For several years, Kate has periodically waked up and been frightened by not knowing anything (who she is, who I am, where she is, what she should, etc.). The “not knowing” has continued, but she has seemed less frightened or not frightened at all by it. I usually tell her who I am, her name, and that we met in college, fell in love, and have been together ever since. It doesn’t usually take long before she feels “all right.”
This morning her experience was different. It was much more like it used to be except her fright was less. It was more like she has been in recent years, somewhat more puzzled than frightened. I first noticed her less than ten minutes after beginning my morning walk. I walked to her bedside and could see immediately what the problem was.
My first effort to help her is what I described in the opening paragraph. It didn’t help. I got in bed with her, held her hand, and softly and calmly let her know that I wanted to help her. That seemed to give her a measure of security, but it didn’t solve the problem.
I had already turned on some relaxing piano music but decided to change to an album that had engaged her so much before Christmas. I started with “Edelweiss” and set it to repeat two times. As I was lying beside her, I created a playlist of other songs on the album that she also likes. I also interspersed “Edelweiss” several other times. (You may wonder how I can do this while staying in bed with Kate. The answer is that I control my audio system with my phone. It’s easy to use and has come in handy many times in similar situations.)
Once again, music came to my rescue. Before “Edelweiss” had ended the first time, she appeared more relaxed and closed her eyes. She soon fell asleep. I stayed with her long enough to be sure she was sleeping soundly. Then I finished my walk. It was forty minutes later, much longer than is usually required to calm her.
It’s been a long time since I’ve said this, but moments like this are among the saddest ones for me. Most of the time, Kate is happy. Of course, that makes me happy. I want her to be happy all the time. When she’s irritable, my emotion is “flat.” I mean that I’m neither happy nor sad. I do experience tension, but my focus is strictly on how to deal with the problem. When I’m not successful, I’m frustrated. That’s a different emotion altogether.
Kate’s being sad is much harder for me to deal with. I work hard to avoid her sadness. I don’t like to see her troubled in any way, and moments in which her brain is blank are the most disturbing moments of all for me. I talk a lot about our “Happy Moments.” I do that in this blog and in conversation with other people. I don’t do that to be deliberately misleading. I think those moments really are the most typical aspect of our journey with Alzheimer’s, but I don’t want to convey that everything is rosy. That’s impossible with life in general, and is certainly true for dementia, probably more so.
I’ve heard people say, “At least, she/he doesn’t know or is not aware.” That bothered me when my mother had dementia more than twenty years ago. I remember how often she said things like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” She was bothered, and I have seen that many times with Kate. Her senses are still alive. She knows more than we imagine.
There is no way to solve the fundamental reason she becomes frightened. I can calm her when that happens, but I can’t cure her Alzheimer’s. That means moments like the one this morning will likely continue until the very last stages of her illness, and that makes me sad too.