In my previous post, I talked about our pre-diagnosis experiences and my belief that they have helped us deal with our post-diagnosis experiences with Alzheimer’s. Many other things we have done since the diagnosis have also been valuable.
One is the way we responded at the beginning and continued throughout our journey. We both accepted the diagnosis. We were helpless to change that. Instead, we directed our attention to “What next?” Planning was a critical first step. We talked a lot during the first few weeks. We didn’t arrive at a detailed plan, but we set a goal that has guided us from the beginning to the present time: to enjoy life and each other as long as we were able. We began binging on the activities we had most enjoyed throughout our courtship and marriage.
That included going to more movies and theatrical productions. We took advantage of our local theaters as well as those in three other cities that were within a 2-hour drive from our home. We attended many musical events locally and out of town. We also traveled domestically and internationally.
We made a change in our dining habits. At first, I tried my hand at fixing simple meals and bringing in meals from some of our favorite restaurants. I quickly discovered that I didn’t like fixing meals or cleaning up afterward, so we started eating out for lunch and dinner. That continued until the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. We had eaten out more than 6000 times since her diagnosis. In addition to eating out for our daily meals, we went to a local Panera Bread each morning where Kate got a muffin. After lunch, we went home for a break where she rested. Later in the afternoon, we went to the café at Barnes & Noble where we spent an hour or so before going to dinner.
We did all this for convenience and pleasure, but the most important benefit was totally unanticipated. We were never socially isolated. We often ran into friends and acquaintances. We also became better acquainted with the servers and managers of the various establishments as well as other regular customers. Doing all of these things meant we led very active lives. We were living well, and we were achieving our goal of enjoying life and each other.
It wasn’t until 2018 (7 years after Kate’s diagnosis) that I understood why we had gotten along so well. That’s when I read Dementia Handbook by Judy Cornish. She introduced me to the significance of rational and intuitive thought and its relevance for people living with dementia.
Rational thought deals with the kinds of things we learn from our parents, teachers, and many others we encounter. These include the rules of behavior as well as factual knowledge like language, history, math, spelling, names of people, places, things, etc. Intuitive thought involves experiential learning that occurs directly through our senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. We put so much emphasis on rational thought that it’s easy to overlook the significance of what we learn experientially. That is probably why so many people believe that all is lost with dementia. That’s a big mistake. As Cornish points out, intuitive thought provides us the ability to enjoy the world around us like music, art, and the company of other people.
When I learned this, I immediately recognized that Kate and I had done just what Cornish suggests. When we focused our attention on enjoying life that led us directly to the things that Kate could appreciate even as her rational thought declined. Music, theater, dining out, travel, as well as time with family and friends were all things she could enjoy.
That is not to say that we could continue all of these things while “Living with Alzheimer’s.” For example, she reached the point at which she could not follow the plot of movies. Interestingly, the last two movies that she really enjoyed were Won’t You Be My Neighbor which was about Mr. Rogers,and RBG, a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both films were filled with humor and touching emotional moments that she could appreciate.
All of these things have enabled us to live joyfully with Alzheimer’s. Best of all, we continue to do so at this late stage of the disease. I firmly believe the improvement Kate has experienced over the past year relates to the attention she receives from the residents and staff of our retirement community. Of course, our primary caregiver and I make sure she gets the same attention at home. This attention is something else that she can enjoy via her intuitive thought/ability.
You might ask, “How long will this last?” I ask myself the same question. The answer is I have no idea. One thing I do know. We will continue to enjoy life and each other as long as we are able.