As Kate has moves from one stage of her Alzheimer’s to another, there is never a clean break in her behavior. It is always a gradual process in which she gradually begins to stop doing things she did before or starts doing things that she didn’t do before. I do, however, have moments when I recognize that the change has become a fundamental shift from the way the was before to a new state. That is the way I feel about her present state of dependence on me.
She continues to assert her independence at times when I help her with daily activities like getting out of bed, helping her dress, holding her hand as she goes up or down stairs, and a host of other little things. The difference now is that they often take me by surprise because they are so much less frequent than in the past. The present norm is that I assist her with almost everything. Yesterday was a good example.
It was Wednesday, another afternoon for the sitter. I always feel under more pressure on those days because I want to let Kate sleep as long as I can but also give her as much time as possible so that we can get to lunch and return home in time to meet the sitter. Generally, she needs about forty-five minutes to an hour to get ready if she doesn’t take a shower. As I reported previously, she didn’t get up at all before I left on Monday. That has occurred only two or three times in the past, but it is hard for me to be sure when to wake her.
Yesterday, I wanted to leave for lunch about 11:30. With that in mind, I started playing some soft music about 10:30. At 10:45, I went in to wake her. I found she was awake but still resting happily. I could tell by the smile on her face that she was in a good mood. I sat down on the bed, and we chatted a few minutes. I told her I would like to take her to lunch and asked if she would like that. She smiled and said she did, but she was still very relaxed though I wouldn’t say groggy or confused. I changed the music to the musical Annie. She likes that, and it’s very upbeat and cheerful. I left to get her clothes.
When I returned, she hadn’t moved. I told her gently it was time to get up and she extended her hand for me to help her sit up. Then she said, “What now?” (She often needs me to tell her step-by-step what to do.) I suggested she go to the bathroom and that I would show her where it was. I helped her out of bed and led her there. She wasn’t sure what to do when she reached the door. I pointed to the toilet and said, “Toilet first.” When she was finished, she said, “What now?” I told her to wash her hands and brush her teeth. She has forgotten that she has a soap dispenser and how to use it. I asked her to put her hand under the nozzle. She didn’t understand. I showed her with my hand. She still didn’t understand. I took her hand and held it, gave her some soap, and told her to put her hands under the faucet and rub them together. She is also forgetting about using her toothbrush. Sometimes she just puts toothpaste on her finger and rubs in on her teeth. I picked up her toothbrush, put toothpaste on it, ran in under the faucet and gave it to her. I won’t go through the routine for dressing, but it is very similar. I guide and help her step by step. The only time she made any effort to assert her independence was while she was dressing, and that was minimal.
Her dependence is also expressed in her feelings about me. She needs me. When I returned home in the afternoon, she was lying awake on the sofa. Mary was seated in a chair across from her. When she saw me, she smiled and started to sit up. She said, “You’re one of my favorite people.” I went over and helped her to her feet. Mary said goodbye and turned to leave. Kate called to her and asked her to wait a minute. Mary turned around, and Kate put her hand on my shoulder and said, “He’s a nice man. A really nice man.” I don’t know if she recognized me as her husband at that moment, but she does sense that I am important to her. This goes along with her other comments about feeling “safe” with me.
As soon as Mary left, she wanted to know what we were going to do. I told her we would go to dinner. Before leaving, she looked at several family photos on top of our entertainment center. I walked over and looked along with her. Then she said, “Will you take me home?” She continues to think we are in someone else’s home. It isn’t constant. We talk about our home and things she likes, but she moves back and forth between knowing it’s our home and thinking it’s not. It is a challenge for me to know exactly what to say at any given moment. Sometimes I play along. Sometimes I don’t. For example, she was disappointed when we got home from dinner. She had wanted to go “home.” In that case, I told it was our home, and I would show her some of the things she likes about it. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t mention any dissatisfaction once she was inside.
Another sign of her dependence is how much she needs my help staying occupied. That is something that has a greater impact on my personal time. Last night is another good example. Our general after dinner routine is for me to watch the evening news while she works on her iPad. As I have noted previously, it is getting harder to her to work her puzzles. She needs my help. Last night and several other nights recently, I have gone back and forth between my chair and hers to help her. That makes it a challenge to watch the news. After doing that several times last night, she put her iPad down and sat there looking somewhat frustrated. I suggested that we look at one of her photo books. We sat on the sofa and went through most of the “Big Sister” album. She was interested, but it was unusually difficult for her to recognize or remember “key players” – her, her brother, her mother, and her father. Even in photos that were side by side, she found it difficult to identify her brother and her father. She did better recognizing herself and her mother, but far from consistently. I tried to explain that the book focused on her and her brother and that if she just guessed who the boy was in a picture, she would be right if she said her brother. She could never have grasped that. As a consequence, I had to identify the people in almost every picture. Before we finished, I went to take my shower while she continued going through the album. She still seems to derive pleasure from looking at the pictures even though she doesn’t know who the people are. I am grateful for that but can’t help wondering how long it will last. I have always made an effort to go through the albums with her. It is something we both enjoy, but it is also nice for her to be able to enjoy them by herself.
My feeling about Kate’s increasing dependence is much the same as it has always been. Some of it makes caring for her easier, but it comes at a price. I would like her to be as independent as she can for as long as she can. She likes to be independent. I think that is true for most of us. It is sad to see her having to depend on me so heavily.