Kate’s New Friend

Quite sometime ago, a Rotary friend whose wife has Alzheimer’s, asked me if Kate enjoyed stuffed animals. He said his wife loves them, and he had given her a collection of them over the course of her disease. I told him Kate had never had a particular interest in them but enjoys children as well as cats and small dogs. I don’t think I mentioned the ceramic cat in our family room. She’s always been fond of him and for years kept him snuggled around the toilet in the bath off our laundry room. I moved him to the family room a couple of years ago. She sees him more often now and almost always stops to greet him in the morning.

More recently, I’ve thought of getting her a stuffed animal, but it was one of those things I never got around to doing. That changed a week ago but not because I finally took action. A colleague at the office brought us dinner last week and along with that a stuffed bear for Kate. He (she?) was an instant hit. Since he entered the picture at a time when her memory is weak, she doesn’t usually ask for him. There has been one exception. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but she had been holding him a few minutes before and went to our bedroom. She said, “Where is he?” I said, “Who?” She answered, “My little friend.”

Her interests change a lot from day to day and, sometimes, from moment to moment. I wondered how long her fascination would last. Today marks a full week since the bear became a part of the family, and her interest has not diminished. She loves holding him in her arms and often talks to him. There are a variety of situations in which she has been holding him but then does something else that makes that difficult.

One of those times is eating dinner. Each night I take the bear from her and rest him against a pillow on the window seat next to the table. I chose that because Kate has been taken with the pillow she thinks is a person. Since placing the bear, she hasn’t “seen” the person.

Anytime she has been holding the bear, and it is time to get a takeout meal, she wants to take the bear with us. He has even made a couple of trips to the bathroom with her.

We haven’t settled on the bear’s gender but may be coming close. The other day Kate said she thinks it’s a girl, but she slips back and forth between referring to “her” as “he” or “she.” We’ve talked about a name, but that, too, is unsettled. Two days ago, I did a search on girl’s names and read quite a few to her. The only name Kate liked was Charlotte. I like it as well, but I keep thinking it is a better name for a spider. (Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist.)

So far, Charlotte has been a friend to hold while Kate is seated or resting, but I’m also exploring its therapeutic benefit. Yesterday, for example, she was confused when she awoke. I brought Charlotte to her and used her a little bit like a puppet to see if I could relieve any of her anxiety. I discovered there is a spot at the back of the bear’s neck that, when pressed, causes her head to nod. Similarly, squeezing her around her waist causes her arms to move up and down. It didn’t take but a moment for Kate to take Charlotte in her arms. She felt better.

I’m not surprised that the bear has been so well-received. Kate is definitely more childlike now. I suspect we may find that Charlotte provides increasing comfort in the days ahead. Everyone needs a friend.

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