Each day brings with it a variety of little things that characterize our lives. For example, Kate is losing more of her vocabulary. That leads to her saying things I may understand but are not precisely what she meant to say. Yesterday morning as we walked through the family room, she once again took note of her ceramic cat. I had walked ahead of her a few steps and heard her say, “Kitty Pat. Kitty Pat.” I looked back and said, “What?” She pointed to the cat and repeated enthusiastically, “Kitty Pat.” This is just one example of changes in her speech. She continues to forget common words like salmon, steak, and sweet potato fries. There are many more. By the way, when she stops to look at the cat, she seems to understand that it is not real. Other times I’m not sure. As she looked at it yesterday, she said, “He’s looking at me. Now he’s looking at you.”
At the same time she loses certain skills, she continue to amaze me with her self awareness and, especially, her insights about me. She was a little uneasy when we went to lunch yesterday and asked me to sit beside her in the booth rather than across from her. In a few minutes, I said, “It looks like you are relaxed now.” She said, “Not quite, but I’m getting there.” Then she surprised me. She put her hand on mine and very gently said, “If I were really upset, you would say, ‘You’re going to be all right. Just relax. You’re going to be all right.’” These might not have been my exact words, but they were pretty close. Her tone of voice was “right on.”
Later in the day, she asked where we were. Before I could answer, she said, “I must make you miserable asking you the same question over and over.” She forgets many things, but she clearly remembers things of which I thought she was unaware. It’s not only that she remembers, but she also grasps that it could be irritating. Of course, I told her it doesn’t, and it’s true though I’m not sure she believed me.
She is often concerned about what she should do or say in social situations. This usually comes up before we are going somewhere, but other times it is out of the blue. That happened yesterday as we got in the car after lunch. She said, “It’s really good to see you.” She wanted to know if that was correct. I told her it was. Then I said, “As a former English teacher, you could appreciate that there are different ways you could say the same thing. Some could have slightly different meanings.” I went on to say, “For example, you might simply say, ‘It’s nice to see you.’” I explained that it wouldn’t convey the same degree of pleasure or emotion. Then she asked what she had said. I said, “It’s really good to see you.” She immediately said, “Or I could say, ‘It’s so good to see you.’” Because there is so much that she doesn’t remember or understand, it is easy to think that she wouldn’t be able to grasp something like this. That would clearly be wrong – at least this time.
There is something else that has occurred regularly for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it. She has ridden with me a lot over the eight years since I bought it. We’ve had only one car since December 2013. For the past three or four years she has been unable to identify it at all. The fact that I point and say, “That white car is ours.” doesn’t help. In addition, she doesn’t know which side of the car she is to enter (even when I take her, and I always do.) or whether to get in the front seat where I have opened the car door or the back seat with the door closed. It’s a good reminder of just how much her rational thought processes have diminished. I should add that she has never had any interest in cars. That was long before Alzheimer’s. I know that she knew she drove a Volvo station wagon for a few years, but I’m not sure she ever knew what kind of car I drove.
There is one other thing I should add. I’ve mentioned a lot about her poor eyesight. She frequently will not see specific food items on her plate at meal times. She has salmon and sweet potato fries every Saturday for lunch, but she often doesn’t see the salmon. When the server put her plate in front of her, I am careful to turn it so that the salmon is right in front of her and the sweet potato fries above that. I feel certain her love of fries is part of the reason she sees them. When I point out the salmon, she has great difficulty seeing it even when I use a knife as a pointer and touch it. The surprising thing is that she frequently sees small specks on the table or floor or in the car. They must stick out because there is usually nothing around them, but it is a reminder that her eyes are working. It is the brain that has trouble differentiating different items that are close together.
Let me close with something I’ve said before. We still enjoy ourselves. Yesterday and Friday were especially good days. These days may be waning, but, obviously, it is possible for a couple “Living with Alzheimer’s” to derive pleasure even at this late stage of the disease. I know that everyone’s experience can’t be like ours nor would I deny the low points that are a part of everyone’s journey. From the memoirs of other caregivers, however, I know that our experience is not unique. That should be encouraging to people who have recently received their diagnosis. It’s good to know that life after Alzheimer’s is possible, at least for a while. For us that has lasted almost nine years.