As I’ve said before, I’m encouraged by the progress Kate has made since her stroke almost three weeks ago. She is awake more. She’s beginning to use her right arm again. Her eyes no longer appear to be frozen to the left. We have taken her to the dining room seven times, and Wednesday we took her for ice cream, (As it turned out, the freezer was down, so there was no ice cream, but she ate a muffin.) I’m amazed at how well she is doing. I also recognize that recovery is a process. She is likely to improve even more in the days or weeks ahead.
Nevertheless, Kate’s stroke is having a significant impact on us. Like her original Alzheimer’s diagnosis and her hospital experience with COVID, it is another challenge in our journey, “Living with Alzheimer’s.”
Several signs suggest the stroke might push her several steps further along this road. One is that she is less emotionally expressive than before. This is most noticeable when we are getting her dressed and in and out of bed. That makes it easier for the caregiver, but Kate has lost a little spark that we respected. In many ways, it seemed appropriate for her to protest.
She is also more neutral in her verbal and facial expressions. She smiles, but her big smiles occur less often. The good news is that she has another smile with her lips closed that I find endearing.
You’ve heard me say many times that she often awakes in the morning without knowing where she is, what she is supposed to do, and even who she is. That experience still occurs, but it seems that she’s more placid in her response rather than being puzzled or afraid.
Along with these things, there are more times when she doesn’t know who I am although she almost always senses she can trust me or does so within a reasonably short time.
I’m particularly concerned about her speech. Although her aphasia made it hard for her to communicate, we were able to converse. It is much harder now, not because I can’t understand what she says. It’s largely because she speaks so little, even when asked a simple question like “Would you like something to drink.” I have a litany of things I say to her about our dating, marriage, children, grandchildren, and travel. They often bring smiles and comments. That isn’t as true now.
I’m very happy to say that we continue to have our Happy Moments. A couple of mornings ago, she was awake early, and I took advantage of that opportunity to spend more time with her. I put on some music I thought she would like, but she didn’t show much interest. I shifted gears to see if I could perk up her spirits.
I put on an album of 100 children’s songs that I had downloaded several years ago when she was disturbed about something after waking from a nap. It saved us that day, and we sang together for at least thirty minutes. She quickly forgot about whatever had disturbed her. I’ve used that album periodically since then, but it had been a long time. I discovered it still works.
It was different this time because she doesn’t speak much. She tried, however, by mouthing the words. She’s good at following the rhythm. It didn’t take her long before I could see expressions of happiness on her face. She got a special kick out of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” I stood at her bedside singing, clapping, stomping, and saying “Amen” when called for.
That night we had another Happy Moment. We’ve always had great evenings, but the stroke has made those different. Sometimes, she goes to sleep right after the caregiver leaves. Often, she doesn’t wake until the next morning. That particular night she woke up after an hour or so, and I turned to YouTube and selected a series of songs that I know she likes. I caught her at a good time. For over an hour, we held hands and enjoyed the music. Off and on, I talked to her about our marriage and children. She didn’t say much, but she said a lot with her facial expressions.
Yesterday afternoon, I didn’t have any special plans except a brief visit to the grocery store. I spent the extra time with Kate even though the caregiver was here. I pulled up a chair beside her recliner and talked with her. At first, she wasn’t in the mood for conversation. As I spoke, she loosened up a bit. We spent almost two hours together. She dozed off and on, and I did most of the talking, but she was very responsive with her smiles and facial expressions. We both had a great time.
The other day when we were out, the woman in the apartment next to us stopped to visit for a few minutes. She spoke to Kate who didn’t respond. Our neighbor commented that she missed her smile. Me, too, but they haven’t disappeared altogether. And moments like those described above give me an emotional boost and hope that we’ll have more of those to come in the days ahead.