An Example of Eyesight Problems and Dependence

The other day I commented on my concern about Kate’s eyesight. At Casa Bella the other night we experienced another example of the problem. In this case, it illustrates the impact it can have on her and also her dependence on me.

The room had been rearranged to accommodate the needs of the various sized groups. The table for our group was set up for nine. That immediately caused me to wonder how Kate would adapt to a larger group. More people at the table means it is more difficult for her to understand the conversation. That makes the whole dining experience less comfortable for her.

I have always seated Kate on the side of the table that would give her the best view of the musicians. This time, however, her side was close to the back wall of the room, and she would have been in the middle with two people on either side of her. I decided it would be easier for her to get in if she took the side with her back to the musicians. The way the table was positioned I thought she could easily turn to see them as they performed.

Of course, there was no problem during the first hour before the music started. We were able to order and eat our meal while conversing at the same time. Once the music started, Kate turned her attention to the musicians. It wasn’t long before I noticed that she had a worried look on her face. She began to look around the room in all directions. I realized that she had lost sight of me and was concerned. She turned to the man beside her and said, “Have you seen my husband?” He didn’t hear her, so he didn’t respond. I reached my hand across the table and touched her arm. She looked across the table but didn’t recognize me. I grasped her hand. She looked more closely. Then she realized it was me. She heaved a great sigh of relief. I don’t know that anyone else observed her, but she was very noticeably disturbed when she didn’t see me and equally relieved when she finally did. This was another occasion when I felt like I will soon need to change our seating arrangement. I am going to try to hold off a little longer while I consider what is best for Kate. At the moment I still think a table for two would be best in the long run.

Right now there is something else I am thinking about. Casa Bella is preparing to celebrate its eightieth anniversary. They are planning a kickoff dinner in September and have made arrangements with the city to block off the street in front of the restaurant for a special Italian dinner. There won’t be any seating in the restaurant itself. I have made reservations, but I am concerned that being in such a large crowd might be overwhelming for her. I imagine they will have musical entertainment, but it won’t be like the more intimate venue inside the restaurant. I have avoided situations like this for more than a year. On the other hand, we feel close to the owners of the restaurant and the people we have met at the regular music nights. I hate to miss this event.

Apart from Kate’s uneasiness because she didn’t see me, we had a great night. Kate thoroughly enjoyed the music even more than she has at a few other recent music nights. I was happy about that.

As the situation at Casa Bella illustrates, her dependence on me is increasing significantly. It is obvious in a variety of situations. One is in her expressions of relief when I come home after the sitter has been here. I also see it around the house when she doesn’t know where I am and doesn’t remember the various rooms where I might be. Yesterday, for the first time, she thought I might be leaving her in the house alone. She had gotten up early again and taken a shower. Then she got back in bed. I told her I would get her up when it was time for lunch but to call me if she needed me. She looked scared and said, “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?” I said, “I would never leave you alone. I will be in the kitchen.” She was greatly relieved.

Confusion, but in a Good Mood

Yesterday morning was a time of significant confusion for Kate. It was similar to several other moments when her memory seemed to be completely blank. She was concerned but showed no signs of the panic she has had in similar situations. I was in the kitchen when I heard her call my name over the video cam. Yes, she did remember my name. This was one of those times the camera paid off. Kate called to me in a somewhat soft tone of voice, nothing like a shout or scream. The microphone is very sensitive. I heard her immediately and went to her.

At first, I didn’t sense the degree of her confusion. As she does so often, she asked me where we were. I told her we were in Knoxville. She looked puzzled. She asked why. I explained that we live here and that “this is our house.” Then I said, “You look like you are a little confused. What could I do to help you?” That opened the door to an hour-long conversation during which she asked questions (often the same ones over and over) and I gave her the answers. We talked about her parents, my parents, and our children and grandchildren. The topics also included how we had met, places we had lived, her work and mine, and other special things we have done.

Several times, I asked if she might like to get up. She declined saying, “I would rather hear you tell me about my family.” The last time I asked, she agreed it was time to get up. She took a shower and got back in bed for another hour. When I got her up for lunch she was fine.

I don’t know how confused or clearheaded she was about our relationship. I only know that she called my name when she wanted me. She was in a pleasant mood throughout the episode and for the balance of the day. This is another good example of the transition she can make extreme confusion to a more normal state. It seems clear to me that when she wakes up most of her connections to the world around her are dormant. As she receives the information I give her and as she directly experiences more of her everyday life, she feels more at ease.

That doesn’t mean she knows where she is or the people around her. Increasingly, she thinks we are staying in some other place than our home. That was true when we got home last night. In the car she asked where we would be staying. I told her we would be in our very own home. She asked if it was very far. When we drove up to the house, I said, “This is where we will be staying.” She admired everything she saw and never realized we were at home, but she was happy.

Kate’s Mood and Happy Moments

As Kate continues to exhibit more of the symptoms associated with dementia, I find myself entering a new phase myself. I’m not sure what to call it. I could say it is just adapting, but that isn’t precise enough. It involves accepting her decline for what it is – the loss of all her rational abilities. I can’t change that. I can feel sad as I often do, but I want to do something more constructive. That leaves me to focus on making her happy. I’m not always able to do that, at least in a very short span of time, but she is content and happy most of the time. That is particularly true after we get by the “waking up period.” That remains the most challenging time. In most cases, by lunch she is in a better mood. Afternoons and evenings almost always go well.

Yesterday was a perfect example. She was up before 8:30. She appeared to recognize me as her husband, but she was a bit confused about where we were. I had gone to her room when the video cam alerted me that she was beginning to get up. When I got to her, I said good morning and asked if I could help her. The first thing she said was, “Yes, get me out of here.” Then she said, “Where are we?” I told here we were in our house and that she would recognize it when she was a little more awake. She didn’t show any excitement or interest about being at home. She was still too confused for that and wasn’t in a happy mood.

After her trip to the bathroom, we went back to the bedroom to dress. She was very cooperative in getting dressed. She still shows some signs of independence, but she likes some kinds of help. She prefers that I put her socks on for her. I suspect that is motivated by convenience. She doesn’t have to lean down. She just sticks her feet out like a child, and I slip them on. When she has taken a shower she likes it when I help drying her back and legs and blow drying her hair. Sometimes she wants me to brush her hair as well.

When we were about to finish, she asked, “Who are you?” I gave her my name and said told her I was her husband. She didn’t believe that. I said, “Just think of me as a friend.” She liked that better. I brushed her hair. She thanked me. Then he said, “Of course, you get paid for this.” I said, “I do?” She said, “You should.” In a few minutes she made another reference to my being paid for helping her. Could she be thinking of me as a paid caregiver?

At lunch, she said something I thought was funny. Without making any reference to what we had said earlier, I asked if she knew how long we had been married, She immediately said, “Too long.” I said, “Good reply. You’re funny.” She said, “I learned it from you.” Her mood had changed. She was happy.

After lunch, she wanted to rest. That was no surprise since she had gotten up at 8:30. The sitter arrived while she was resting but not asleep. I didn’t say I was leaving until after Mary arrived. When I mentioned I was leaving for the Y, Kate didn’t act alarmed nor did she say anything like “Why don’t you stay with us?” She stood up and greeted Mary warmly.

When I returned, Kate was still on the sofa. She smiled when she saw me and was very happy. She told me she was glad to see me. I said I was glad to see her as well. After Mary was gone, she repeated multiple times how glad she was to see me. We got ready to leave for dinner. In the car, she again said she was glad to see me. By this time, she was in a very good mood. That continued for the balance of the evening. I didn’t have to work at keeping her happy. It’s just that rough edge that we sometimes have at the beginning of some days.

Her mood when she wakes is something I can’t control, but I can focus on what happens after that. So far, her mood has always improved in a relatively short period of time, and the afternoons and evenings are the most predictable Happy Moments. Maybe I should think of this as a “Mood Management Phase.” That’s what it’s all about now.