Thoughts on Living Normally

A couple of days ago, I read a Facebook post by a friend whose 8-year-old-daughter has Down syndrome. She and her daughter were in Nashville to make a pitch to the legislature not to overlook children with special needs when it comes to the education budget. She talked about the importance of providing special needs children with as many “normal” educational experiences as possible. I am not an expert with respect to those with special needs, but what she suggests makes sense to me. That has been my approach to care for Kate.

Right after her diagnosis, we talked about how we wanted to spend our time. We agreed that we wanted to focus on the kind of things that were important to us before Alzheimer’s. We didn’t think of it this way, but what we wanted was to lead normal lives. We wanted to remain active for as long as we could. That involved travel, attending live performances, dining out, and maintaining contact with friends.

It has been eight years since Kate’s diagnosis, but we continue to be as active as possible. I suspect we spend less time at home than many people our age. We are reasonably active in getting together with other people for meals and outings like our trip to Flatrock Friday night. Just the social engagement we have with our servers at the restaurants we frequent provides a source of social contact and support. I am sure they would never imagine the contribution they make to our lives.

I wish I knew a way to assess the impact our social engagement has had on us. I am sure it has enhanced the quality of our lives and probably helped us maintain a positive outlook on life even at the present stage of her Alzheimer’s. My best guess is that Kate is just past the mid-point of Stage 6 of the seven-stage model. Life is changing, but we are still active and happy.

Over time, we have had to modify our activity. Our last international trip was four years ago in May. We love Chautauqua, NY, in the summer. We’ve spent at least a week there in each of thirteen summers, ten consecutive years until our last one in 2017. The past two years we have rarely gone to any evening events that start later than 6:00. Thus, we no longer attend the Knoxville Symphony. We have been able to continue going to live theater performances because they all have Sunday afternoon matinees. We rarely attend church on Sunday because it is difficult to get Kate ready in time. As I have frequently reported, we no longer make our daily trip to Panera for Kate’s muffin in the morning. We usually go straight to lunch. That has cut down on our social contact. Until ten-to-twelve months ago, we often spent more than six or seven hours a day away from home. That is now four to six at the most.

My background in sociology has made me sensitive to the variety of environmental factors that can affect us. That leads me to believe that my friend whose daughter has Down syndrome is making a good point that the value of living a normal life is good for her daughter and other people with special needs. To the extent possible, Kate and I have tried to live as we did before Alzheimer’s. I believe it has worked.

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