learned about her diagnosis, I immediately changed my schedule as it relates to work so that I could spend more time with her. The care for Dad required more changes in my time at work. While I have never told the staff about Kate’s AD, I had let them know that she and I were going to try to spend more time together. I also told them I wanted them to assume greater responsibility for running the company. That has worked well. So well in fact that I do very little in terms of the daily affairs.

This evolution of the business as well as the growing needs of Kate and my dad have led to my coming into the office each morning, but I do only personal things. Some of that has involved plans for the 3 trips that we have coming up – -NYC in December, the Peru and the Galapagos in Feb/March, and the week in Jackson Hole in June. It also includes responsibilities with my SS class and our music club. I am occasionally asked if I am retired. I generally hesitate in answering by saying I spend less and less time at the office, but I believe I am really at the point of saying, “I am retired, but I go to the office in the morning.”

Now to the frustration part of this commentary. I find that even though Dad is in a nursing home, I feel the need to spend a good bit of time looking out for him. That involves taking something to eat each afternoon, making sure he has bananas, peanut butter, crackers, and Oreos as well as getting his clothes cleaned. In addition, there are routine visits to the cardiologist and less routine things like the dermatologist and the surgery he had last week to remove a tumor from his right forearm. He keeps me quite busy when I am with him. He always needs something.

Yesterday I took him to his cardiologist. We waited over an hour to see the doctor. I almost always take him someplace to get something to eat before taking him back. Before I could address this, he mentioned that he would like to get something to eat. I said that I had thought we might go by Wendy’s and get a baked potato. I have brought him baked potatoes on a number of occasions but not in 3-4 weeks. I like to give him a potato because he likes them and is able to eat and swallow them easily. However, he told me that he was getting tired of potatoes and wanted something else. While I went into his surgeon’s office to change an appointment from the coming Monday to this Friday, he thought more about what he wanted. When I got in the car he told me he wanted either a cheese omelet or spaghetti and meatballs. I thought for a moment and told him that we were not too far from a Waffle House and that we could get an omelet there. We went there. When the waitress came to the table, I told her he wanted a cheese omelet and asked him if he wanted anything with it like sausage or hash browns. He said that he didn’t. As soon as the waitress put the omelet at his place, he told me he wanted a waffle to go with it. I called the waitress over and let her know but told her not to put in the order until we saw how interested he was after eating his omelet. As it turned out, he didn’t want the waffle.

As we were leaving to go back to Mountain Valley, he noticed that Office Depot was directly across the street and asked me to stop in there to get him several ball point pens because the folks at Mountain Valley had done something with the ones he had had. I bought the pens and got back in the car. He then said, “I should have asked you to get some postcards as well.” At this point, I told him I would do that another time and that we needed to get back.

As we were driving he told me he thought he would need something else to eat. I told him that we would be arriving at Mountain Valley as they were serving dinner. I took him directly to the dining room, and after giving his nurse instructions from the cardiologist, I left for the day. The total time for all this was 4 hours. Had I stayed longer there would still have been things to do. For example, I noticed that he needed a shave, I hadn’t gotten his teeth brushed, etc. It never ends. Although he periodically says something about all the time I spend with him, he never really seems to be bothered by it.

Going Through Different Phases

Right now I feel a little rushed. I have things to do to catch up on that I put aside when I was preparing for Dad’s party. Then it was the 50th TCU class reunion. Now we are leaving for Jesse’s for Thanksgiving. I have bills to pay and arrangements to make for various things. In addition, I continue to have responsibilities with Dad. In particular, I have been trying to work out a way for his blood sugar level to stay at a desirable level. I am concerned because he keeps having low blood sugar levels. The staff is concerned because he has high levels. He also had surgery on his right forearm this past Friday to remove a squamous cell carcinoma tumor. He is scheduled to go back next Monday to have the stitches removed, but we are going to Jesse’s that day.

At the same time, I am just becoming aware that Kate and I are moving into a new stage in our journey. Even before her diagnosis almost 2 years ago, I was taking a larger role around the house. She had given up cooking some time before then – perhaps 3-5 years. The only big change that occurred immediately after diagnosis was my making sure I spend as much time as possible with her. I started taking her to lunch everyday instead of eating alone. I was still working a full day at the office then. As time passed, she became bothered by the time I would get home after visiting with Dad. That led to my taking off work a little earlier so that I could spend the same amount of time with Dad but get home a little earlier. Gradually I have stopped working in the afternoon. I go to lunch with Kate. Then spend some time at the house working on the computer or other odd jobs.

Over the past 2 years, I have now come become responsible for almost all of the household arrangements except decorating and tending to her plants. Both of these things have been escapes for her. At least that is the way I view them. She gravitates toward them because they don’t involve any frustration for her. They are simple pleasures.

I have taken over almost all of her financial things. I had already before she had AD taken care of family trust activity. But now I have her American Express bill emailed to me and make the payment through her account. She doesn’t even know how much her bill is. She doesn’t see it. This morning she asked me if I knew where she keeps our envelopes. She wanted to mail a check to someone. She said she normally would have done an online bill pay from her checking account, but she can’t remember how to do that. I first found the envelopes for her. Then I told her I would be glad to help her with online bill pay. She indicated she didn’t want me to do that. I said, And I don’t want to take over everything for you.” She acknowledged her own need to continue doing as much as she can.

She did say there are somethings for which she would like help. I suggested we change our daily routine a bit. From now on we will go to lunch. Then we will focus on things that she needs help with. Then I will go to Dad’s. She seemed to like or accept that suggestion. So this is yet another step along a very long journey. I still think most people would not know what she is going through, but for someone as close as I am to her, it is a continuous series of incidents that are reminders that she has AD and it is getting worse.

Some Positive and Negative Aspects of AD

Last night we returned from Fort Worth where we attended the 50th reunion of our 1962 graduating class at TCU.  We had a wonderful time. Clearly time had not erased the connections we had with our good friends from those days. For Kate the really good thing was that this kind of situation relies on long-term memory which, for her, is still good. That meant she was able to comfortably converse with people and enjoy them.

This made me stop and think how fortunate it is that it is the short-term memory that goes first because much of our interaction with people depends more heavily on our long-term memory. Before going, Nancy Hardwick (a childhood friend of Kate’s and also a friend at TCU) had sent us an email letting us know that Charlie, her husband (who was a former roommate of mine), was having memory problems and that we should always copy her on any emails to Charlie because he doesn’t remember things too well. As it turns out, if she had not mentioned this to us, we would never have known he had a problem.

These experiences underscore what I have mentioned a number of times before – the person with AD and his/her spouse recognize the condition long before others do. Although Kate got along beautifully as far as her relationship with the people with whom she interacted, I know that she had any number of experiences of forgetfulness that are painful to her. Her memory continues to worsen, and she recognizes it.

Not to take away from the stress for her, but it is also a challenge for me. Because she is so normal in most ways, I continue to respond to her in the same way that I have always done. For example, we had talked during the weekend about going to Sadie’s Cafe for breakfast on Monday morning before leaving. On Sunday night we talked about going there the next morning and returning to the hotel to finish packing. Right after she woke up on Monday morning, I told her I thought we might get ready to go to breakfast at 8:00 and the come back to the hotel to finish packing. I assumed that she remembered our plans for Sadie’s Cafe. When she was taking more time to finish packing, I said I thought we should go and reminded her that we were coming back to finish before leaving. She had forgotten that we were coming back to the room. She thought we were leaving for the airport in Dallas.

When we went downstairs, she walked in the direction of the hotel’s restaurant as I walked toward the door to go out to the car. She looked puzzled, and I reminded her that we were going to Sadie’s. She had completely forgotten.

When something like this happens, I recognize that I should know by now that she can’t remember. What I should do is assume that she won’t remember and say something tactful that gives her the information again without saying, “Remember, we are . . .” or responding after the fact, “I told you . . .” or “Don’t you remember?” All of these things hurt her self-confidence and bother her. I need to do a better job saying the right things instead of the wrong things.

During the weekend there were quite a number of incidents that she forgot about after my telling her something we would be doing at a particular time. She frequently asks me what day it is and then asks again later. This is one of the things she has in common with Dad.

The good thing is that I am the one who will see these things and not others. Hopefully, she will be able to hide her AD from the world for a while longer.