Feeling Thankful

This Thanksgiving I feel grateful for many things, but at the top of the list are all the special moments that Kate and I continue to share. That doesn’t mean everything is the way I would like. Kate’s day of obsessive talking last week was an unwelcomed disruption in a string of three good weeks. As noted in other posts, times like that makes me wonder if we are in for more of the same in the future. I won’t have an answer to that for a while, but I am thankful that each day since has been much better. I am particularly happy that our evenings after the caregiver is gone are almost always special.

What makes them special is that Kate is more relaxed. In fact, we’re both more relaxed. Most people who have had an opportunity to be with her in the last year or so would have difficulty imagining how natural she sounds. Only her delusions and aphasia prevent my understanding everything that she says. Apart from that, our conversations are like those we had before Alzheimer’s entered our lives.

I might even describe our evenings as romantic. It’s not like we were newlyweds, but we’re able to express our love for each other in a way that is just as meaningful. Touch has become much more important to Kate at this stage of her Alzheimer’s. She often reaches for my hand and runs her fingers up and down between my fingers. She also likes to run her fingers over the palm of my hand and along my forearm. Evenings like this are even more special at the end of a day when we have experienced more troublesome moments.

But it’s not just our evenings that are special. During any given day there are bright spots. One of those occurred last night after we returned from dinner. We had almost an hour and a half before the caregiver was to leave. Normally, we might sit out on the balcony for a while, but it was a little too chilly for us. We stayed inside, and we had just put up our Christmas decorations. I decided we needed some Christmas music and played a large portion of Handel’s Messiah. It holds a special place in our lives. Sixty-years ago next month, we went to a performance of it on our first date.

Kate was in a good mood and talkative but not obsessively so. As the music played in the background, Kate and I talked for almost an hour. Although what she said was filled with delusions, she asked me questions and answered my questions. Like some other conversations we have, they involved something that Kate was planning and wanted my help making decisions. We both expressed our opinions. Through it all, she was very calm, never agitated. She just wanted to be careful about what she was planning and wanted my thoughts.

I suspect this doesn’t seem special to most people, but to me it was. The difference, of course, is that I see it in a context that is different from those who are not living with Alzheimer’s. One of the things that those of us caring for spouses miss the most is conversations with our loved ones; therefore, I treasure them whenever they occur. Such moments don’t happen every day, but I am grateful that they are far from rare.

There is no denying that Kate is able to do far less now than at any time since her diagnosis almost eleven years ago. She lives in a world that is much smaller now, but I am grateful that she can still enjoy life and am optimistic that we will continue to enjoy life and each other for some time to come.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

Ups and Downs While Living with Alzheimer’s

My last post was upbeat, and for very good reasons. Kate had had a string of very good days. I should be clear that her Alzheimer’s has not improved. Her memory is no better than it was. Nor is her aphasia. She still experiences delusions that sometimes cause her to be afraid or annoyed, and sometimes she has periods when she does not recognize me at all.

The big change was in the comfort she feels when we go about our daily routine. That includes getting her dressed and out of bed each day as well as the reverse process that occurs every evening. She is no longer physically or verbally combative with her caregivers and me during these moments. She is also less vocal when we take her across minor bumps in the hallways when we go for ice cream and dinner.

Overall, she’s been happier, and less afraid of everything that has bothered her in the past. The good times continued until two days ago. It may have started the afternoon before when she had an unusually grouchy spell and yelled at the caregiver and me. We got through that and dinner without any serious problems, but she was not as cheerful with friends we met during this time.

I wasn’t sure what we might be in for that night. Fortunately, she began to calm down as we got her ready for bed. It turned out we had a very good night. I think she was worn out.

The next day, she was awake around 9:00. It was one of those times when she didn’t recognize me at all. She was also obsessively talkative. As in the past, what she said was rooted in delusions and hallucinations. I thought it would help if I got in bed beside her and tried to comfort her. She wanted me to leave.

I left for a short time. When I returned, I turned on some music that I hoped would be soothing. I got in bed beside her with my laptop and began to check email. A few minutes later, she apparently recognized me because she reached out to take my hand. I was with her the rest of the morning. During that time, she talked continuously, often pointing to places in the room for me to see people or things that were not there.

I was with her when the caregiver arrived shortly after noon. I briefed her on the situation and went downstairs for lunch. When I returned, the caregiver had fed her and put her in her recliner. She was still talking. I tried to calm her for about thirty minutes before she had a doctor’s appointment at 2:00. She relaxed somewhat, but she didn’t stop talking.

When the doctor and his nurse arrived, I answered the door and stepped outside to explain what was going on and that Kate was very different than she had been for their previous appointments. Then we went inside where we went through the regular routine as well as we could while she talked. She never responded to them verbally.

The doctor asked if I had given her a sedative (Seroquel). I told him I hadn’t but would have if it were bedtime. I indicated my preference was to make an effort to relax her and play music that I know she likes. I thought, however, that it would be a night for the sedative.

After they left, I spent almost an hour on my knees beside her in the recliner. I listened to her and responded to her in a very calm manner. She became somewhat more relaxed but was far from normal.

The caregiver gave her an afternoon snack. She stop talking for a while but started again when she was finished. She was somewhat more relaxed. I experimented with a variety of music including “Bushel and a Peck” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” She continued to relax, and I asked if she would like some ice cream. She said she would, and we prepared to leave. As we went down the hall to the elevator, she became agitated. We returned to the apartment. I also chose to eat in the apartment rather than go to the dining room for dinner.

She calmed down for dinner. After that we still had time to sit on the balcony for a while before the caregiver left, but I thought it was better to get her into bed. That turned out to be a good idea. She was worn out and soon went to sleep.

She slept for about an hour while I watched the evening news. When she woke up, we watched two symphonies on YouTube. She was at ease the entire time. We talked very little, but it was clear that she was all right. It was a happy ending to a trying day.

Yesterday, she was very tired. We didn’t get ice cream, but she was alert for dinner. When we returned to the apartment, she went right to sleep and is still sleeping. We had a very good run for three weeks. I’m grateful for that and suspect we won’t have a repeat. I am, however, confident that we will have many more special moments in the days ahead.

Some Days are Better Than Others, and Some are Very Special.

I’ve commented many times about Kate and her variations in mood and behavior. Many other caregivers report the same thing with their own loved ones. I’ve also heard stories about people who have been unresponsive for an extended time and suddenly experience a moment when they are more alert and talkative. Some families describe it as a miracle. Earlier this week, we experienced a moment like that.

First, let me provide a little background. Although I’m pretty good at accepting Kate’s unpredictability, I do get a little stressed when I make a commitment but am unsure how her mood might affect my plans.

Two weeks ago, our retirement community announced they are conducting video interviews with residents who would like to participate. The idea is to provide the residents and their families with a record of relevant aspects of their lives. Although they provide a list of questions the interviewer might ask, the format is not rigid. The residents or couples can modify or redesign the entire interview to suit their preferences. I liked the idea and was the first one to sign up. I created an interview focused on our marriage from our first date to the present under the title “Love, Discovery, and Adventure.” Our interview was Tuesday afternoon at 2:30.

Having set the appointment, I realized that I had also scheduled lunch at 12:45 to celebrate three anniversaries with my colleagues at the office. Two of them have been with me 40 years and the third 35.

In addition, the previous week I had been contacted by a nurse representing the insurance company that provides our long-term care insurance. Periodically, the company sends a nurse for an assessment interview to determine Kate’s eligibility for in-home care. She suggested three times last week, but I had conflicts for each one. She indicated that Saturday afternoon might be a possibility for her but would call me back. It turned out that didn’t work, and she suggested Tuesday at 10:30. I didn’t like the idea of having another commitment right before the other two, but I decided to accept it. That meant I was going to be distracted for all three of the day’s events. On top of that, I had no idea how Kate would do in the interview. Knowing that I needed to focus my attention on both commitments as well as my normal caregiving responsibilities, I felt a little stressed.

As so often happens, my concern was totally unnecessary. The appointment with the nurse went well. Sometimes the person assigned to make the visit tries to put Kate through the traditional dementia-related questions (Who is President? What is today’s date? Draw a clock showing that it is 2:00?) The past several visits I’ve requested the person not put her through this because she can’t do it and hasn’t been able to do so for years. This time the nurse said she felt it was unnecessary based on what I had told her about Kate.

Not long after the nurse left, our caregiver arrived, and I was off to our luncheon. That went quite well. Although we have worked together professionally more than thirty-five years, this was the first time for all of us to meet face-to-face since before the pandemic began in 2020. We had more to talk about than the time allowed.

Our video interview was icing on the cake. Kate was in a cheerful mood and more self-assured than usual. I told our interviewer that I would do most of the talking but would try to elicit some response from Kate. I won’t say she was talkative, but she was comfortable responding when I addressed her. In fact, she was the same way with the interviewer before and after the interview. Kate’s caregiver was in the room during the interview. She was as amazed as I. The entire process had been successful, and I am optimistic that the video will be something we can share with our children.

The rest of the day also went very well. We had a very pleasant dinner in the dining room, and we enjoyed our time together after the caregiver left.

It’s been a week, and Kate has had a streak of good days with special moments. I don’t have an explanation for these especially good times, but I will continue to savor them and be grateful.