Most of the things we do during the course of an ordinary day we do without even thinking. We’ve learned to do what is appropriate in the vast majority of situations. We come to this through explicit and implicit training from parents, teachers, and everyone else around us. To be sure, the daily news is filled with the most egregious violations of customs or the law, but most of us abide by the norms most of the time. It’s through our rational ability that we learn to follow the rules for both big and little things.
As I have noted before, dementia robs a person of that rational ability. People with dementia often say or do things they would not have done prior to their disease. We generally understand this, but caregivers are always facing new things we didn’t expect. That happened to me tonight.
As Kate prepared for bed, she walked into the bathroom. She saw a tube of toothpaste, picked it up, lifted her arm, and motioning with hand signals asked if she should put it under her arms. I explained that it was for her teeth. Then I showed her the deodorant and told her that was for under her arms. Moments later I saw that she had put toothpaste on her neck.
Although I was surprised, Now that I have reflected a bit, I find her question understandable. This is a sign that she is reaching another stage of her Alzheimer’s. Things like brushing her teeth and using deodorant are regular habits that we do automatically. That is a strong habit for Kate and has lasted a long time, but even that is now fading away. Earlier in the day she had given me the same hand signals without lifting her arm. That time I correctly thought she was asking if she should brush her teeth. Like most habits that weaken, the process is usually a gradual one. I am sure I will see more of this in the future.