I’m far from predicting what the future holds for us in 2022, but I know that 2021 ended well and that the first two weeks of the new year have been filled with good times. I don’t mean every moment is the way I would want, but I am amazed at how comfortable Kate has become. The best way I can approach an understanding of the change is to resort to the most important lesson I’ve learned while “Living with Alzheimer’s.” It’s something I picked up from The Dementia Handbook by Judy Cornish. She maintains that all is not lost with dementia. People living with dementia lose their rational thought processes or abilities, but they retain their intuitive thought or abilities. Rational thought involves our ability to remember names, places, events, and processes (how to do things). Intuitive thought involves our ability to experience the world directly through our senses.
People with dementia can still appreciate what they see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. Our senses open the door to many everyday pleasures. We’re at the end of a year of major changes in our lives (COVID and moving from our home to a retirement community), I believe Kate has grown accustomed to the daily routine of our lives. She senses that the things that frightened her before aren’t so bad at all.
This is apparent in two ways. First, she no longer experiences fright or anger when we bathe her, change her, dress her, or get her out of bed and into her recliner or wheelchair. Increasingly, she accepts the bumps that occur when we push her wheelchair over thresholds or minor changes in levels of the surfaces of floors in the hallways of our buildings.
Second, she is more comfortable with other residents and staff we meet when we leave the apartment. She is more likely to respond to them when they greet her or ask how she is doing. The caregivers and I were stunned at first but are getting used to hearing her say, “Fine, how are you?” One afternoon this week a resident passed by while we were getting ice cream. Kate was facing me with her back to him when I said, “Hi, Richard.” Kate, who doesn’t know him at all, said, “How ya doing, Richard?”
Shortly after that, another resident stopped and talked with us. At one point, she said she was thinking about going somewhere. Kate, who I thought was not listening to our conversation, said, “Let’s go right now.”
Mornings represent the greatest challenge for Kate. The toughest days are those when her mind is blank. She doesn’t know who she is, who I am, where she is, or what she is supposed to do. Fortunately, those don’t occur every morning. More typically, she is simply not fully awake. At these times, she may or may not remember my name or relationship. Most days, she doesn’t want to talk much.
In the same way (via her senses) she has learned over the past year that she doesn’t need to be afraid of everything, each day she also gradually seems to feel more comfortable with her surroundings and the people she is with. She is almost always at ease when it’s time for ice cream around 3:30. She enjoys her dinner and is usually quite comfortable and happy.
The evening is still the best time of the day for us. It’s just the two of us. Kate is often tired after the caregiver leaves around 6:30 and sometimes rests for as long as an hour. That’s my time to watch the news and take my shower. She’s usually awake after that, and we watch YouTube videos until time to turn out the lights. It’s a very special time for us. It’s a moment in the day when each of us expresses our love for the other. It’s not stretching at all to say it’s romantic.
So, I continue to feel good as we begin the new year. Of course, I don’t have any idea of what lies ahead, but I’m satisfied that we have made the most of our time together while “Living with Alzheimer’s.” I expect we’ll continue to do that regardless of what happens.