Health Aids and Technology

Since moving into our retirement community, Sarah and I have had more than the usual contact with people who have a wide variety of health issues. I have to admit that we have our own to deal with. Sarah’s primary problem is her Alzheimer’s, but she was also hospitalized with Covid three years ago and had a stroke two years ago in February.

I’ve been relatively fortunate. My biggest problem has been dry eyes which makes reading a challenge. For the past two or three years, my hearing has also become a problem. Like so many things, I found it easy to postpone taking any action; however, my hearing has deteriorated during the past year or so. It has been especially difficult to hear the speakers at my Rotary meeting and other large gatherings. Even in a group of one or two friends at lunch, I’ve found it hard to hear.

I finally decided to take action. After speaking with several people about their own experience with hearing aids, I called a few places for an appointment. I quickly discovered that I wouldn’t be able to get in right away. When our son and his wife were here a few weeks ago, I went with them to Costco. I was able to set up an appointment for the following week. Within two weeks, I had my hearing aids.

The next step is getting used to them. Upon leaving the hearing office at Costco, I was immediately struck by the noise in the store itself. As I walked to my car in the parking lot, I heard a loud crashing sound behind me. When I looked, it was simply a man and his wife pushing their cart with their purchases. Then I passed a couple about twenty feet away who were putting their items in their car. I could hear every word they were saying.

At home, I hear lots of noises I hadn’t noticed before. Simple things like water flowing from a faucet and taking items from cellophane wrappings are much louder now. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my own voice is the loudest voice I hear. After all, I am closer to the mike than anyone else. I had been missing more than I thought. Some of those I could live without. The good news is that I can hear, and I am told that my brain will adapt to these new sounds in a month or so. I hope that’s the case.

It wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that current technology has had an impact on getting and using hearing aids. That began with the initial hearing test itself but has become a new addition to my daily living. That involves two new devices to charge. The hearing aids themselves require a daily charge, and they also come with a portable charger that needs to be charged every few days.

Of course, the hearing aids come with an app for my phone. That allows me to raise and lower the volume, and block out (not perfectly) sounds behind, in front, or to the right or left of me.

In addition to my hearing aids, I am now wearing a heart monitor for a month. I am hoping this is just an irregularity in my watch and phone, but the monitor should soon provide an answer.

This began a month or two ago when I noticed that (according to my watch) my heart rate made a number of unusual changes during my exercise on the seated elliptical. Normally, my exercising heart rate ranges between 85 and 100, but I noticed a few occasions when it would jump to 135, or 155, and twice 195. I thought this was peculiar for a couple of reasons. First, I hadn’t observed changes of this magnitude before. I also thought the changes were dramatic enough that I should have felt something, but I didn’t. As far as I could tell, my heart rate had remained within the limited range my watch had measured previously.

At a regular appointment with my doctor, she referred me to a cardiologist for a heart monitor that I am wearing for a month that ends next week. This involves two devices. One looks like a mobile phone and is called the monitor. The other is the sensor that is attached to my chest. The sensor is connected to the monitor by Bluetooth. The monitor transfers the data about my heart via Wi-Fi to the company that owns the monitor. They forward the information to my cardiologist.

As you might guess, this involves more devices that have to be charged. The monitor needs to be charged daily. The sensor requires a 4-5-hour charge every five days. As a result, I now have to charge 8 different devices – my computer, my phone, my iPad, a Bluetooth speaker, the hearing aids, the charging case for the hearing aids, the heart monitor, and the sensor. At least, I live in an apartment where the utilities are included.

One of the nice things is that that this is a completely wireless system. That allows me to take a shower without taking off the monitor. That assumes I don’t drench it. A few splashes are all right. I should say that devoting my attention to technological issues keeps me from worrying about any negative health news I could receive based on the data being collected. At this point, all is well.

Not Everything Goes Well

In my previous post, I described “An Extraordinary Day” with Kate. In many posts prior to that, I have discussed other “Happy Moments” in our lives. Monday, we had an experience that was the opposite.

One morning several months ago, I walked into our bedroom to see if Kate might be awake. She was, and she looked very frightened. When I got closer, I could see that she was hot. Her skin was clammy. I took her temperature, and it was normal. She was very agitated. I took her blood pressure, and it was 190/100.

That led me to call the doctor who came to our apartment accompanied by his nurse. They also took her vital signs and got the same results. It didn’t seem as though she was ill. They remained around for a short time, and she calmed down.

Several years ago, Kate experienced delusions and hallucinations periodically. Most of the hallucinations were not unpleasant at all; however, there were occasions when she was frightened in the morning. It was easy to spot even though she wasn’t able to tell me what bothered her.

My interpretation of her problem was that she woke up without knowing where she was, who she was, or who I was. On a couple of occasions, she asked, “Who am I?” I dealt with that by getting into bed and comforting her. I explained who she and I were and where we were. Mostly, I just lay there holding her hand and saying comforting things.

Nothing like that had happened in years, but the doctor and I decided she had had a delusion of some sort and was simply scared. The intensity of her reaction was much greater, and, afterward, I wondered if we might see more of this in the days ahead.

Nothing like that happened again until Monday morning. The symptoms were the same as they were before. She looked frightened. She was hot but did not have a temperature. Her skin was clammy, and she was agitated. Her blood pressure was 195/104. This time I didn’t call the doctor. I got in bed and moved close beside her and tried to comfort her. I also put on some soft music that I know she enjoys. About thirty minutes later, she was calm. She was fine the rest of the day. In fact, she had “Happy Moments” the rest of the day, but will this be something she experiences again? Right now, there is no way to know, but time will tell.

An Extraordinary Day

Once in a while, I highlight unusually positive experiences that I call “Happy Moments.” I use the word “moments” to emphasize that the experience is not usually long-lasting although it can occur over several hours.

On a typical day, Kate doesn’t express much emotion until the afternoon. She rarely says a word until after 2:00. This past Friday was very different. It began about eight o’clock in the morning and lasted until she fell asleep around 8:30 that night. It was a day filled with “Happy Moments.”

Kate generally sleeps late. Sometimes, she is asleep when the caregiver arrives at 11:00. Recently, however, she has waked up as early as 7:00. At 8:15 Friday morning, I checked on her. As I approached the bed, I could see that her eyes were open. I have a little routine that I follow each day when I see that she is awake. I say, “I think I see Kate. Yes, it is Kate. She’s my Texas gal. I’m so glad to see you.” Then I remind her that we started dating in our senior year of college, fell in love, and became engaged a year later. I go on to tell her that we’ve been married sixty years, and have two children, and five grandchildren.

Sometimes, but not always, she smiles. That day she smiled and started talking. She has aphasia, so I couldn’t understand much of what she said, but, as usual, I tried to play the role of facilitator saying things like, “Really?” “Tell me more.” “That’s interesting.” From that point, I got beside her in bed, and we began to talk. She dosed a few times, but we talked on and off until the caregiver arrived at 11:00.

A new person was filling in for our usual caregiver, so I wasn’t sure how Kate might respond to her, but she was fine as I left for lunch. While I was gone, the caregiver walked Kate around the hallways in her wheelchair and stopped to visit with residents in a couple of places. I learned later that she had been smiling and talking with other residents who had stopped to say hello.

Friday afternoon I had coffee with a longtime friend. When I arrived home, I went directly to the café where the caregiver had taken Kate for ice cream. I walked up behind Kate. As I looked around to see her face, she gave me a big smile. That happens frequently but not always. When it does, it warms my heart.

From there, we went to dinner in the community dining room where she always receives a lot of attention from the staff and other residents. She remained cheerful and talkative the entire meal. I can’t tell how long moments like these will last, and this time I was in for a surprise. She remained the way she had been all day until I turned out the lights around 8:30. It was an extraordinary day, unlike any I have seen before. I treasure moments like these.

Thirty-four Years of Caregiving

Thirty-four years ago this past Saturday, November 11, 1989, Kate’s father had a massive stroke. It had been preceded by several TIAs, but his stroke had a major impact on his life and the lives of his family.

Until that time, Kate and I hadn’t given much thought to caregiving for our parents. We were empty nesters focusing on making the most of our time together while completing the remaining years before retirement. We never stopped doing that; however, we took on a new role as caregivers.

It began with her father’s stroke. He died four months later. During and after that, we found that her mother also needed care. Several years later, she experienced a stroke as well and developed vascular dementia. Ultimately, we brought her to live with us for 5 ½ years with 24/7 in-home care before she died in 2005.

In the mid-90s, my parents moved to live near us. I didn’t know at the time, but my mother had an undiagnosed form of dementia. She died in 2002, but my father had a significant other who developed vascular dementia. We helped him take care of her until her death in 2009. That same year, my father had a stroke, and in 2011, Kate was diagnosed with Alzheimers.

My father died in 2013. Since then, I have been able to give my full attention to Kate who is in the last stage of Alzheimer’s.

Caregiving always comes with a variety of challenges, but it can also have its rewards. The most important reward for me has been the opportunity to walk with loved ones through the last chapter of their lives. They did a lot for me, it has been rewarding to be able to do something in return.

Something New, and It’s Good

For the past two and a half years, Kate and I have followed a rigid routine. The caregiver arrives at 11:00 each morning. The first item on the agenda is to get Kate dressed and out of bed. Until recently, we put her in a recliner in a sitting position where the caregiver served her lunch. She remained in the recliner until we went out for ice cream shortly after 3:30.

While I was away, Kate often felt sleepy, and the caregivers got in the habit of setting the recliner in a reclining rather than a sitting position. I began to feel that she was spending too much of her day on her back and decided to move Kate from her bed into her wheelchair instead of the recliner. Originally, I was concerned that being in the wheelchair all day might be uncomfortable for Kate, but she accepted the change without a problem.

After we changed our primary caregiver 3-4 months ago, the new person asked if she could take Kate out of the apartment. I told her that would be fine. It turned out much better than I thought. She has responded well to the additional attention she receives. I meet them for ice cream after returning from lunch. I frequently find them talking with other residents and staff in much the same way as when I am with her. Kate herself doesn’t often say very much, but she often smiles. That lets all of us know that she is happy.

This has now become a regular part of our daily routine. I’ve always felt that even the best of our caregivers don’t give her as much attention as I would like. The new routine solves that problem. It works for everyone. Kate and the caregiver like getting out of the apartment and mingling with other residents and staff. I, too, like it because it provides Kate more stimulation than when she and the caregiver are alone in our apartment. It’s a “Win-Win-Win” situation.

This is another reminder of the importance of intuitive thought or abilities. This change did not stop the progression of her Alzheimer’s. Her rational thought or ability hasn’t improved. Her memory of people, places, and things is gone. Her aphasia means that she says very few things that we can understand.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. Her intuitive thought and ability remain. As a result, we continue to enjoy life and each other. What more could I ask at Late Stage Alzheimer’s?