Since Kate’s diagnosis, she has declined very gradually, imperceptibly at each moment but clearer at the end of each year. The pace stepped up about a year ago and again in the past few weeks or months. I lose track. For a long time, she and I have rehearsed the names of people we will see when we go out. Recently, she seems more concerned about remembering them. I am not surprised. It is impossible for her. She doesn’t do well repeating them back in our “rehearsals” in the car. The desire to get them right, however, is still strong even though most of the situations don’t require the use of names at all.
Last night was opera night at Casa Bella, and I did something different as we met people we know on our way in and as others who came in after us. Typically, I have said, “Kate you remember Paula and Bill” or whomever. This time I simply said, “Kate, this is Paula and Bill.” To me it took the emphasis off of her failure to remember and gave her the sense that she was meeting them for the first time. From her perspective, she was. All of the people I introduced know about her Alzheimer’s and have been very kind to her. I am sure each one recognized that I was trying to be kind to her myself.
That wasn’t the only difference last night. She is also getting more insecure about doing the right things when we are out. Even though I have been ordering her meals for years, she has started taking an interest in looking at the menu. It’s hard for her to read, and she gets frustrated with all the selections. She then turns to me and asks what I recommend for her or says, “What am I going to have?” Of course, she can’t remember my answer. That requires asking multiple times. Last night was the first time I recall her doing this with other people present. When she asked, I said, “I think we should get the veal piccata. It’s always been our favorite.” She said, “Order for me.” She asked at least a couple of additional times before our server took the order.
Something else occurred, but no one else would have noticed. I was seated diagonally across the table from her during the music. I noticed her looking very carefully at the man directly across from her. She was puzzled. She looked to her left and to her right. In a moment, her eyes caught mine. She gave a very subtle sigh of relief. Then she smiled. I knew that she didn’t know where I was. She was uneasy. I have definitely become her security blanket.
Yesterday in an email to my friends Tom Robinson and Bruce Morton, I mentioned something about Kate’s frequently overlooking food on her plate. I often point out half a sandwich or a significant part of her entrée that she hasn’t eaten. This is an issue with her eyesight that seems to be a result of her Alzheimer’s. Her ophthalmologist hasn’t located anything in her eyes that should account for it. There is something else that plays a part. She never remembers what I order or what she is eating except when she sees it. She forgets between bites. Thus, she lacks a memory that might clue her into recognizing she hasn’t eaten her entrée. This happened just this past Saturday. She had eaten half of her sweet potato fries before I reminded her of her salmon. She hadn’t remembered it, and she didn’t notice even though it was right in front of her.
It is impossible for us to fully understand what it is like for someone with dementia. We can only try.