Asking Questions

Over the course of Kate’s illness, she has relied on me for many things. The number of different things has gradually increased. At first, it was principally as a source of transportation. Over time she has come to depend on me to organize our lives, our daily routines, take care of routine household chores, and most aspects of her life. She has always looked to me to answer questions for which she didn’t know or couldn’t remember the answers. Recently, however, she is asking me more questions. It’s not just that she is asking more. It’s the kind of questions she is asking. They are questions that clearly signal a new stage in her journey. They are asked innocently as though they are the kinds of questions that almost anyone might ask. Another way of expressing this is to say that she displays no effort to disguise the fact that she can’t remember many things.

The questions I have in mind are mostly those about other people. She has much greater difficulty remembering most people’s names, now. That includes close family members. I have found this particularly noticeable during the past three months when we have made two different trips to Texas. She has continually asked me to tell her the names of people like her close childhood friends. That is not too surprising since she rarely sees these people, but it includes longtime friends we keep up with in Nashville. Of greater concern is the increasing moments when she can’t recall the names of our children, Jesse and Kevin. Fortunately, when she is with them, it is obvious that she remembers them and is able to act naturally with them. It is particularly hard (almost impossible) for her to remember the names of their spouses and the grandchildren. The greatest surprise of all occurred yesterday when she asked, “What is my name?” Before I could tell her, she said, “Kate.” Her questions are not limited to names. She frequently asks how long we have been married and how old she is. She never remembers.

I can never know exactly what is going on inside her brain, but I do often speculate about what she is thinking or what motivates her to do things. With respect to the questions, it seems to me that she realizes she can’t recall basic things that she should know and is trying her best to teach herself by asking me over and over. Unlike the way she responded during the earlier stages of her illness, she does not express much frustration over not remembering things. She does say things like “I’ve asked you that before. I don’t know why I can’t remember.” The tone of her voice suggests a minor sense of frustration, but it is nothing like she experienced several years ago.

When she says things like this, I always respond the same way with something like “It’s funny how the brain works or doesn’t work. Sometimes I will forget a name, and then, a little later, it pops into my head.” I have chosen not to tell her that this is a result of her Alzheimer’s. I see no benefit in that.