The Power Of Music

We had a good day yesterday. As always, we enjoyed our lunch at the Bluefish Grill. Then we made our way to the Flat Rock Playhouse for “A North Carolina Christmas.” This turned out to be the best part of the day. The performers were all local area musicians. They were quite good. The style of the program reminded me of “A Prairie Home Companion” without the professionalism. We had heard two of the singers in several musicals in Knoxville. It was fun to see and hear them in another context. Kate loved every bit of it. That made my day since the sole reason I had made arrangements to attend was to provide her with something she would enjoy. Several times during the program the audience was invited to join in the singing. Kate sang, and I was pleased that she remembered the words to most of the songs.

That reminded me of our trip home from Memphis last week. As we were driving, I put on some fifties’ music. It had been a while since we had heard most of the music. Kate really liked it. I can’t say that she remembered a lot of the words to the songs, but she did remember key rephrases. It is obvious that music speaks in ways that ordinary conversation does not. That is especially true of music that is both familiar and well-liked.

Over the past few years, Kate has become very sensitive to a lot of the music that plays in restaurants. Almost every place we go, she complains about the choice of music. I wonder if I might have unintentionally influenced her in this direction. I love music and keep it on the car and at home. When she was having her early panic attacks, I started playing the second movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, something that I love and find very soothing. (These panic attacks have all been associated with her feeling rushed to get somewhere. I have tried not to push, but I have done so unintentionally a number of times.) She has never commented specifically, but it appears to me that when I play this in the car after her panic attack (and don’t talk), she calms down more quickly

That led me to create two playlists, each with very soft, gentle music. One is almost entirely classical. The other all popular music. I often play these while we are in the car. Again, she never says anything, but they seem to be soothing for both of us.

I would never say that our attendance at so many musical events has lessened the progression of her AD, but it has served both of us well. In my own case, I have found it to be an important and enjoyable therapy.

On the way home, we stopped for dinner at a popular restaurant east of Knoxville. As we walked up to the door, we noticed a man who looked very much like Santa sitting on a bench. Then I recognized him as a former client of mine. He had a stroke a couple of years ago and was unable to continue in his old position; so he retired. During the Christmas season, he enjoys playing Santa. We visited with him for about fifteen minutes or so while waiting for a table. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and enjoyed hearing what he is up to. On top of that we had a terrific meal. It had been another good day.

Learning To Think Like a Person With Alzheimer’s

I have often said that caregivers for people with dementia spend much of their time either trying to prevent problems or solve them. Like most caregivers, I like to think that I do a respectable job; however, I must admit that I often fail. I think I do so because my solutions always arise from my brain and not Kate’s. Let me illustrate what I mean with something that happened tonight.

I’ve commented before that over the past few weeks, Kate has gone to her room to get a night gown and come back wearing a robe and no gown. At first, I didn’t say anything. Later I asked if she would like a gown. On occasion she has hesitated, but almost always she says yes. Then I ask if she would like me to get one for her. Most of the times she says yes. It seemed clear to me that she really wants a gown.

I’ve been trying to figure out why she so frequently gets a robe instead of a gown. I’ve asked her, but she hasn’t been able to explain it. As I went through different possibilities, the first thing I thought was that it was difficult to pick out a gown because she has a number of each. They also get mixed up in her closet. This morning I decided to rearrange her robes and gowns. I grouped them so that she would see the gowns grouped together before she got to the robes which I put behind them.

Shortly after we returned from Flat Rock tonight, she came into our bedroom wearing a robe. I could see that she didn’t have on a gown and asked if she wanted one. She did. I asked if she wanted me to get one. Again, she did.

Now I’ve decided that the problem is that there are so many clothes hanging in her closet that it is simply too confusing for her. I say that because there have been occasions when she has asked me to get either a top or pants for her after she had looked and not found anything. Of course, all the literature on dementia points out the difficulty people with dementia have when presented with many different options. I need to get rid of some of the clothes she will no longer wear and reduce the number of options in main closet. It can be challenging when the person you want to help is unable to explain what she needs. And it’s impossible to be accurate when you can’t figure out what’s going on in her brain. I can’t imagine what she must be feeling when things like this happen.

It Helps To Be Flexible

Many times I have remarked how fortunate Kate and I have been throughout this journey. I hope you have also been able to tell that that doesn’t mean we don’t face many of the same challenges that others are having. Caring for someone with AD always requires daily adjustments. For example, Kate and I got home from Panera about 10:15. As usual, she asked if she could “pick a few leaves” and then asked me where she should start, the back or the front. Usually, I just say wherever you want. This time I said, “Why don’t you start along the driveway.” We came inside. She brushed her teeth and then went directly to the back yard instead of the driveway. Of course, this was no problem because it doesn’t make any difference to me where she works in the yard. It’s just an illustration of the everyday things that occur because her memory is gone.

I should add that we are going to a Christmas special at the Flat Rock Playhouse this afternoon. Although this won’t be a “dress up” affair, I didn’t want her to mess up her clothes working outside. I didn’t mention this to her because I knew she wouldn’t be able to remember it. As we were approaching the time for us to leave for lunch, I looked out back and saw that she was sitting in a flower bed pulling up weeds. I knew that meant a change of clothes. It also mean adjusting our time schedule by going to lunch a little later. This didn’t bother me because I had already thought about going straight to Flat Rock from the restaurant. It worked out fine.

I relate this incident because it so illustrative of what happens everyday. As someone who has OCD tendencies, I generally follow through on my plans once they are made, but that doesn’t work with someone who has dementia. The result is that I often find that we start on one plan and shift to another before we even take the first step. It really pays to be flexible.

Another Positive Experience With The Sitter

This morning I finally woke Kate at 11:00. It took her over an hour to get ready to leave for lunch; so that meant we didn’t have as much time as I would have liked before Anita, the sitter, was scheduled to arrive at home. Rather than rush Kate, I decided to call Anita and ask her to meet us at Panera where we were having lunch. That worked out well. That allowed me to leave and go back to the house to get ready for the Y. Kate and Anita stayed at Panera.

Once again, I am finding that four hours is not a lot of time when I go to the Y. After exercising, I met Mark Harrington for coffee. He is my technology guru and has handled the technical aspect of this website. We try to get together once a week. When we parted, I dropped by the ATM for some cash. Then my four hours was just about up.

When I arrived at home, Kate was sitting in a flower bed behind the house as she cleaned out some of the weeds. Anita told me they had taken a drive after leaving Panera. They had gone across town to Krispy Kreme. When they got back home, she said Kate went straight to the back yard. They had had a full afternoon themselves.

As Anita was about to leave, I thanked her. Kate quickly chimed in and said, “I’m the one who should be thanking you.” Then she walked over to Anita and gave her a hug. I never imagined things would go so well. It makes me happy.

After Anita was gone, I said, “So you went to Krispy Kreme.” Kate gave me a strange look. It was obvious that she didn’t remember going there.

Sleeping Late Today

It is now 10:48 and Kate is still sleeping soundly. She got up around 9:30 to go to the bathroom but went back to bed. This is really highly unusual although she did sleep this late sometimes in the past few weeks. It could be that this is related to her cold although both our colds have been very mild. They have not interfered with any of our usual activity. It was a beautiful day yesterday, and she worked outside for more than two hours at one stretch. As with many other behaviors, it is not easy to explain each one; however, I am always trying to see any signs of a pattern than may be developing. If she is not awake by 11:00, I will wake her up for lunch. The sitter is scheduled for 1:00; so we won’t have as much time as I would like.

While she has been in bed, I have accomplished a number of things that I should have done before. I wrote two thank you letters, one to the Session of our church, the other to the man who wrote the resolution they had presented to me a couple of weeks ago. I also made hotel reservations in Lubbock for Christmas.

Since shortly after Kate’s retirement from her last school in 1990, a group of teachers with January birthdays has gotten together in January of each year to celebrate. This hasn’t happened the past two years, and I wanted to get them together one more time while Kate can still enjoy it. This morning I called one of them who has organized the event each year to see about our doing it this year. He had been thinking the same thing; so we are going to pick a date and then check with everyone else to see if it works. This was a special group to Kate. I want her to get together with them one more time.