Making Plans

We face important decisions at every stage of our lives. It’s no surprise that seniors confront them as well. Some decisions are more significant than others. For example, when should I retire? What will I do after retirement? Sooner or later (we always hope the latter) we face things like giving up driving. That’s a big one. Few people want that. It’s a critical sign that we are giving up some of our independence.

An even bigger one is where we live as we age. It’s no secret that most of us want to continue living in our own homes. As our population ages, there is a growing effort to support seniors in their effort to accomplish just that. As with so many things, finances play a key role in such decisions. The combination of personal preference and finances accounts for the fact that most seniors do live in their own homes. At the same time, there are increasing options available for those who might feel the need to do otherwise.

I will turn 79 one month from today. That was the age of my parents when they talked with Kate and me about moving from West Palm Beach to Knoxville. We encouraged them, and they moved here in 1994. They lived in their own apartment. It worked out well for us and for them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom was probably showing the early signs of dementia before then. Four years later, she was diagnosed here in Knoxville. I suspect their age and their health situations were strong motivators in their move. They loved South Florida and wouldn’t have wanted to leave otherwise.

At my age and with Kate’s Alzheimer’s, I find myself in a similar situation. For several years, I have thought about our options. Kate and I have lived in Knoxville for 48 years. We have invested our lives in this area. I find it difficult to think about moving away. On the other hand, Kate and I long ago agreed that we wanted to make life as easy for our children as possible with respect to their care for us. There is no way to relieve them of all responsibility, but there are ways to make it easier.

One of those would be to move closer to them. Right away that becomes a problem. Our daughter lives in Memphis, our son in Lubbock. If we move close to one, we are much farther from the other. Despite that, Kate has always wanted to go back to Texas, and our son is in the elder care business. He is a care manager who works with seniors and their children to meet the needs of both the parents and their children. He is familiar with all the senior resources that are available in the Lubbock area. If we were going anywhere, that sounds like a perfect option.

I’ve thought about this a long time and have mentioned it to both of our children, but I’ve never taken any steps to explore moving out of our current home. During the past six to eight months as Kate has declined, I have become increasingly concerned about what would happen to her if something unexpected happened to me. Could this be the same motivation that influenced my parents’ move?

For years, I have been reasonably familiar with Knoxville’s continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) as well as the independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities (including memory care). I haven’t seriously considered any of them for Kate and me, but I have felt three of the CCRCs were possibilities for us should we ever have the desire or need.

Two or three months ago, I decided I should get more specific information about one of the CCRCs I believed was most suitable for us. Each week I meant to call but never got around to it. In the meantime, Kate’s condition has noticeably declined. Two weeks ago, I decided I needed to take action. I called for an appointment. Two days later, I spent almost three hours with the marketing director and one of his staff. They took me through all the details of their community and what it has to offer. Because I have visited several residents over the years, I was familiar with some things, but there were many things I didn’t know. One of those was about a new building that will be completed sometime during the first quarter of 2021. All but three of the apartments were pre-sold. Nothing was available among the existing buildings.

I took several days to think about it. Then I arranged another meeting with the intention of making a deposit on one of three apartments that were still on the market. I met with them again, got a little additional information, and wrote a check for the deposit. I have thirty days to make a final decision. If I decide to go ahead, I will have to put down a larger down payment. If I decide this is not for us, they will return the deposit. Until then, I plan to weigh all the benefits and potential downsides. My friend Mark Harrington once told me that when he is facing a choice like this he flips a coin to determine which way to go. Then he sleeps on it overnight before making a commitment. If he feels comfortable with the decision the next morning, he commits himself. If not, he looks to the other option. In a way, that is what I am doing with my decision. I’ll see how I feel at the end of thirty days.

Thoughts on Caregiving and Stress

One of the major topics among caregivers and the professionals who provide services to them and to their loved ones is caregiver “burnout.” Marty Schreiber, the author of My Two Elaines and a former governor of Wisconsin, is a very active speaker at many conferences and workshops across the country. He vividly presents his story of trying to “do it all” himself and the toll it took on him. He encourages caregivers to care for themselves and to recognize and seek help when it is needed.

I share his views and have worked hard to minimize my own stress. I watched my dad deteriorate as he cared for my mom. I am much like Dad, but I am not resistant to bringing in help.

At one time or another, almost all of my friends have asked how I am doing and if I am getting help. I appreciate their concern. I am concerned as well. I do, however, believe that I am doing quite well. That’s not to say I don’t experience stress. I do, and it’s increasing. The good news is I’ve been able to manage it pretty well. Let me explain.

My stress seems to come from two distinctly different sources. One is the sheer number of responsibilities I have. The other is a psychological one that relates to watching Kate lose one ability after another with the knowledge that it only gets worse. In this post, I will discuss the stress arising from my responsibilities as Kate’s caregiver.

The 36-Hour Day is, perhaps, the best-known resource for families who are caring for someone with dementia. As the title conveys, the responsibility for caring for a loved one with dementia requires more time than anyone has available. The responsibilities increase as our loved ones decline. If we try to do everything, something has to give, that is, some things will go undone. Often that means caregivers neglect to take care of themselves. Up to now, that has not been a major problem for me. There are several reasons.

One is that I have help. I engaged sitters for Kate a year and eight months ago. I have someone with her three afternoons a week, four hours each time. That enables me to get to my Rotary meetings, to the Y, run errands, and meet with friends. In addition, I have help with house cleaning and the yard. That means I can focus my attention on Kate.

I don’t participate in a support group, but I feel I get support in a variety of other ways. I have two longtime friends from college with whom I am in daily contact by email. One lives close enough to us that we are able to get together several times a year. We have other friends who are close enough for us to make daytrips to see them as well.

Regular readers of this blog know that we eat out for all meals but breakfast and attend live performances like the music nights at Casa Bella and local theater productions. They are both beneficial for Kate and for me. We are not socially isolated. We have church friends and staff that check in on us. I am on a steering committee at United Way and meet with them monthly. I meet for coffee with Mark Harrington every Friday after finishing at the Y. In addition, I stay in touch one or two other friends who are caregivers. I shouldn’t fail to mention this blog and my involvement with Twitter. All of these keep my mind occupied as well as having therapeutic value for me.

In addition, my responsibilities as a caregiver have not been as daunting as those of most others. Quite a few people our age are dealing with other health issues along with dementia. Apart from an occasional cold, neither Kate nor I has had any other health problems to deal with.

Some caregivers face a variety of problem behaviors from their loved ones. Although Kate has been more irritable than she was before Alzheimer’s, she is good-natured, loving, and most appreciative of what I do for her. It would be much harder for me to cope if she were not.

Finally, I believe my past experience with caregiving has helped me. I am now in my thirtieth consecutive year of caregiving. Most of that was with our four parents and my dad’s significant other. Some of that involved overlapping care of three at a time. Fortunately, we had fulltime professional care for both of Kate’s parents. Each of our parents’ situations was different and helped to sensitize me to a broad range of issues. I haven’t felt that I was caught off guard when Kate was diagnosed.

All of this is to say that I haven’t experienced the same degree of stress that faces so many caregivers. I am very fortunate. As I write this particular post, I should note that my stress is at its greatest level. I find myself slipping to take care of a wide range of obligations. Most of them are inconsequential. For example, I had purchased tickets for us to attend a local variety production of Broadway music at one of our local theaters this past Sunday. It is something we would have enjoyed, and we had no other obligations. I simply forgot to put it on my calendar, so we missed it. There are other things that relate to the maintenance of the house that get less attention than they deserve. I have plans to address them a little at a time over the next year. As Kate declines further, I will retain additional help and will likely participate in one or two support groups, but, for now, my stress is still at a manageable level. I am grateful for the concern and support I receive from those around me.

Not a Good Way to Start the Day

“It’s a New Day,” but I’m not “feeling good” this morning. About 7:15, the video cam alerted me that Kate was about to get up. I went to the bedroom to find her confused. I told her good morning and asked if I could help her. She said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on.” As in most of the other occurrences like this, she wasn’t having a panic or anxiety attack. She just looked puzzled about not knowing “what’s going on.” She was never able to say more than that. Based on past experience, I am sure it was waking up and not knowing where she is, why she is here, and who she is. She didn’t ask, but I gave her my name and hers and told her that she was in our house in Knoxville. I added that she was in her very own bed. She didn’t challenge any of that, but it didn’t seem to reduce her confusion.

She asked me what she should do. I told her that she usually liked to get up to go to the bathroom about this time. She asked where the bathroom was and asked if I would show her. I did and then took her back to bed. She was still puzzled. I told her I thought she just woke up and was groggy. I pointed out the window to our back yard. I reminded her of how often she looks out the window and comments on “all the green.” She seemed to recognize the yard. After getting in bed, she asked where I was going to be. I asked if she would like me to sit in my chair beside the bed. She said she would, and that is where I am right now. It sounds like she has gone back to sleep. There is a good chance that she will be fine when she wakes up again. I’ll just have to wait and see.

Moments like this always bring back memories of my mother. She used to say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” That was when I first recognized how wrong people can be when they say things like “Well, at least she doesn’t know.” It was clear to me that my mother knew something was wrong with her. I can say the same thing about Kate. She understands and is disturbed by what is happening. I am grateful that this is not a constant pattern. Most of the time she simply asks where she is, who I am, and who she is without a hint of fear or anxiety. I think I handle the responsibilities of being her caregiver reasonably well. The part that is the biggest problem for me is seeing her when she is disturbed. I hope we are not in for much more of this.

A Special Moment to Start the Day

Being Kate’s care partner brings with it the full range of emotional experiences from joy to sadness. As I have said so many times, we have been fortunate to share far more of those at the joyful end of the scale than the other end. Sometimes joy and sadness are intertwined. We had one of those moments a few minutes ago.

I was in the kitchen (my office) when I heard her say, “Hey.” I looked up at the display on my iPad. I didn’t see any sign of her. Then I heard a louder “Hey!” She wasn’t in the bedroom at all. She had gotten up without my seeing her on the video cam. I walked to the back and said, “Where are you?” She said, “I’m here. Where are you?” I walked down the hallway and heard her say, “Here” just before I saw her coming out of the guest room. I said, “I wondered where you were.” She said, “I didn’t know where you were.” I said, “I love you.” She said, “I love you too.” I gave her a hug and said, “Doesn’t it feel good to be with someone you love.” She agreed, and I said, “I hope I am your favorite husband.” She laughed and said, “Who are you?” I told her, and she said, “Who am I?” I said, “Kate Creighton, and you’re my wife.” She said, “I am?”

We started to walk back to the bedroom when I saw pictures of her maternal grandparents. I pointed them out and told her these were special people to her. She asked who they were, and I told her. She was quite interested and wanted to know more about them. I told her they were her mother’s parents. She asked her grandparents names one at a time, and I told her again. Across from those pictures is a photo of the home in which her father grew up. I told her this was an important place for her and explained the significance.

I walked her a little farther and showed her a picture of her father. I said, “This is a very special man in your life. Can you guess you that might be?” She couldn’t. I told her, and she said, “He looks like a good man.” I told her he was. Then showed her a photo of paternal grandfather and her uncle taken with managers of her grandfather’s lumber business. She didn’t recognize them or the photo but was keenly interested.

The next photo was of her mother when she was in her late teens, I believe. It is my favorite picture of her. I told her that she was also someone special in her life. She didn’t know who it was before I told her. It is a photo she likes as well. She said, “She’s pretty.” The last photo was of her father’s mother. Kate had no recollection of her at all. When I explained that she was her grandmother and that she was the first member of the family to attend TCU, she was excited.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Kate could have walked along this hallway and told the same stories to accompany these pictures. It is sad that her memory is now virtually gone. She can’t remember them at all. At the same time, it was a moment of joy for me to tell her these stories and for her to hear them. It is moments like this that sustain both of as we move into the later stages of our journey.

Insecurity at Casa Bella

Yesterday was not a typical day. Kate seemed to be in a cheerful mood, but she was also irritable off and on throughout the day. I observed that very early when I told her I thought she should shower before getting dressed. It had been four days since her last one on Sunday. Each of the previous mornings I had encouraged her but let it go when she resisted. I did the same yesterday.

We commonly hear about anger and violence as symptoms of people with dementia. There is another school of thought that suggests that such behavior is not a direct symptom itself but a bi-product of symptoms like confusion and misperception. According to this interpretation, anger and violence are or can be natural responses to the way the brains of people with dementia work (or don’t work).

If I employ this line of thinking to what happened between Kate and me yesterday, I would say that Kate wasn’t just in a bad mood, she may have been responding to the way I told her it would be good for her to take a shower. In fact, I don’t believe I was as gentle in my suggestion as I usually am. If I had thought of a gentler way to do it, she might have willingly agreed to shower. Instead, she dug in her heals. I didn’t push her.

I told her I had her clothes for her, and she thanked me. When I started to help her dress, she was resistant. She said, “I can do that myself.” Ultimately, she had to have my help with her bra and her pants, but she was determined to be as independent as possible. As I helped her, she snapped at me. Then she felt bad and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” She clearly understood that was not typical for her. I think her reaction related to my not being gentle enough in my attempt to get her to shower.

While she went to the bathroom to brush her teeth, I went to the kitchen to get her morning meds. Shortly, I heard her call, “Daddy!” I called back from the kitchen, but she didn’t hear me. She called again. “Daddy!” I walked toward the bedroom and said, “Here I am.” This was a time when I thought it was best not to tell her that I am her husband. When I reached her, she looked a little frightened and said, “I didn’t know where you were.”

As we drove to lunch, I played some music that she likes. She didn’t talk much. When she did, it was to comment on the music. She enjoyed it. We had a pleasant lunch. It was as if the problems getting up had never happened. The afternoon also went well. We spent a couple of hours at home. She worked on her iPad a while and then rested on the sofa. After her rest, she wanted something to eat. It was ninety minutes before time to leave for opera night at Casa Bella. I took her to Panera for a bagel. We got home in time to change clothes and leave for dinner. That’s when another problem occurred.

I made a complete change of clothes and had picked out a different top for her. She didn’t want to change and snapped at me. I tried not to push her. She consented, but she wasn’t happy.

As usual, she enjoyed the evening of music. The man with whom we share a table commented several times about her enthusiasm. He and his wife got to observe an example of Kate’s memory problems when she looked at me and said, “And what is your name?” I said, “Richard.” She frowned. I knew that meant she wanted my full name and said, “Richard Creighton.” She frowned again. I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” That was the right answer.

The biggest problem of the day occurred just before we left. I was seated across the table from her. The seat to my left was empty. I was seated with my back to the singers and moved to the empty seat and turned halfway to the right so that I could see them. When the program ended, I looked at Kate who was disconcerted. She looked at me and said, “Is that you?” It turned out that she had lost sight of me even though I was only four feet diagonally across from her. She was quite relieved to see me.

The man in the seat to my right got up, and I started to follow him out. He stopped to help his wife with her walker. The two of them were standing between Kate and me. I chatted briefly with a man at the next table. When I finished, I went around the couple to see Kate. That’s when I saw that the couple and another man who had been at our table were trying to comfort her. She had been very disturbed because she didn’t know where I was. When she saw me, she said sternly, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” I am sure the three people who were trying to soothe her were shocked that these words expressed so strongly came out of the mouth of someone they had no doubt viewed as very soft spoken.

It amazed me that she had become so anxious in such a short span of time. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes. Of course, with no perception of time, it could have seemed much longer to Kate. I was standing within six feet of her the whole time, but she couldn’t see me. I apologized and told her I would never leave her. As we walked through the restaurant to leave, she continued to be a little upset. My apology must have been too light-hearted because she said, “This is no laughing matter.” By the time we got to the car, she was fine. I played several pieces of music she loved on the way home. That made her even happier. The crisis was over.

It is obvious that Kate’s insecurity is increasing and that I am her “security blanket.” I also think the events of the day illustrate how much her emotional reactions are tied directly to her perceptions of the events around her. Her rational abilities are not working well enough understand what is going on. That misunderstanding leads to insecurity that is sometimes expressed in behavior that is not typical of her.

Understanding What’s Going on in Kate’s Head

You might think that by now I would have a pretty good grasp of what Kate is thinking and feeling. I spend almost all of my time with her. I try to be a careful observer. I’ve read a good bit about others experiences and their insights, but what strikes me most is how little I really understand. I often relate my impressions and my guesses as to why she does what she does. I hope, however, that I never suggest that I have a firm understanding of everything. I don’t. Yesterday morning I had an experience that illustrates how wrong I can be.

Kate got up for the day about 8:15. She was happy and seemed very clear-headed. I didn’t see any sign of grogginess. She called me by name at least twice after getting up. I never asked, but I was confident that it was one of those times when she knew my name and hers and that I am her husband. Except for helping her dress, it seemed like a morning we could have had pre-Alzheimer’s.

On the way to Panera, we talked a little about our marriage. As we drove up to the restaurant, she said, “And what is my name?” I told her and she repeated it. She quickly forgot and asked me again. Then she said, “If someone should ask, how should I introduce him?” I said, “Who?” She said, “Him sitting across from me.” I said, “This is Richard Creighton.” It turns out that’s what she wanted, my name, but she was asking in what she thought was an indirect way. All the while she behaved as though her memory was perfectly normal. She fools me like this on a regular basis. No wonder she can be with other people without their sensing how far along she is or that she has Alzheimer’s at all. How many people with dementia do you suppose we confront during the course of our daily lives without suspecting a thing?

A Rough Start Getting to Our Routine

Yesterday I woke Kate at 12:15 so that we could have lunch before picking up a church friend to attend an operetta concert in the afternoon. It was one of those mornings when she is quite confused and didn’t come around very quickly. She didn’t know anything. Who I am. Who she is. Where she was. She felt very insecure, but it was similar to the last time in that it was not a full anxiety or panic attack. Fortunately, she responded positively to me. She wanted me to hold her hand going to the bathroom and didn’t want me to leave her. Just before leaving the bathroom, I did or said something she didn’t like, and she snapped at me. Then she apologized and started to cry.

After she was dressed, she wanted to hold my hand as we walked to the kitchen to get her meds. She continued to whimper a little. She kept asking me if I were her daddy. I told her I was her husband. Each time she couldn’t believe it. When we got to the kitchen, she called me daddy and then said, “Are you my daddy?” I said, “Would you like me to be your daddy?” She responded enthusiastically that she did. I said, “I would be happy to be your daddy.” She asked if I really were. I told her the truth. She accepted that but not with enthusiasm. I believe we are going through a transition in which she often thinks of me as her father. As that happens, I will be much less likely to tell her the truth. Right now, I sense that she still wants the truth and is able to handle it. This is one more thing that demands taking it one step at a time and making an informed judgment as to what is best.

While she was taking her meds, I brought her the “Big Sister” album. She reacted the way she usually does. She commented on the smiles and the children’s eyes. Then she asked if she could take it with us. I told her she could. We took it to the restaurant where she continued to enjoy the photos until the food arrived. By that time, she was herself again. Leaving the restaurant, she said she wanted to rest as soon as we got home. This now seems an established habit. I explained that we were going to a concert. She didn’t complain.

When we arrived at the concert hall, I let Kate and our friend out and then parked the car. When I met them in the lobby, I learned that Kate felt sick. She couldn’t explain what it was. She just didn’t feel right. She seemed relieved that I was there and didn’t want me to leave. She was willing to go ahead and take a seat in the concert hall, but I decided that we should leave. It just wasn’t worth the chance. Our friend said she would leave as well. I told her I would be happy to come back for her. She didn’t want that. Just then, a mutual acquaintance walked up and spoke to us. She asked if he and his wife could take her home after the concert. He was happy to do so, and we went home. As we walked to the car, she wanted a bathroom. I asked if she could wait until we got home. She said she could. Once we were home and she had been to the bathroom, she felt better. That was when she finally got to rest and did so for two and a half hours before we went to dinner.

I think her problem was twofold. First, she was having abdominal action and was uncomfortable. Second, I think she felt insecure being with someone who appeared to be a stranger to Kate. Once I arrived in the lobby, she did not want me to leave her, not even to get the car. When we got home, it was the same. I held her hand all the way to the bathroom. She didn’t want me to leave her.

She was fine from the time we went to dinner until we went to bed. Having heard stories from other caregivers, I suspect we might see more days like this. The good news is that our track record for late in the day is quite good. I only remember one evening when she had a panic attack. Otherwise, it has been the most consistently positive part of our day. I often wonder if that is because it seems to be the most relaxed time of day.

Some Things Work. Some Don’t

I’ve often thought that a large part of caregiving is either preventing or solving problems. I haven’t tried to keep a tally of my victories and losses, but we seem to have gotten along reasonably well. Of course, one of the reasons is that I keep discovering things that Kate can’t do. That’s when I grasp that I am the one who has to change and adapt to what she is able to do.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I had taken photos of the primary screens that she faces when working her jigsaw puzzles. I thought that was a pretty clever idea. When I shot each photo, I put my index finger on or up against the button or place she needs to touch in order to pull up the next screen. How could I go wrong?

It’s not really hard at all, to go wrong that is. All you have to do is think like someone who doesn’t have Alzheimer’s (that would be me) instead of one who does. Kate couldn’t connect my photos with what she was seeing on her iPad even though they were almost identical except for my finger in the photos. I worked slowly with her for about fifteen minutes before I could see that what I was doing was causing her more frustration than the problem I was trying to solve. It is actually much simpler for her to ask me what she should do next than to translate my pictures and do it herself. When I stopped to think about it, her system was working for her all along. I was really addressing my problem of having to get up from my chair to help her.

Her most critical problem seems to be her eyesight. That’s true whether she is looking at the screen on the iPad or my photo of the screen. That relates to her Alzheimer’s and not to the physical properties of her eyes. As well as I can understand it, her problem is knowing where to focus her attention. She is faced with an array of stimuli and is confused about which one(s) to attend to. She does, however, choose the correct ones most of the time. I’m guessing that because there are times when she goes for a good while without asking for help. Other times I see that she has chosen the correct one. I don’t know how to explain that. It’s as though she knows one minute and forgets in another.

One of the most frequent problems she encounters occurs when she touches a button for the store located in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. When she does that, she is presented with a large collection of puzzle packs for purchase. When she touches a puzzle pack, she gets a screen asking for the password. Then she is stuck because she doesn’t know it. That is a time for help. The button for the store is small enough that I am surprised that she sees it. She often can’t see the button that says “Play” that scatters the pieces so that she can reassemble the puzzle. It is about three times the size of the button for the store. I think there are so many pictures of other colorful puzzles behind the “Play” button it is too difficult for her to see the green button she should touch. I think I will continue showing her what to do each time she runs into a problem. In time, that may help her learn to touch the correc button more often than she is currently doing, but, perhaps, it won’t. She depends so heavily on her puzzles for entertainment I will do everything I can to help her continue with this pastime.

What makes a day “good”?

Yesterday, I saw a tweet by someone who produces podcasts on dementia. She mentioned that she had interviewed someone with dementia in one of her early programs, and she was still doing “pretty well” a year later. That made me think about the way Kate is doing and my reports of “good” days. It’s hard for someone to understand what that can mean. Was her memory better? Was there less confusion?

If we went from couple to couple, we would probably find differences in what they call a good day. I also think there is some change over time. If yesterday’s experiences had occurred in the early years after Kate’s diagnosis, I would have considered it a bad day. It was another day when she didn’t know who I was when she got up. That never occurred until the past six to eight months. I have come to accept that now. The same thing would have had a dramatic impact on me in the early years.

More than anything else, I consider it a good day when Kate is happy. Yesterday she was very happy. She joked with me a good bit. I regret that I can’t remember all the funny things she said. She was upbeat all day. Nothing seemed to bother her. She wanted to sleep longer when I woke her, but she got up without objecting. We had a little time between lunch and her massage. I showed her the three-ring binder of information about her and her family and about our lives together. She loved looking through it. She wanted to nap about twenty minutes before leaving for her massage. She got right up when I told her it was time to go. After the massage and a hair appointment, we had a short period of time before dinner. She said she was tired and wanted to rest. I asked how she would feel if we went to dinner right then. She said she that would be good, and we were off again. That meant that she didn’t get to rest as much as she would have liked. I thought that was good, especially when she went to bed about forty-five minutes earlier than usual. That should make it easier for her to get up this morning.

I should also say something about her massage since she didn’t have a good experience last time. I think she had forgotten what a massage was like and was surprised and confused by what the therapist was doing to her body. Before yesterday’s massage, I suggested that the therapist approach her as though this were the first one Kate had ever had. I don’t know that that made a difference, but Kate was fine when we left. I suspect that she was in such an upbeat mood that she was able to deal with massage more easily.

You might think by what I have said that she is typically depressed or in a bad mood. That is not so at all. On occasion, she has both experiences, but they are infrequent and short-lived. The difference yesterday was that she was so unflappable and upbeat. I find it uplifting for me when she is that way. So a good day doesn’t mean she doesn’t exhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Her memory and confusion are not any better, but she goes about her day as though everything is all right. I try to do the same. I think we’re both pretty successful. We focus on what she can do, not what she can’t and feel grateful.

Like other caregivers, my primary goals are (1) to keep her feeling safe and secure and (2) to keep her happy. Yesterday those goals were met. It was another good day.

Thoughts on Dependence, Appreciation, and Responsibility

Yesterday was another very nice day for Kate and me. It was just one of many. It was also a day when I was a little more mindful of how dependent she is. Like other days in recent months, she looked to me for guidance on things you might not expect. For example, she asked me if she should take a tube of toothpaste and her hair brush with us when we went to Panera yesterday morning. After returning from lunch she asked me where she should go to rest. I told her she could lie down on our bed or the sofa in the family room. She chose the bed.

We don’t normally think about it, but our rational thought processes guide us most of the time during a given day. We remember that we have an appointment at a specific time and understand how much time we have to prepare before leaving. We remember the rooms in our homes and where we sit when we want to relax, and where to lie down when we are tired. When people with dementia lose these abilities, they don’t know what to do next. That is where Kate finds herself much of the time. It’s hard for those of us without dementia to fully understand what this is like.

Thursday is the only day of the week we don’t have a regular place for lunch. Since she was up early, and we had gotten to Panera and had no other commitments until haircuts at 3:00, I took her to a restaurant we’ve visited only a few times. It’s almost a twenty-minute drive, but it’s a nice place and worth it occasionally. We had a very pleasant lunch. Just before we left, she asked me if I thought she should use the restroom before leaving. We decided that was a good idea, and I walked her to it. As I often do, I waited outside the door just in case she needed something. It turned out that was a good thing. When she came out, she had a paper towel in her hand and didn’t know what to do with it. She hadn’t noticed the trash container inside. I took the towel and put it in the trash. Then I noticed a roll of toilet paper on the floor. I picked it up.

As we drove away, she said, “You know, when I’m with you I feel at ease. I know I’ll be all right.” I said, “Do you feel uneasy when I’m not around.” She said, “No, I can handle myself all right. I just feel better when you are with me.” I’ve often heard her say things like “I’m glad you’re driving. I could get home by myself, but it might take me a while.” She recognizes she has a problem with tasks like these, but she also likes to think that she can really take care of herself if she had to. I am glad that is something she can hold on to.

Kate has always been appreciative, but she is becoming more so as her dependence increases. She thanks me for specific things like helping her find the bathroom or getting back to bed. She also thanks me at times when I haven’t done anything. I occasionally read several online message boards for caregivers. I realize that many caregivers don’t receive this kind of gratitude and, because of that, sometimes feel resentful. That’s not an experience I’ve had. That makes caring for Kate easier than it would otherwise be. In fact, her decline and her appreciation act together to give me a greater sense of responsibility and determination to see that her needs are met. Like other caregivers, I am guided by two broad goals – to keep her feeling safe and secure and to keep her happy. Her response to my efforts reinforces that commitment to her.

That reminds me of something else that is true for all successful marriages. Marriage involves two people working together. Kate and I are still partners. Her dependence doesn’t mean I am working alone. She’s unable to do much for herself now, but she is still doing what she can for me. She does that with her expressions of appreciation. That makes all the difference in the world. When she was first diagnosed, we said we would face this challenge together, and we are.

Thirty minutes ago, Kate got up to go to the bathroom. I went to her. She asked me where the bathroom was. I showed her. When she came out, she asked if she could go back to bed. I told she could and that I would let her know when she needed to get up for her eye doctor’s appointment at 10:30. She thanked me. As started to walk away, she said, “What is your name?” I told her. She said, “What is my name?” She said, “And what is your name?” I told her again. She said, “What is my name?” She repeated both questions one more time. She didn’t ask out of fear or anxiety. She simply wanted to know our names. She looks to me for help with things like that. I’m glad to be here for her.