Reflecting on Visits with Out-of-Town Friends

This past Saturday Kate and I went to Nashville to visit our longtime friends, the Greeleys. It was a visit very much like recent ones we have had with two other couples who are also longtime friends. All three were good visits for me, but they presented a challenge for Kate. I had exchanged emails with each couple prior to the visit. I told them that she is sensitive about being excluded from our conversations. All of us were interested in seeing that she was a part of the group.

In practice, that is very hard to do. We have a long history of conversations, and we fall back on the way we have always interacted. We would have to devote all our effort to make Kate an integral part of the conversation. This is not a problem that is the fault of our friends. I get caught up in the conversation myself and am the biggest talker of them all.

There is no problem when it is just Kate and me. We are able to converse easily. That involves a significant amount of repetition and a narrower range of topics. It would be hard for a group to spend a visit of two or more hours doing that. Eventually we would be back to where we are now, three of us involved in a conversation while Kate sits and tries to listen but can’t follow.

When I face a situation like this, I like to think of the things that are within my control and those that are not. One of the things I can’t control is Kate’s Alzheimer’s. She is on a course that will eventually prevent her from participating at all. We may be approaching that now. I never really thought about this issue before being faced with it. If I had, I probably would have expected a transition in which her ability to participate and her desire to be part of the conversation declined at the same time. That is not happening. I shouldn’t be surprised. She can neither remember things from the past nor learn new things, but she still wants to remember and learn. I am reminded of what I have heard so many times in the past, “Well, at least she doesn’t know.” Well into Stage 7, Kate clearly does know that something is wrong with her. But still she wants to remember, to learn, and to converse like everyone else. This is frustrating and sometimes frightening for her.

As for what is under my control, I would say my options are limited. I could avoid having these visits. That is something I don’t want or intend to do unless the problem is more serious than it is now. I could also make a few suggestions to our friends about things that Kate can appreciate. One thing that comes to mind is beauty. Everyone has artwork, flowering plants, or other items of aesthetic value they have collected over the years. Kate might take an interest in those. Her tastes now are very simple. She still loves the paper doilies she brings back from one of the restaurants we visit every week. She loves children. She might enjoy looking at photos of friends’ children or grandchildren.

There is also something else that I plan to consider. I could withdraw from the conversation periodically. That would leave the conversation to Kate and our friends. That combined with the knowledge of things that might appeal to her could be just enough to help Kate enjoy herself. Right now, I haven’t decided what to do. We don’t have any other visits scheduled and won’t for a while. My inclination, however, is to make a last attempt to include her in some way. If that doesn’t work, I will accept that the time has come when it isn’t possible for Kate to be as much a part of the conversation as I had wanted. That’s what I’ve had to do with her loss of memory and her ability to take care of herself. Alzheimer’s requires caregivers to accept a lot of things that we cannot change.

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