A Rocky Start with a Nice Finish

Yesterday morning I had two surprises. I was happy about the first one. Not so for the second. First, the good news. I saw on the video cam that Kate was up, and it was about 8:00. I always like it when she gets up without my having to wake her. That is especially true on a day that we have a sitter. That insures that I don’t have to rush her before the sitter arrives. It’s even better on Monday because the sitter comes at noon instead of 1:00.

When I got to the bedroom, she had just come out of the bathroom. She seemed alert and showed no signs of confusion. I asked if she was going to take a shower. She said she was. I knew that she would want to rest a while after her shower, but I also knew that we had plenty of time and still might be able to get to Panera for her muffin, something that is a rarity these days. As expected, she got her shower and went back to bed.

A few minutes after 10:00 I decided to get her up. That’s when I received the second surprise of the morning. She wasn’t asleep, but her eyes were closed. I asked if she would like me to take her to get a muffin. She gave me a strange look. She wasn’t the same alert Kate I had greeted earlier. She was clearly confused. When I said that I had her clothes out and would help her get dressed, she looked at me sternly and said, “Who are you?” I gave her my name and told her I was her husband. She was surprised. That is not unusual; however, she was obviously uncomfortable and pulled the covers up to her neck. I said, “You do recognize me, don’t you?” She didn’t and didn’t want me to help her dress. This was totally unlike any of our previous experiences. There wasn’t any way that I was going to explain this.

I didn’t push her. I told her I thought I could help her and got her “Big Sister” album. I showed her the photo of her and her brother on the cover. She didn’t show any sign of recognition until I pointed to her picture and said, “Who do you think this little girl is?” She hesitated and then said, “Me.” I turned to the first page and showed her a photo of her with her mother and daddy. Then I turned to a section that has a few of our wedding pictures. She didn’t remember anything.

I decided she just needed a little more time. I told her I wanted to take her to get a muffin. She asked about her clothes. I showed them to her and suggested she get dressed. By this time, she was beginning to feel more comfortable with me, but she still did not believe I was her husband. She did, however, let me help her dress.

When she was dressed, she noticed a wedding picture of our daughter, Jesse, on the dresser and said, “Who is she?” I explained that she was our daughter. She walked over to it and asked if she could take it with us. I told her she could. She asked where she could keep it. I told her this was our room and that she could keep it right there on the dresser if she liked. She still wanted to take it with her.

In the car on the way to Panera, I said, “You seem like you’re feeling less confused now.” She acknowledged that she was and said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” Then she asked me her name. I said, “Katherine Franklin Creighton.” She frowned when she heard “Creighton.” I didn’t say anything.

When we got closer to Panera, she asked my name again. I told her and added that I was her husband. She wasn’t buying that. After we had been seated a while, she asked my name. I told her and said that I was her husband. She didn’t believe me. Again, I didn’t push.

We had been at Panera about forty minutes when I thought we needed to get home for the sitter. On the way I reached out my hand and touched her leg and said, “I love you.” She put her fingers to her lips and blew me a kiss and said, “I love you too.” I took that as a sign that she had finally recognized who I was.

The sitter arrived a few minutes after we were home, and Kate seemed perfectly normal. I said I was going to Rotary, and she said, “What are we going to do?” I told her that she and Cindy could go to lunch at either Applebee’s or Panera. She said, “Why don’t you go with us?” I explained that I needed to attend my meeting. She didn’t seem to mind that, but I was glad to see that she would have felt even better if I had stayed.

When I returned home, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kate and Cindy were having a conversation in the family room. Kate seemed to be taking the lead. Cindy said they had gone to Applebee’s for lunch and come back to the house. She said Kate had not worked on her iPad at all and that they had been talking the whole time. That was another surprise and a welcome one. I was happy for two reasons. First, that she hadn’t had a nap. Second, because she was able to engage in conversation for such a long period of time and that she was doing a lot of the talking. I want Kate to develop a strong relationship with her. This was a dramatic contrast with her confusion this morning. I felt much better.

The rest of the day went very well. We spent about an hour and a half at Barnes & Noble and then went out for a Mexican meal at Chalupas. She spent the rest of the evening working on her iPad while I watched the news. Then I turned on a series of YouTube videos for her. Several times she needed help with her puzzles, but she seemed to get along well after that. When I told her it was bedtime, she was very cooperative. She slept through the night and is still sleeping as I finish this post at 7:30.

“This is not my best day.”

Kate was up a little earlier yesterday. That gave us time to spend an hour at Panera before leaving for lunch at Andriana’s. Other than the time she got up, Kate seemed pretty much the way she usually is, perhaps a little less groggy. After we took our seats at Panera, I discovered something that established a pattern for the rest of the day. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

Kate:              “What’s my name?

Richard:        “Katherine Franklin Creighton.”

Kate:              (Looks puzzled) “Creighton? Where did I get that?”

Richard:        “From me.”

Kate:              “Are you my father?”

Richard:        “No.”

Kate:              “Who is my father?”

Richard:        “Charles Franklin.”

Kate:              “Charles Franklin. Who is he?”

Richard:        “He’s your father.”

Kate:              “Is he married?”

Richard:        “Yes. He married Virginia Franklin.”

Kate:              “Wait. Tell me that again.

Richard:        Your parents are Virginia and Charles Franklin.”

Kate:              “Do they have any children besides me?”

Richard:        “Yes. You have a brother.”

Kate:              “What’s his name?

Richard:        “Ken Franklin.”

Kate:              (Now on overload) “Stop. You’ll have to tell me again, but later.”

In some ways this conversation was no different than others we have all the time. What struck me about this one was that nothing I said appeared to spark the least sign of recognition. Normally, upon hearing her father’s name, she might say something like “He was a nice man.” In this conversation she was always searching for something that sounded familiar and not finding anything. She just kept asking questions until she couldn’t process any more.

From Panera we went directly to lunch at Andriana’s. She continued to have memory problems. The big surprise was the first time (of many) that she pointed to the mug shot of Frank Sinatra and asked me who he was. I fully expected her to say, “I don’t like him.” She has been saying that or some variation the past few years we have eaten there. This time she didn’t say anything. It was about the third time she asked that she said, “Is he a nice guy?” I tried to get around this by saying that he was very popular. She pushed a little harder, and I told her that his ex-wives and girl friends might not think so. She didn’t pick up on that. Subsequently, she just asked his name, and I told her without her expressing any evaluation. That is a big change from the past.

Before we got our food, she asked about her name and mine. That led to asking about our relationship. When I told her I was her husband, she was surprised. She couldn’t understand how that could be, but she did believe me. It was one of those times when she was glad to know we were married. Despite her confusion, we had a very nice lunch and conversation.

As soon as we got home, she wanted to take a nap. She rested about an hour. Then she came to the family room and started work on her iPad. It wasn’t long before she saw the “Big Sister” album on the coffee table. She picked it up and started to go through it. I was seated across from her with my laptop. She spent about twenty minutes before asking if I could help her. I took a seat beside her on the sofa. She asked me to tell her all the names of the people in the photos. She didn’t mean on a single page or several pages. She meant all the people in all the photos in the book. Most of them are of her, her brother, her mother and father, and occasionally other extended family members. She never appeared to recognize them from one photo to another. Each time I said, “This is your Daddy” she said, “What’s his name?” The same was true for her mother. Frequently, one photo was beside the other. I still needed to tell her their names. We hadn’t gone through more than four or five pages before her brain was on overload. That’s when she said, “I think we should stop. This is not my best day.” Once again, I was struck by how well she understood that she was not having a good day. I should add that she didn’t display any sense of frustration, confusion, or anxiety. She simply recognized her brain was not working as well as it should. She was right.

I suggested we leave for dinner. She said, “Maybe that would help.” She sometimes says the same thing before taking a nap. On the way to the restaurant, she asked, “Are we in Texas?” I told her we were in Tennessee. She said, “Where is TCU?” I said, “In Texas.” She said, “I know that, but where is it around here?” She hadn’t remembered I had just told her we were in Tennessee.

We had a nice time at dinner. We didn’t talk a lot, but we did converse off and on throughout the meal. She had salmon and talked about how good it was. When she had almost finished, she said she was getting full and wanted to know if I wanted the rest. I took a small piece, and she said, “It’s all right but not really that good.” This change in evaluations is not unusual. This happens frequently and makes it difficult to know if she really likes or dislikes things.

When we stood up to leave the restaurant, she said, “I want you to know I’ve enjoyed being with you. You’re a nice guy.” It sounded like I was her boyfriend, and she was about to dump me. I said, “Thank you, I enjoy being with you too.” In the car I mentioned something about our son and his family’s being in town next weekend. She said, “What do you mean our son?” I explained that we are married. She gave one of her most common responses, “How did that happen?” I told her and said, “Are you unhappy about that?” She said, “No, I’m glad. You’re a nice guy.”

Back at the house she picked up her iPad and worked puzzles for the balance of the evening. That is not to say it was easy. She ran into problems working puzzles all day. At one point last night, she closed the iPad and put it down. I could tell she was a bit frustrated and asked if she would like to look at one of her photo albums. She said she would. I brought her the “Big Sister” Album. She expressed only mild interest in the cover photo that she loves so much. In a few minutes, she said, “What do I do now?” She had never opened the album. I went over to her and opened to the first page of photos. She didn’t express much interest. I couldn’t believe it. I told her who the people were, but that didn’t make any difference in her response. She said, “What do I do now?” I told her she should just look at the pictures. I started to step away when I noticed that she was pressing a photo. She was treating the album as though it was her iPad with jigsaw puzzles. She thought when she pressed a photo, it would scatter the pieces so that she could put them back together. She was confused when nothing happened. I told her they weren’t puzzles but pictures. She was disappointed and said, “Then what do I do with it (the album)?” I told her she could just look at the pictures and enjoy seeing her and her family. She must have had it so deeply imprinted on her mind that it was an iPad with puzzles that she couldn’t relate to it as a photo album. I said, “It sounds like you would rather work puzzles now.” She nodded. I picked up her iPad and gave it to her.

While she was working on her iPad, I played a variety of YouTube videos starting with Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. She expressed only modest interest until I pulled up a Julie Andrews concert. She enjoyed that so much that she put her iPad down and watched. That led automatically to a portion of a BBC PROMS concert from 2010. It featured the music of Rogers and Hammerstein. She was fully engaged. Once again, music made a difference.

She was so engaged that she didn’t want to go to bed. She finally did and slept until 1:45 this morning. She sat up in bed. I asked if she wanted to go to the bathroom. She said yes and asked, “Should I go to my bathroom?” and pointed to our bathroom. She seemed rather alert and got up on her own and walked to the bathroom. I was afraid I might go back to sleep before she returned to bed, so I got up. After using the toilet, she spent about ten minutes brushing her teeth and cleaning her face.

I walked her back to the bedroom. As she was getting into bed, she said, “Well, we did it. <pause> Once again.” I didn’t ask what she was talking about. I just agreed that we had done it again. Once we were in bed, she laughed and said, “If we told our friends about this, they wouldn’t believe it. <pause> I almost don’t believe it myself.” She repeated this several times before we went to sleep. She is still sleeping. I wish I knew what she was talking about.

Given all these things, how do I assess the day? Clearly her memory was worse than any other day I can recall. In that respect, it was a bad day. To make matters worse, I know that this is part of a transition to even greater memory loss. I don’t like that. For the most part, Kate’s decline has been very gradual. The most striking changes have been since last spring. I know from others that people with dementia sometimes have sudden changes. Should I expect to see more of this in the next few days? Weeks?

On the other hand, she was happy all day except for a little frustration with her puzzles last night. We had a good time together. For that reason, I think of it as a good day. I really mean that. It reminds me of a professional and Facebook friend whose child has Down’s Syndrome. I know she is troubled by her daughter’s diagnosis and wishes she weren’t disabled in this way; however, she relates to her daughter as she would do with a normal child and enjoys her immensely. It’s much the same with Kate and me. Having Alzheimer’s is the worst thing that has ever happened in either of our lives. I find it especially difficult to watch her lose more and more of her abilities, but I try to look on the positive side (what she can do and what we can do together) and be grateful for those special moments we experience together.

A Confusing Start

About 7:45 this morning, I saw on the video cam that Kate was getting out of bed. I walked to the bedroom and saw her standing at the foot of the bed. She was glad to see me, actually relieved though I didn’t realize it until a few minutes later. I asked if she wanted to go to the bathroom. She said she did and asked where it was. I walked her there. I left her in the bathroom and went back to the kitchen where I could watch the video cam to see when she was ready to go back to bed.

It wasn’t long before I heard her say, “Hey.” She had cracked the door open. When I got to her, she wanted to know what she should do now. I told her it was still early and that she should rest a little longer. As we walked, she thanked me for helping her. She said, “I don’t know anything. I don’t know what to do.” I told her I would help her. She thanked me again and said, “You’re so nice to me. You make me feel better.”

After she was in bed, she said, “I don’t even know where I am.” I explained that she was in her very own home in Knoxville. She said, “I am?” Then I told her it was our home. She was surprised and couldn’t understand how that had happened. As we talked, she began to relax. I told her I was going back to the kitchen and that she could call me if she needed anything. She asked my name. I told her and said, “Just call my name.” Then I said, “Or you could just say, ‘Hey.’” She repeated “Hey,” and I told her that was all she needed for me to come back. Before leaving, I asked if she would feel better if I sat in my chair beside the bed. She told me I didn’t need to do that. She thanked me again, and I left the room.

This was a moment in which I felt her complete dependence on me. She said it was frightening. I can’t imagine what it must feel like, but frightening seems to come close. Her memory is flying away, but she still retains the ability to recognize she has a problem and can’t understand why. It was a similar experience last summer that led me to remind her that she has Alzheimer’s. I chose not to tell her this time. I decided to focus solely on being compassionate in the words I spoke and in the tone of voice I used. I told her she was going to be all right, that I was with her and would help her. That seemed to work.

I wonder how she will feel when she gets up. It’s quite possible that she may not feel the same level of confusion. On the other hand, I know that someday the confusion will not go away. By then, she may not realize she has a problem at all. I don’t want that nor do I want her to suffer from recognizing how little she knows or understands. What I wish for most is something that can’t be. I wish she didn’t have this disease at all. Like all caregivers in my position, I have to focus on what I can do – make her life as pleasurable and frustration free as possible. That has served us well up to this point. I trust that it will carry us through to the end.

We Take So Much for Granted.

Most of the things we do during the course of an ordinary day we do without even thinking. We’ve learned to do what is appropriate in the vast majority of situations. We come to this through explicit and implicit training from parents, teachers, and everyone else around us. To be sure, the daily news is filled with the most egregious violations of customs or the law, but most of us abide by the norms most of the time. It’s through our rational ability that we learn to follow the rules for both big and little things.

As I have noted before, dementia robs a person of that rational ability. People with dementia often say or do things they would not have done prior to their disease. We generally understand this, but caregivers are always facing new things we didn’t expect. That happened to me tonight.

As Kate prepared for bed, she walked into the bathroom. She saw a tube of toothpaste, picked it up, lifted her arm, and motioning with hand signals asked if she should put it under her arms. I explained that it was for her teeth. Then I showed her the deodorant and told her that was for under her arms. Moments later I saw that she had put toothpaste on her neck.

Although I was surprised, Now that I have reflected a bit, I find her question understandable. This is a sign that she is reaching another stage of her Alzheimer’s. Things like brushing her teeth and using deodorant are regular habits that we do automatically. That is a strong habit for Kate and has lasted a long time, but even that is now fading away. Earlier in the day she had given me the same hand signals without lifting her arm. That time I correctly thought she was asking if she should brush her teeth. Like most habits that weaken, the process is usually a gradual one. I am sure I will see more of this in the future.

An Indicator of Change

Numbers have played an important role in my professional career in market research. The vast majority of the reports and presentations of research findings were filled with charts and tables containing lots of statistics. As a result, I have often yearned for a chart that would summarize our experiences since Kate’s diagnosis eight years ago.

That would have been possible if I had kept statistical records along the way. During the early years after the diagnosis, I didn’t even think of doing that. As time progressed, I felt I didn’t have time to keep an accurate statistical record. I settled for what we researchers call a qualitative approach. I simply describe in words what our lives have been like. Most people can relate to that more easily anyway.

The problem is that words don’t always convey the changes that occur over time. For example, I find that my early posts talked about how short her memory was. Some of my recent entries say essentially the same thing, and yet I know that her short-term memory is vastly shorter now that it was then. I do try to call attention to symptoms the first time they appear. I also try to give some approximate time indicators. For example, I often say that Kate’s sleeping pattern started changing during the spring of last year or the approximate number of months since the pattern started changing. For the most part, however, this blog consists almost entirely of my descriptions of our experiences.

Having said this, I have discovered that launching the journal as a blog one year ago has provided statistical data. Only one of those gives me much information that relates to our experience with Alzheimer’s, and it is very limited. The WordPress software I use organizes all of the posts by year. I put that together in the chart below. It doesn’t begin to do justice to what has gone on the past eight years; however, it does show how the progression of Kate’s Alzheimer’s has affected my writing.

During the first three years (2011, 2012, and 2013), our lives didn’t change much. I didn’t have as many things to write about. That began changing in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. I remember that 2014 was the year I felt I should tell our children and close friends about Kate’s diagnosis. Early that same year, we went to New Zealand. I knew then that our traveling travelling days were numbered. It was becoming increasingly difficult to manage everything on long trips. We took our last overseas trip (Switzerland) in 2015. In 2016, I saw more signs of change. I believed that our annual trip to Chautauqua would be our last. Fortunately, we were able to make one more trip in 2017. That year I wrote 77% more posts than the preceding year. The big jump occurred last year. Our lives changed substantially as did the number of my posts. They were up 132% last year. Of course, that was the first year of my blog. I know I was more diligent in writing. Even with that, however, I have always tried to write when I had something I wanted to say (not necessarily what readers might want to hear <g>). In 2018, that happened more often.

So, what is in store for 2019? The answer is I don’t know. As in previous years that will depend on what happens next. If I were to guess, I would say that the posts will level out for a while and, possibly, decline. Through the first 36 days of the current year I am averaging one and a third posts a day. I expect that Kate will sleep more, and we will be less active this year than last. That might mean fewer things for me to report. As with so many things, time will tell.

A 3-Card Day

I let Kate sleep until 11:30 yesterday morning. I wouldn’t have gotten her up then, but we had an appointment at 1:30. Here are her first words as she got out of bed.

Kate:             “Who are you?”

Richard:        “I am Richard Lee Creighton.”

Kate:             “What’s my name?”

Richard:        “Kate Franklin Creighton.”

Kate:             “I guess that means we’re married.”

Richard:        “Yes, we are.”

Kate:             “What’s your name?”

We were a little pushed for time, so I decided not to go our regular place for lunch and just get a sandwich at Panera. I didn’t tell Kate where we were going but was surprised that she asked what we were going to eat. I don’t recall her ever asking that before we have even left the house. I told her a couple of the sandwiches she usually gets. Several times before we got there (a 4-minute drive including a stop at a traffic light), she asked again what we were going to eat and if I thought she would like it.

When we arrived, she looked up at the building and said, “What’s that?” After seating her at a table and setting up her iPad, I brought her a muffin. She got started on that while I waited for the meal to be ready. When I brought her lunch, she had one tray with the muffin to her right. I put the tray with her food on her left. After she had eaten half of her sandwich, she went back to her muffin. In a few minutes, she pointed to her sandwich and apple and said, “Is this ours?” I told her it was. She took a bite or two and then another couple of bites of her muffin. Then she looked at the plate with her sandwich and again asked if it were ours. Once again, I told her it was. She finished her muffin and asked one more time about her sandwich before eating the rest of it.

Before we pulled out of our parking space, she looked at the building and asked, “What’s that?” I told her it was Panera and that it was a place to eat. She said, “Oh,” but she didn’t remember that we had just eaten there. As we drove out of the parking lot, I turned and drove by the front of Panera. She looked at the building and said, “What’s that?”

We went straight to Barnes & Noble from lunch and arrived a few minutes before the man we were meeting. I was in line to get a cup of coffee when he arrived. I hadn’t met him before. He works for the development office at the University of Wisconsin. Kate was sitting at a table working on her iPad. I introduced him to her. Then we had a good conversation. I started by asking him if he had been a student at UW. It turned out that he had not and had only worked for the university six or seven years. That led to a conversation about his past experience and happenings on the campus. That was mixed with my telling him about our own experiences there and what I had done since leaving Madison.

We talked for over an hour. Kate was never a student at UW but did work on campus. He and I made numerous references to people or events that she could not recall. In almost every instance, they were things that he must have been surprised about. For example, very early in our discussion I said that we had moved to Madison for me to get my PhD. Kate said, “Really, what in?” I mentioned that Kate had worked for the director of graduate admissions for the English department and who, coincidentally, had later married a friend of hers from TCU. She said, “Who was that?” I also said something about our going from Madison to Raleigh where I taught at NC State. Kate looked surprised and said, “What did you teach?”

This was one of those times when I thought about the little cards I carry that say, “My wife has Alzheimer’s . . .” I slipped it to him after several of her questions. I am sure that helped him understand when she asked other questions. I’m realizing the value of having them with me.

We came back home after lunch. Kate started working on her iPad but soon put it down and rested for over two hours. When I told her we would soon leave for dinner, she sat up and said, “Who are you?”  I gave her my name. She asked her own name. Then she wanted to know my relationship to her. As usual, she was surprised, but this was different. She was very firm in expressing that this couldn’t be. I asked if she would like to see our wedding pictures. She did, and I picked up “The Big Sister” album her brother Ken had made for her last spring. I sat beside her on the sofa and flipped over to the section that had some of our wedding pictures. At first, she had trouble recognizing everyone. After I identified the people, she began to recognize them in other photos though she was far from perfect. She did, however, become quite engaged with all the pictures. Her skepticism about my being her husband was completely over.

As we pulled out of the garage on the way to dinner, she asked my name and her name again. On the way, she asked where we were a couple of times. When we arrived at the restaurant, she asked its name. I told her it was the Bonefish Grill. Once inside, the hostess walked us to a table in the very back of the dining room. I followed the hostess but not too closely. Kate walks very slowly, and I didn’t want to get too far ahead of her. As the hostess and I stood at the table waiting for her, I said, “Have I told you that my wife has Alzheimer’s?” She said I hadn’t. When Kate approached the table, she looked at the hostess and said, “What’s the name of this place?” Kate didn’t understand her. Both the hostess and I repeated the name and looked for a sign on the wall, but there wasn’t one. I should add that we eat at Bonefish every Tuesday night and know the hostess. I am glad I had mentioned Kate’s Alzheimer’s.

Once the hostess left, Kate heard the toddler behind us making some happy noises. She turned around and asked her how old she was. The mother, who was holding the child, said she was three. Then Kate asked the mother, “How old are you?” The mother was taken aback and said, “Thirty-seven.” Kate said, “You’re young to somebody like me.” The woman and her daughter were seated with a group of five other women who would have been about the age of the woman’s mother. A few minutes later, I pulled out another one of my cards, walked over to the woman and gave it to her. As I sat down, she looked at me and smiled. Then she passed the card around to the others at her table.

When our server came to the table for our drink order, Kate said, “What’s the name of this place?” The server, whom we also know, looked surprised. I got another card out of my pocket and slipped it to her. Periodically throughout our dinner, Kate talked about the attractiveness of the restaurant. For her, it was just like the first time she had ever been there.

I wish I could know how you as a reader are responding to what I have written. This was clearly a day when Kate’s memory was at its worst. It is a definite sign of further decline. From my perspective, however, it was a good day. Kate was happy. She was talkative. She was inquisitive. We enjoyed our time together. It saddens me to see her so lost in this world, but that burden is eased when I know that she is happy. There is nothing I can do to change the symptoms that accompany Alzheimer’s. I can, however, see that her quality of life is the best it can be under the circumstances. Days like this reinforce my commitment to do just that.

A Day of Ups and Downs

It’s impossible for me to describe yesterday in a single word or phrase. A lot of things were going on. I believe and hope the overriding issue was Kate’s cold which had gotten worse during the previous night. The specific symptoms were, at least initially, her cough and her spitting up phlegm. In the middle of the night she had a coughing spell. She had been pretty much cough free during most of the day. I thought maybe lying down might be a problem and wanted to elevate her head with a larger pillow. It gave me my first glimpse of what it is like trying to help someone with Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t grasp instructions and gets more confused as you try to explain what you are doing or want her to do. It was a bit frustrating for both of us. This didn’t last long. It may have been less than thirty minutes. She and I went back to sleep.

A number of times I have mentioned ways in which Kate and I have been fortunate. One of those is that neither of us has had an illness that has made dealing with her Alzheimer’s more difficult. My experience that night gave me a sense of what some people deal with all the time. It also confirmed for me that as Kate continues her decline, I might very well want help during the night in order for me to get the sleep I need to care for her at other times.

I let her sleep yesterday morning. I felt that rest might be the best medicine. She awoke about 7:00, went to the bathroom and went back to bed. From the video cam I had noticed her getting out of bed and went to the bedroom. Her head was more stuffed up than the day before, but she was more clear-headed than usual.

About 11:00, I noticed she was stirring. I went to the bedroom. She seemed wide awake but relaxing in bed. I mentioned going to lunch and asked if she were ready to get up. She said she was. I didn’t push her. I let her take her time. She got her shower and got back in bed. I decided to forgo our usual lunch plans. At dinner the night before she coughed quite loudly a couple of times. I didn’t want to disturb anyone at our usual restaurant that is somewhat quiet and reasonably active on Sunday. I decided to get a quick lunch at Panera.

Before we were ready to leave, two things happened. First, Kate started coughing. Second, as I tried to get her dressed and take her medicine, I rushed her. I also had to correct her on several things. For example, it took a while for her to take her meds. She would take one and leave the others. I had to remind her several times she had more to take. Finally, she broke down. She said, “I just can’t do anything right.” She was also miffed at me for rushing her. Seeing a panic attack coming, I shifted into a more conciliatory style. That may have prevented a more serious attack, but it didn’t immediately stop her emotional reactions.

By this time, I felt it was best to get a to-go order at Panera and bring it back home. The two of us went in the car and brought our lunch back home. It was an interesting change. I think we have only eaten a meal at home two or three times in the past four or five years.

We had a very pleasant time at home between lunch and dinner. We relaxed in the family room while Kate worked on her iPad, and I read some autobiographical materials that a former roommate at TCU had sent me. Kate didn’t have any problem coughing and seemed to be getting along well.

I felt better about taking her out for dinner. We went to a small Mediterranean café near our home. I knew there wouldn’t be a crowd on Sunday night. Kate was very relaxed and talkative. Soon after we ordered, she said she was glad we had come back. She thought we were in Texas. I made no effort to correct her. She commented about the restaurant and liking it. Then she began to talk about “the girls” and also language differences. Pretty quickly I recognized she was having the same experience she had had a few days ago when she had her massage. At that time, I sensed that she was talking about being at a school in a foreign country. This time it started with a belief that we were in Texas. The rest of what she said was very similar in both experiences. One thing was different. The other day I speculated it might have been the cold medicine that was responsible. That was not true yesterday. She hadn’t had any.

Her remarks were not continuous. She didn’t constantly repeat the same things over and over, but she kept bringing them up as though she were continuing a conversation with me. This was something of a challenge. I didn’t want to tell her she was imagining everything. I also didn’t want to make up things to add. I simply acknowledged what she said and agreed. When she said “the girls are smart,” I said something like, “They really are.” This went on until after we were back home.

At home, Kate saw her iPad and said, “What’s this?” I told her and said she could work puzzles on it. She was confused about how to open the cover. I showed her. She said, “I hope I know how to do this.” She was confused about how to begin. I showed her and got the first puzzle up. She didn’t know what to do when the pieces were scattered. I ended up completing one puzzle myself just to show her. She worked them for a while before getting frustrated. I decided it might be time for some music therapy.

The previous night I received a phone call from another TCU friend and housemate. He follows my blog and is aware of our use of music videos on YouTube. He told me about a two choirs in Lincoln, Nebraska, that I might want to check out. One of those choirs is the Wartburg College Choir. After dinner last night, I found one of their videos of a concert tour in Germany in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It contains beautiful music along with correspondingly beautiful churches and other notable sites. It was a wonderful way to end our day. It was like having an hour-long period of meditation.

As I helped her into bed, she said, “Richard, it’s been a frustrating day. <pause> I’m so frustrated.” I assured her that she could count on me to help her. We didn’t say anything more. This was one more reminder that Kate still recognizes that she has a problem even if she doesn’t know what it is or where it leads.

The Day Kate Was Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s

Today is a day that is hard for me to forget. It was eight years ago that Kate was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I just finished a quick look at the posts I made during the first ten days after that. (http://livingwithalzheimers.com/the-diagnosis-and-following-ten-days/) At that time we were experiencing all the emotions that surround such news. Kate was initially relieved but very quickly became scared and also angry.  Fortunately, neither of the latter two emotions was long-lasting. Although we were not surprised with the doctor’s news, the reality shook us. We had to sort through those emotions and figure out how to move forward.

At that time the future seemed very blurry. We were simply trying to grasp the diagnosis. We experienced a lot of feelings. We talked about the diagnosis and our future and tried to understand its implications. We couldn’t escape thinking about all the negatives that go along with the disease.

One of the things that struck me was how quickly we went into planning mode. We have been there ever since. That’s not because our plans were wrong. It’s because the situation is always changing and requires answers to new questions or problems. Our initial plans focused on two general areas. First, we needed to address legal and financial issues. That meant meeting with our attorney, accountant, and insurance man. Second, we wanted a plan for our lives in order to take advantage of whatever quality time we had. Somewhere along the way we will probably discover things we overlooked, but that foundation has served us well so far. I thought we would have far less time for living than we have. I never expected that we would be getting along so well after eight years. That is largely because I didn’t understand how much pleasure we could have after Kate’s memory was almost gone.

As we thought about the things we wanted to do, we gravitated to the things we already enjoyed. That included music, theater, travel, and time with family and friends. Each of these has played a significant role in our “therapy.” What is even better is that we are still able to enjoy most of the things that have led to a very happy marriage.

Looking back, I am glad that we responded actively and not passively. At this moment in 2019, I realize how much life we can enjoy while “Living with Alzheimer’s.” I still don’t know how long our good times will last. I know that the time is diminishing rapidly now. We stopped all major travel in January 2016. We made what may have been our last trips to our children’s homes (Memphis and Lubbock) for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Movies are almost a thing of the past. I sense that non-musical theater and opera are on the way out. Music and social occasions like dining out play an even larger role in our lives now, but Kate’s sleeping late has cut down on our morning social engagement at Panera and our afternoons at Barnes & Noble. I plan to continue our day trips to visit friends as long as we are able. I don’t see anything that would stop that right now.

I can’t help feeling sad as I watch Kate change and imagine what lies ahead. I also recognize that our own experience with Alzheimer’s has been far better than that of most others. The past eight years are among the best of our marriage. I am grateful for that. I also feel a strong sense of determination to see that we make the best of the future no matter what it may bring.

A Day of Confusion

For the second time this week Kate did not recognize me when she woke up. These occurrences come only days after my saying that she almost always recognizes me as someone she knows and trusts. That is still true, but it makes me question my optimism as to how long this will last.

As I have seen so often, this failure to recognize me came with a mixture of other signs that she sensed more familiarity than her rational ability could express. She didn’t display any sense of surprise when I walked into the room. She appeared to respond to me as she normally does. Then she said, “Who are you?” I said, “Do you recognize me at all?” She said she didn’t, and I gave her my name and told her I am her husband.” She seemed more puzzled than usual by this news. She didn’t recognize either my name or that I am her husband.

At that point, I decided not to make this a point of discussion. I was confident that with a little time she would put it all together. I suggested that she get up and let me take her to lunch. She responded the way she always does and got up. She let me help her dress. She went to brush her teeth, and I went to the kitchen. In a few minutes, I heard her say, “Hey, where are you?” That, too, is very normal. She doesn’t know her way around the house and looks to me to tell her where she should go. As I walked toward the family room, I said, “I’m in the kitchen.” She was standing in the doorway coming into the family room from our bedroom and saw me. We went back to the kitchen where I had her morning meds waiting for her. When she had taken them, I picked up our iPads and cups and we left for lunch at Panera.

While waiting for our order, she asked my name. I told her and said, “I am your husband.” She seemed puzzled and asked how long we had been married. I told her. She didn’t question me. Instead, she asked me her name. That led to her asking if we have children. When I told her, she wanted to know their names. That led to further conversation about our marriage. I told her we had had many good times during our marriage. She agreed and asked me to tell her some of them. After that, I didn’t see any obvious signs that she didn’t know me.

We stayed at Panera about an hour and a half and then returned home where Kate rested almost two hours. Then we went back to dealership to pick up my car that I left the other day. When the service rep walked us to our car, I walked directly to my side. Normally, I would have opened the door for Kate and helped her get settled in with her seat belt. Before I got in the car, I looked back and she was standing at the rear of the car waiting for me to tell her where to go. It is very common for her not to know which side of the car she should use. I know this but had fallen down on the job. I walked her to the passenger’s door. Once she had gotten in she didn’t know where to put her cup. The service rep was waiting for me at the driver’s door. She is the same one I had given my first “Alzheimer’s card” two days before. If I hadn’t already given her one, I would have this time. There was no need now. She understood.

Last night was Broadway night at Casa Bella. Kate’s confusion continued. She was seated beside the woman whose mother started the restaurant almost 79 years ago. We sit with Signora Rizzo and her husband for all the music nights. We hadn’t been there too long before Kate leaned over to the Signora and said, “What’s the name of this restaurant?” Everyone at the table is aware of Kate’s diagnosis, and Signora Rizzo responded beautifully. She told Kate the name of the restaurant and that her mother had started it. She also gave her a little of the restaurant’s history. Kate was surprised and interested in what she had to say.

I’m not sure why, but it took longer to get our meals last night. Several times after we had ordered, Kate asked me if we had ordered and when we were going to eat. Finally, she said, “Does this place serve food?” Signore Rizzo, who was seated beside me, said, “I was wondering the same thing, Kate.” We have always enjoyed sitting with this couple. The way each of them responded to Kate last night is consistent with the kind of people they are. I hope we have many more music nights together.

These little public incidents of Kate’s confusion are trivial. No one was embarrassed or disturbed, but they do make me wonder what lies ahead.

Does Kate know me or not?

In my previous post, I focused on the inaccuracy of our stereotypes (generalizations) of people with dementia. In this post I am specifically thinking about caregivers and the conclusions we reach about the behavior of our loved ones. Many of those situations involve a judgment about things like what stage of the disease the PWD has reached, what she is able to do, and can she be left alone. Last spring, I was trying to draw a conclusion about Kate’s sleeping later in the morning. I wasn’t sure whether that represented a few isolated discrepancies from her previous sleeping pattern or the beginning of a new stage of her disease. After months, I finally recognized that she was, and still is, making a real change.

One of the judgments that caregivers frequently make involves what their loved one knows. It hasn’t happened recently, but I’ve been asked if Kate still knows me. That’s a good question. It’s one that seems to imply that she either knows or doesn’t know me. The best answer I can give right now is that “sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t,” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s take an example of something that happened at lunch a couple of days ago.

When she got up that day, her conversation suggested that she knew me. She didn’t ask my name or relationship, and she behaved in a manner that is consistent with the way she has behaved toward me for years. At lunch, we talked about our children. I presumed that, at that moment, she knew I was her husband. Moments later she said, “Who are you?” I asked her if she meant my name or my relationship to her. She said, “Your name first.” When I told her, she said, “And what are you to me?” I said, “I’m your husband.” Then she asked me to tell her my “full name.” I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” She tried to repeat it, but only got the first name. She asked me again. Over the next few minutes, she asked a few other times. Once she asked her own name.

In most ways this experience was like many others we have had. In this particular instance, however, I was struck by how blurry the line between knowing and not knowing can be. As usual, I was also amazed at how comfortable she is when she repeatedly asks my name and her own. She displays no sense of hesitation about asking nor does she seem concerned that I might think it strange when she asks. She asks the way she would ask a stranger’s name. At the same time, her words and manner of relating to me suggest she knows me. I feel certain that is the way an observer at another table would have interpreted the situation.

I try not to quiz her too much about what she “knows,” but earlier this week I did. She asked my name and relationship. I told her, and then I said, “Tell me this. You didn’t know my name or that I am your husband, but you did seem to feel that I am someone you know. Is that right?” She said, “Yes, of course.” I didn’t push for any more. As I have surmised on other occasions, she usually recognizes that I am someone with whom she is familiar and someone with whom she is comfortable. It’s just that she sometimes doesn’t remember my name or our relationship.

After living with changes like this for a while, I would say there are different levels of knowing. One is to know my name. Another is to know that I am her husband. Another is to know that I am someone she recognizes. If I were to guess right now, I would say that (1) she usually doesn’t know my name, (2) about half the time she knows I am her husband, and (3) she almost always recognizes me as someone she knows and trusts.

Prior to six months ago, I believe she always knew my name and that I am her husband. She’s made a significant change in that time period. I suspect the next six months will bring more dramatic changes, but I expect she will continue to recognize me as someone she knows and trusts for some time to come, at least that is what I am hoping. I’m also beginning to think of that as the deepest kind of knowing. It’s similar to what we felt when we first met. We didn’t know anything about each other, but our intuitive abilities led us to sense a connection. That is something I don’t want to lose.