There is no way to fully understand the way Kate (or anyone else with dementia) is experiencing the world around her. I believe other caregivers try their best to do so. I know I do. Right now, I am wondering how to describe what Kate experienced yesterday. One thing I know is that being in a group is challenging for people with dementia. It certainly is for Kate. That isn’t hard for me to understand. I think most people feel a little awkward in a group where they don’t know anyone. It has to be even more difficult for someone who doesn’t know why she is there, what she is supposed to do, or have any memories that would help her engage in conversation. Kate’s general approach is to be more subdued in a group. On a few occasions, she is more talkative as if she were trying to make sure she is noticed. That’s the way she was the day Kevin and his family arrived.
Yesterday she was more subdued, and I would say somewhat uneasy. When I woke her, I told her we were going to the zoo with Kevin and his family. She frowned. I didn’t think much of that. She has done that before when I have suggested a trip to the zoo; however, she has always enjoyed it once we are there. I am glad to say that she did yesterday as well. It began as we walked from the parking lot to the entrance when she saw the spring flowers that were starting to bloom. There were many others throughout the zoo that she enjoyed as well.
Of course, the animals are the big attraction. That was true for Kate. She took special pleasure in feeding the Lorikeets from a cup of nectar. That has been a highlight of our other visits over the past year. She also got a kick out of the mother gorilla who was nursing her infant, sea lions and tortoises. This was an easy experience for her. We walked a good distance, and she was ready to leave when we did. I felt good about it because she got in more walking than she is accustomed to, and she also enjoyed everything she saw. The zoo provides an experience that taps into her intuitive abilities. She may not remember names, places, or events, but she can appreciate the sights she sees.
There is something else that made the zoo work well. We split up with Kevin’s family. That meant she could walk at a leisurely pace and stop to look at the animals as long as she wanted. She wasn’t under any pressure.
From the zoo, we went to dinner. She was much more subdued. Sitting around the table with the seven us didn’t lend itself to a group conversation. She said very little and seemed a little bored. When we got home, she continued to be quiet. At first, she looked at a magazine. Then I brought the iPad to her, and she worked puzzles while Kevin and our grandson, Taylor, played Mille Bornes, and the rest of us talked.
I am still trying to grasp what Kate may have been thinking. I know she couldn’t remember that they were her family. I had been telling her quite some time that they were coming. Off and on yesterday, I also mentioned who they are, but those were very isolated instances. Her memory lasts only seconds. She must have asked herself, “Who are these people and why are they here?” I need to be more creative with ways to make her part of the group.