A Note on Conversations

One of the things that caregivers of spouses say they miss most is everyday conversations with their loved ones. I understand that. Even in the early years after Kate’s diagnosis, conversation became more difficult. That’s because so much of our conversation involved specific pieces of information about other family members, friends, events, and other personal experiences we had shared recently and in the past. Because of her memory loss, Kate had less to talk about. One additional problem was how much more slowly she could process what I said. It required my repeating almost everything. I suspect that extra effort may have led to my talking less.

As recently as a year ago, I would have thought we might not have conversations at all. The truth is that we spent a lot of our time together in silence. Since then Kate has talked considerably more than she did before. That is closely linked to the time she stopped taking Trazadone. So many changes take place over the course of this disease, I can’t be sure that the change in her medication is responsible for her talking more. It does remain a possibility. I can say that her talking more has significantly changed the quality of our lives, and I am grateful for that.

There is another possible explanation for the increase in her talking. It was shortly after eliminating Trazadone that I read The Dementia Handbook in which the author, Judy Cornish, presents her ideas about rational and intuitive thought processes. She argues that caregivers need to focus on what people with dementia can do (things that involve intuitive abilities) rather than worrying about what they can’t do (things that involve their rational abilities). If you are a regular follower of this blog, you are well aware this has had a big impact on the way I approach caregiving. It helped me understand why Kate and I have gotten along so well. We had followed her advice without even knowing about it.

Once I became aware of her ideas, I began to apply them with greater intentionality. Now, I look at almost everything she and I do with a conscious effort to pick up on her intuitive abilities. As many people say, I try to “live in her world” not mine. What that means for conversation is that I support Kate’s ability to talk about feelings as opposed to facts. This narrows the range of things we talk about, but I find it rewarding to be able to converse with her again. I have every reason to believe that she is enjoying herself more because she is playing a more active role in our conversations.

So what do we talk about? Well, the kinds of things I have reported previously. They fall into several categories. She has strong feelings of respect and admiration for her parents and her extended family. She talks more about her mother than anyone else. She also has feelings of gratitude about her life with her family growing up and her life with me. She has feelings about others who have been less fortunate than she has been. She is kind-hearted, something that seems to have increased since Alzheimer’s entered our lives. This leads her to say more good things about people she encounters, friends and strangers alike. Our conversations are like a litany of expressions of these feelings, and they occur over and over again.

As I reflect on what I have said, I believe that almost all of the special moments we share involve these kinds of conversations. I like seeing her happy, and she is very happy when she expresses her feelings on these topics. That is why we have so many good days. The feelings she has are strong feelings. They endure. It makes me hopeful that we will be able to continue our conversations for a good while longer.

I suspect that those who haven’t spent time with someone with dementia might think it strange or boring to engage in conversations like this. I look at it the way most of us do when talking with young children. Parents and grandparents normally love to enter the world of a child. I feel the same way about entering Kate’s world. Thus far, it doesn’t involve a lot of “make believe.” Almost all of our conversations relate to real feelings about real people and experiences. More importantly, I share Kate’s feelings, and I believe the expression of these particular feelings are healthy, even therapeutic, for us. They maintain our focus on all the positive things in our lives and not the negative and help turn what is ordinary into something special. That is one reason I say we have so many good days.

Yesterday was another one. Her memory wasn’t much better than usual. The key was her engaging in conversation with me. We had a very simple lunch at Eggs Up. She had a chicken sandwich, and I had a Greek omelet, but it wasn’t the food or the ambiance that made it special. It was the simple pleasure of a husband and wife talking about little things that mean a lot to us.