Signs of a Cold or Alzheimer’s?

Kate’s cold and accompanying cough continued yesterday. I believe it was somewhat, but not dramatically, improved. It’s been an interesting cold in that her symptoms have been pretty even over the course of the past week. She hasn’t had a fever, and she goes long periods (an hour or two or more) without coughing. She doesn’t go quite as long without blowing her nose, but that also comes and goes.

Her overall behavior, however, suggests she has not been herself. She has been more confused and dependent. She has had greater difficulty working her jigsaw puzzles. She has actually had moments when she didn’t know what she should do with pieces once they were scattered across the screen of her iPad. I don’t mean she didn’t know the exact place to put them; she didn’t know what to do at all. She has also had several hallucinatory experiences. Two of those were a week ago, and one occurred last night.

We stopped at a traffic light on our way home from dinner, and she said, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” This came out of the blue for me. I didn’t know what she might have been thinking and said, “What made you ask that?” She said, “You’ve been going through so much.” I was still confused but decided not to question her. I simply assured her that I was getting along well. I told her that she had always been my support, that she should just continue that. She appeared relieved.

As usual, she worked on her iPad after we got home from dinner. She couldn’t remember how to start, that is, to open the puzzle app. This was not the first time. I showed her as I have done before. Once it was open, I showed her the various options she could choose. I walked away, and she immediately ran into a problem. She hit an arrow at the top left of the screen that took her to the store instead of selecting one of the puzzle options that filled the rest of the screen. That, too, was not the first time, but it is becoming more frequent. When she went back to the puzzles, she worked them for about an hour. Our son called as she was getting started. She said hello with her usual enthusiasm, but then quickly returned to her puzzles. While I was on the phone, she asked me for help several times. Her attention was clearly on the puzzles and not the phone call from Kevin.

When I got off the phone, she wanted to get ready for bed. First, she walked over to me and expressed her concern about me. She made reference to “that man.” I asked if she meant Kevin. She didn’t, but she was unable to tell me who “that man” is. I did grasp that she was again worried about me and the load I am carrying. One might think she was talking about my role as a caregiver, but it was not. I got the distinct impression that it had something to do with my work or volunteer activities. Interestingly, they are minimal these days; however, I am sure hallucinatory experiences often relate to distant memories.

She was tired and went to bed a little earlier than usual. She had done the same the night before. I think this could be related to her cold. After thirty minutes or so, she appeared to be asleep. I joined her thirty minutes later. When I did, I discovered that she was awake and whimpering. I asked her what was wrong. She didn’t (couldn’t?) explain but said, “The babies.” I told her I didn’t understand but wanted to help her. She went on to say, “I do want a baby, maybe two.” I mentioned our having had two babies who were now grown up. She was startled, not about having babies, but that she and I had babies. I told her I was her husband. She strongly denied it. I knew I needed to go in a different direction.

This was another time I felt explanations were irrelevant; she needed comfort. I told her just that and said, “I love you dearly, and I want to comfort you.” She said, “I know you do. I can tell by your voice that you’re not just saying that.” That began what may have been close to an hour of conversation during which she talked, and I gave supportive responses. I never fully understood what it was that prompted her worry. At one point, I asked her if she were afraid. She said she was. I was never able to discover why.

What I do know is that she thought she was young and unmarried. A couple of times she said, “I can have a child. I have one now.” One of those times she put both hands on her stomach as she said this. That may have meant she was carrying a child now. She also responded to me as if she knew I were her husband. I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me. Despite this, I don’t believe she ever recognized that I am her husband. I was just someone she felt very close to. She was very comfortable talking with me. Finally, she relaxed, and we both fell asleep.

It was a week ago yesterday afternoon that I noticed the first sign that she was getting sick. She coughed a few times, and it didn’t sound like a normal clearing of her throat. The next morning it was obvious she had a cold. It was that afternoon that she had an hallucination that involved our working in some kind of education project in another country. At the time I wondered if that could have been a side effect of the Robitussin DM or Zyrtec, the cold itself, or her Alzheimer’s.

One thing is clear. She has been noticeably different this week. I have eliminated the Robitussin and Zyrtec. I am left with the possibility of the cold itself or Alzheimer’s. At the moment, I believe Alzheimer’s is the primary cause and that the cold may have aggravated the situation. Time will tell.

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