Yesterday’s Happy Moment: An Example of Kindness

I don’t recall exactly when Kate and I began eating out for lunch and dinner. It was at least eight years ago, perhaps longer. In January, it will be nine years since her diagnosis. I was still working then, but I started taking Kate to lunch almost every day. For our evening meals I prepared a meal at home or brought in something from a nearby restaurant.

I soon tired of fixing dinner and cleaning up afterwards. The meals themselves didn’t seem special. That’s when I decided to eat out for all our lunches and dinners. I was motivated by convenience and a desire to concentrate on having a good time with Kate. As I learned long ago, change brings about unintended consequences. Yes, I did find it easier to eat out than to prepare or bring something in, but that turns out to be a smaller part of the story. What I discovered is that eating out became not only a time for Kate and me; it became a moment of social engagement that has been a lifeline from the very beginning.

As a result of our going to the same restaurants on a weekly basis, we have come to know the servers, hostesses, and other personnel. Just as important, they have come to know us. From the beginning, I informed them of Kate’s Alzheimer’s. This was long before I had my printed Alzheimer’s cards. I wanted them to be aware so that they would understand if they ever noticed something that might seem a bit strange.

Much is written about caregivers and their need for support. Earlier this week, I saw a Tweet that indicated that 74% of caregivers never ask for help. I understand that; I’m not prone to ask for help myself.

I’ve also read about the importance of a caregiver’s “building a team of support.” That caused me to reflect on our own situation. I had never thought about doing that for Kate and me, but that is exactly what has developed because of eating out. Yes, it consists of many short-term interactions and is not like the long-standing relationship of close friends. However, it provides a good bit of support and not just to me as a caregiver, but to Kate as well. We experienced a good example of that yesterday at lunch.

A month ago, the young woman who had served us the past three years for our Saturday lunch left her job for another one. We continue to go to the same restaurant and are getting good service, but I have missed the one with whom we had gotten so well-acquainted. Last week, I sent her a text and invited her to be out guest at one of our other restaurant. I didn’t know when I asked her, but it turned out to be her birthday.

We had a nice conversation under more leisurely conditions than when she was serving us. She has always given a lot of attention to Kate and did so again yesterday. I was careful to seat Kate directly across from her to make that easier than if I had been seated there. I’ve done this on several other occasions and sense that it makes a difference.

I made reservations and requested a server that has taken care of us frequently. When I introduced her to our guest, I mentioned that she had been our server at another restaurant. That opened the door to a little conversation between the two of them. The obviously shared a number of things in common.

The big surprise came after we had finished our meal. I told our server I knew we wanted a dessert since it was our guest’s birthday. I expected that she would bring the dessert menu. Instead, she came back with two desserts, a crème brûlée cheesecake with a candle and a large chocolate cake with raspberry filling between the layers. She said she had bought the cake especially for Kate who was touched and broke into tears of joy. Then the server left and brought a beautiful potted plant for her. Nothing could have been better. We have added that to Kate’s other flowering plants in our family room and on the patio where she can enjoy it every day.

It was a beautiful way to end our meal. It was also a reminder of how kind people can be. Incidentally, this was the same restaurant where some anonymous person paid for our meals two weeks ago and where that same server had brought her mother in to meet us. None of the restaurant personnel think of themselves as playing a role as members of our “support team,” but they are and have been. It really makes a difference in our lives and is just one other example of how fortunate we have been.

 

An Update on Eating Out

As I have expressed in other posts, a variety of things have played a role in how well Kate and I have gotten along through six of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s. I believe that nothing has been more important than our eating out for lunch and dinner. That has kept us socially active without having to depend on our friends. Of course, some of our eating occasions are with friends, but we almost always dine alone. There are notable exceptions like our three music nights a month at Casa Bella when we sit with two to six others. In addition, we met a couple at these music nights with whom we eat on other occasions at least once a month.

Now that she is in the last stage of Alzheimer’s I see more signs that her symptoms could ultimately be a bit of a problem with other people. For quite a long time, she has been a “messy” eater. She is even messier now. She regularly drops food on the table, the floor around her, and, of course, her clothes. When her meal includes items that she doesn’t like, she often takes them out of her mouth and puts them on the table. If we are sitting close enough, I reach over and put them on my plate, in a paper napkin, or another appropriate place.

I have gotten rather accustomed to her frequent use of her hands rather than a fork which is especially common when she eats a sandwich. She almost always takes it apart and picks up the various pieces (cheese, tomato, or meat) with her hand. Depending on the amount of sauce or other condiments, that can be messy.

At lunch on Saturday, she did something she hasn’t done before. Our server brought us a piece of cheesecake. After she placed it on the table, I asked her a question. She started to answer when I noticed that she was looking at Kate. I looked at her and saw that she had picked up the whole piece, taken a bite out of it, and placed it back on the plate. This was not a problem for either the server or me although the server was surprised. She is aware of Kate’s diagnosis and is very understanding; however, it is only recently that she has had the opportunity to witness some of her symptoms. Things like this do make me think about what might lie ahead.

There are also times when I say or do something that bothers Kate, and she snaps back at me. The other day at a restaurant she placed her sweater over the back of her chair. It apparently didn’t feel right when she leaned against it. I asked if she would like me to put it on the back of an empty chair beside us. She looked like she didn’t quite understand me, and I reached over and took the sweater from her chair. I don’t remember what she said, but she quickly gave me a sharp response as the server approached our table. I apologized to Kate and put the sweater back. It turned out that she was then embarrassed to have spoken to me like that. She had tears in her eyes and said to the server, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I want you to know that I am not usually like that.” That is very true, and I suspect the server recognized that as well. She has served us many times in the past few years and never observed anything like that before.

I believe that all our servers and the people with whom we eat are also understanding, but I wonder if there is a limit to which I should go in putting Kate in situations where some might not feel the same way. For the moment, I am optimistic that we will be able to continue eating with others for quite a while; however, I am going to be watching very carefully to sense what is best in the future.

Last night at Casa Bella we encountered an entirely different kind of situation that was a lesson learned for me. Two months ago, we learned they were sponsoring a special Italian dinner that occurred last night. It sounded like the kind of event we would enjoy, but I was concerned about two things. First, all seating was to be outside in the street in front of the restaurant. Kate is very sensitive to heat, and September can still bring hot weather. Second, I wasn’t sure about the seating. Big crowds are confusing for Kate, and I didn’t want to be seated with a group of strangers that might add to her confusion. On the other hand, I wanted to support the owners whom we have come to know the past few years. I talked with them and learned that we would be seated with the same people with whom we normally sit. I decided to take a chance and attend.

As it turned out, I wish I hadn’t. It was 90 degrees when we arrived and didn’t drop a lot during the meal though it felt better after the sun went down. The gnats were there in abundance as well. The benefit of being seated with our regular couples was offset by the noise level. The tables were under a large tent to protect from the weather, but I think that contributed to the noise. It was very difficult to converse. Everyone was asking everyone else to repeat what the other person said. Kate remained quiet except to make noises associated with gnats that periodically flew in her eyes.

Given all of this, Kate took it quite well, but I could see I had made a mistake in deciding to come. I was glad we hadn’t shown up for the cocktail hour that preceded the dinner. We were the first ones to leave shortly after finishing our meal. I have been very careful to avoid situations like this in the past. I should have done that this time.

Music and Rest

Even though I believe so strongly in the power of music, I am still occasionally surprised by experiences with Kate. Day before yesterday, she did two things that I didn’t expect. The first occurred as we were about get into our car after lunch. I told Kate I loved her. I have no idea why, but I immediately thought of that old song “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck.” I can’t remember the last time I heard it. It certainly isn’t a song one hears very often.

When I got in the car, I googled it and pulled up a rendition by Doris Day. After she had sung the line “I love you a bushel and a peck,” Kate sang the following line in sync with the music – “A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” Of all the names of people, places, and things that have been lost in her memory, how did this one pop into her mind, and so quickly? I thought for a moment. Then I asked myself if this was any more puzzling than my remembering the song itself when I said, “I love you.” I’ve said that thousands of times without making that connection. Why did I make it this time? We have so much to learn about the brain.

The other incident occurred the same day. We were in the car, and “If Ever I Would Leave You” was playing. It wasn’t long before she said, “I would never leave you.” I took note of her remark because of her emotional experience with another song that was sung at Casa Bella last week. I had wondered to what extent she was able to make a connection between the words of a song and our own relationship. My guess was that she was moved by the music and lyrics but probably didn’t make a connection to us. I still think that. On the other hand, this week’s experience let’s me know that she is able to process more of what is said than I usually believe or report in this blog.

I have, however, noted that she often gives evidence of rather keen insights concerning what is going on around her and between the two of us. I take these experiences as examples of her intuitive abilities, and they continue to work amazingly well. One of those occurred last night as we left Casa Bella. She thanked me for trying to keep her from “making an idiot of myself.” While I always assure her that she gets along fine, she recognizes the many problems she has. Without a memory, she can’t remember all the things each of us does when we are eating out and feels insecure. Sometimes, as she did last night, she worries about how to order her meal. She kept picking up the menu and asking for my help. Each time I told her what I selected and would order for both of us. She was relieved, but she couldn’t remember. She asked for help another 6-7 times before the server took our order. There were a number of other things for which she needed help. It’s hard to imagine the pressure she must feel in situations like this.

Perhaps it is this kind of pressure she experiences throughout the day that is now causing her to rest more. She is making a habit out of resting immediately after we get home from lunch. That happens even on the days she has slept as late as 11:00. The length of time she rests is also increasing. After lunch, she sometimes rests until time for us to leave for dinner. In addition, two nights this week she has gone to bed shortly after 7:30.

The good news is that she continues to be happy even in situations like last night. I believe it is good for her to get out despite the challenges. I am hopeful about continuing a while longer.

At Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s, is there really any joy for caregivers and the ones for whom they care?

My memory of the last stage of my mother’s dementia has faded significantly. One thing I remember is that, except for his Kiwanis meetings, my dad still took her with him whenever he went out. That was the only time he sought help. He dropped her off at a senior day care for four hours to attend his meeting and shop for groceries.

I look back with amazement as I think of those days. At the time, I wondered why he did it. He was eighty-eight, and she was completely dependent on a wheelchair the last two or three years. In order to get her from their apartment (that fortunately was on the ground level) to the car, he had to roll the wheelchair 25-30 feet over grass. Then he got her into the front seat of the car, folded the wheelchair, and loaded it in the trunk of his car. From my personal experience, this was not a simple task. Yet I never heard him utter the first word of complaint. They had been married 70 years when she died. He was just expressing his love for her in the only way he knew how at that point, and he did it joyfully.

Now that Kate is closer to that stage of her Alzheimer’s, I have a greater sense of what sustained him. He could see what I didn’t. There is no doubt to me now that he could find joy in their relationship when it appeared to me that the joy had long since passed.

I believe Kate and I have some time left before she is at that same point, but I can already see that joy is indeed possible very late in this disease. I am sure that doesn’t happen for everyone. As I have said before, we are very fortunate. My point is that it can happen and should be something for which those of us living with Alzheimer’s can hope.

Moments of joy may not come as often as they did before. They may be short-lived.  They do occur for us, however. We had another of those “Happy/Joyful Moments” at lunch yesterday. As I reported in my previous post, she didn’t know my name or our relationship when she got up to go to the bathroom in the morning. I’m not sure whether she did or didn’t later when I got her up for lunch. There were times during lunch when I know she didn’t. Neither did she remember her own name. As earlier that morning, she was quite at ease with me. When she asked my name and relationship, she accepted it as naturally as she did when she pointed to her salad and asked, “What is that?”

She was very talkative. Interestingly, we didn’t gravitate to our usual conversations about family and marriage. She asked questions about the restaurant, the food, and the staff. It was unusually quiet when we arrived. Only one other table was occupied. She said, “I wonder if <using her hand because she couldn’t think of the word for servers> like it better when it is quiet like this or when it is ‘you know’ <again using her hand and groping for the word ‘busy.’>

It is always fascinating when she doesn’t “know” me but also talks about my personality quirks. She kidded me a lot during lunch, and none of the kidding had a bitter edge to it. She was having fun, and I loved it.

Because it was less busy, we got more attention from the staff. We had several conversations with our server. Another person who often serves us stopped by our table to speak. The manager also stopped by for a brief visit. During our conversation with the manager, I commented on how much I had liked the broccolini salad with a little tomato and feta cheese. Kate didn’t like it because she doesn’t like the crispiness of raw vegetables. As the manager was about to walk away, Kate said, “And don’t give me any of that anymore.” She didn’t sound offensive. It was more like a little child simply expressing her distaste for the salad, something I had already explained to the manager.

She also said or did a couple of other things that I got a kick out of. She now frequently mixes her words and sometimes says something that is just the opposite of what she meant or is a homonym for the word she wanted. For the first time, she did this with a gesture instead of a word. She dropped a piece of cheese on the table, picked it up with her hands, and ate it. She gave me a devilish smile, put her hand over my mouth (instead of my eyes) and said, “You didn’t see that.”

A little later we had dessert. When the server brought it to the table, she kidded me, saying, “Didn’t you want one too?” She took a bite or two. Then I said, “You’re going to like that.” She said sternly, “I’m already enjoying it.” I said, “I should expect that from an English teacher. You want to make sure I’m using the correct tense.” For some reason, she thought that was funny and began to laugh. I guess that was because it was something she would usually say and not “me,” Oops, “I.” <G>

Oh, yes, the meal was also very good, but that wasn’t what gave us so much pleasure. Being together, and with other people, is what made lunch special. We had a good time.

A Good Evening at Casa Bella

Jazz night at Casa Bella last month did not go as well for Kate as it usually does. Two differences accounted for that. The first was the way we were seated. I sat diagonally across from Kate instead of directly across from her. That meant she would forget where I was and was a bit insecure. It also made it more difficult for her to participate in the conversation as no one sat beside her until I took that seat a little later. The second was the music itself. Most jazz nights include an abundance of old ballads that everyone our age easily recognizes. A new group of musicians performed, and their selections tilted toward less vocal and more contemporary jazz. It was not something that Kate enjoyed. I understood that at the time. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help being concerned about future evenings and what they might be like.

I am glad to report that we had a good time last night. I made sure that I sat across from Kate so that it would have been hard for her to miss me. We sat with the couple whose company we have enjoyed for the past five to six years. Late in the evening, the couple’s daughter and her husband joined us. We have also known them for many years. The musicians were the same group as last month, but they played a lot of old ballads familiar to the audience. The crowd was made up largely of seniors, mostly 65 and older. It was a very receptive audience. Of course, my only concern was Kate, and she enjoyed the evening as well. That is what matters most.

On a few occasions, I have said something about Kate’s eating habits. Though she does use her fork most of the time, she also picks up her food with her hands. I was especially mindful of that last night. We split a mahi piccata with linguini. She had finished most of her meal when I noticed that she was picking up the last bit of linguini and the capers with her hand. I don’t know whether anyone else at the table saw her, but it is the kind of thing that will be noticed sometime. It makes me wonder if we will reach a stage when I think it best not to be at a table with others. So far, it hasn’t been a problem. Even if our friends notice, they are very understanding.

Day before yesterday at lunch, we had a similar experience. She eats most sandwiches by taking them apart, separating the meat, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. Then she usually picks up the various pieces in her hand. That day she had a hamburger. I cut it into four quarters to make it easier for her to handle, but she took everything apart anyway. To me it looks a bit like a child’s plate with all the pieces of her hamburger strewn about, but there is something about sorting through the items that she likes. It could be that she is looking for things she might not like, perhaps onions, although I am very careful to omit onions from anything I order for her.

More Insecurity and Memory Issues

Yesterday was a good day. I say that largely because Kate was in a cheerful mood. She was that way when she got up. As I have noted before, that doesn’t mean there was any improvement in her memory or confusion. When she appears to be so normal, I am still surprised when she says or does something that would be more characteristic of someone with dementia.

As she cheerfully got out of bed, she said matter of factly, “I don’t know my name.” We started to leave for lunch, and she asked my name and hers. She asked again as we walked from the car to the restaurant for lunch. She seemed perfectly alert and normal. There was no sign of frustration or anxiety. She just didn’t know our names and was matter of fact about acknowledging it.

At dinner, she said, “I want you to tell me what I would say that I want if you weren’t with me?” I told her there are two dishes that she likes and that she should ask for one of them. One is Tortelloni alla Stephania. The other is Tortelloni alla Panna. She tried to pronounce both names and did pretty well, but she wanted to get it right. She asked to see them on the menu. Then we practiced her saying both names several times. As we were doing this, our server walked to the table to take our order. She asked the server to help her say them. The server started to tell her the ingredients in each one. Kate was able to convey that she wanted to know how to pronounce the names. She practiced saying them several times. The server was new and didn’t know about Kate’s Alzheimer’s. I am sure she thought this was a bit strange. Ultimately, Kate was able to give the order herself.

My point is that Kate was unusually interested in knowing what she should do if I were not there to help her. I told her not to worry that I would always be with her, but she was obviously aware of how little she knows. It must have bothered her to think how she would order a meal if she were alone even though I could see no indication that she was disturbed. On the surface, her asking how to order her meal appeared to arise from an “intellectual” rather than an “emotional” basis. On a few occasions, she has also asked me how to get home after eating out. I have tried to tell her, but it is too complicated for her to understand or to remember.

The experience with the sitter yesterday also went well. The only sign that might suggest insecurity came as I left. She said, “You’re going to leave us?” I told her I would be back a little later. She was fine with that.

Last night she picked up a photo book of her father’s family. She spent at least an hour with it. She tried to go through it by herself. I gave her the chance to do that; however, she repeatedly had questions. I ended up standing by her chair as I watched the evening news. That way I could answer her questions as they came up and read sections of the text that she didn’t understand. She enjoyed looking at the pictures of her family. I look at her initiation of things like this as her way of trying to give herself a better sense of who she is. I am glad she has such a great collection of family photos. Working puzzles is entertaining, but the photos give her a better sense of herself and her place in her family.

Our Easter

Since our friend Ellen had her stroke almost four years ago, Easter has been a bit different for us. For years she hosted her church choir for lunch at her house. That is now a thing of the past, and we have replaced that custom by eating at a restaurant. That makes it pretty much the same as other days.

The day started slowly when Kate didn’t want to get up. That is the second time in the past three days. She insisted that I go without her, but I told her I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her. This comes at the same time she is beginning to rest a little more in the afternoon.

We went to lunch at a place that has an Easter buffet. That has become more difficult for her, but I seated her before going to the buffet to get her food. This required two trips as it is a bit cumbersome for me to maneuver two plates around the four or five different serving tables and then back to our own. In addition, it required me to leave Kate while I went to a separate room where the buffet was located. The meal was good, but I don’t think I will do this again. It is much easier to go where there is wait service.

Kate was in a good mood despite her not wanting to get up. That’s one of the good things about memory loss. She quickly forgets moments like this. As we were eating, she said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Richard Creighton.” She repeated it. Then I said “And I’m your husband.” She gave me a dirty look and said, “I know that.” A few minutes later, she asked, “Are  we married?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “I thought so.”

We went home after lunch. Kate said she wanted to rest and remained in bed for almost three hours. By then, it was close to dinner time. As we drove out of the driveway to the restaurant, she said, “I like this place, but I’m ready to go home.” I said, “It’s always nice to be at home.”

As we approached the restaurant, Kate said, “Are you married?” I said, “Are you?” She said, “No.” She said, “Are you?” I said, “Yes. I married a sweet gal named Kate Franklin.” Kate said, “So we are married?” I asked how she felt about that. She said she was fine. I said, “That’s good because we’ve been married a long time.” Since we were close to the restaurant, we didn’t pursue it further.

On the way back, she said, “What can I do when we get home?” For the first time, it struck me that she said “home.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but I usually feel that she doesn’t know where we are or where we are going. I think I am right most of the time, but we do go directly home after eating meals. That must be stored deep within her memory.  I suggested that we look at one of her photo books. She thought that was a good idea, and we spent well over an hour looking at one of her father’s family. She enjoyed every minute but was getting tired. We adjourned to the bedroom where she worked on her iPad until it was time to go to bed. I have had to encourage her to get to bed many nights lately, but that wasn’t necessary this time.

Even though she was in bed a good portion of the entire day, we enjoyed ourselves. After we were in bed, we talked briefly about the day and agreed it had been a good one.

A Few Things From Yesterday

Kate woke up at 5:00 and said, “Hey.” I looked over and saw her looking at me. I asked if she needed help. She said, “Where’s the thingy?” I asked if she wanted to go to the bathroom. She did. After she got back in bed, I was wide awake and decided to stay up.

Around 8:30, I noticed on the video cam that she had gotten up. When I reached the bedroom, she was just coming out of the bedroom. She seemed awake. I asked if she was planning to get up for the day. She said she was. I asked if she was going to take a shower. She shook her head to say no. Then she said, “Do you want me to take one?” I told her it would be a good idea, that she had missed one the day before. She said, “Okay.”

After the shower, she went back to bed and slept for an hour before I woke her. She wasn’t eager to get up but did so anyway without lingering or protesting.

I took her to the hair dresser’s at 2:00. I was about to offer her my hand as she stepped onto the walkway but realized there was less than a two-inch elevation from the pavement. I said, “I was going to offer you my hand, but there’s not much of a curb here.” She took my hand and said, “That’s all right. I wouldn’t know where to go without it.”  Afterwards as we walked out, she said, “Take my hand.” I did, and she said, “I don’t really need it, but I feel more secure.”

I see signs of her need for security in other things she is doing. A good example is that she more frequently asks me what she can do when we get home. I guess it is getting harder for her to remember what her options are. That is similar to her waiting to follow me each time we get home. She never remembers where to go. With few exceptions (I can’t remember any.), she always asks me where the bathroom is.

We had about two hours to pass before leaving for dinner. We spent the first hour relaxing in the family room. She started out working on her iPad. After less than thirty minutes, she put it down, closed her eyes, and rested in her chair for another thirty minutes. I told her we had another hour before dinner and asked if she would like to go to Barnes & Noble. She hesitated. It looked like she thought I might want to go. I told her I was fine staying at home. She did as well. This is becoming more common now. For such a long time, she rarely wanted to spend much time at home. Now as she is feeling the need for rest, she is less likely to accept an opportunity to go out. It’s just one more sign of how she and our lives are changing.

We ended the day with dinner at Bonefish Grill where we had a good social experience. We ran into a man who was a very good friend and admirer of my dad. They had both been students in a writing class for several years. They struck up a friendship that lasted until Dad’s passing in 2013. It was an interesting relationship since this friend is just one year older than I am and 26 years younger than my dad.

He was with his significant other who has dementia and just moved to Knoxville from New York City. She has been quite involved with the performing arts and had a neighbor with her who operates a ballet school. The conversation broke down into one between the dancer and me and Kate and our friends. I was glad to see Kate so actively involved in conversation. I don’t know what she said, but at one point she turned to me and asked how long we had been married. Our friends had obviously asked her, and she didn’t know. We both left the restaurant feeling energized. Eating out continues to offer us such experiences.

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 Short Day

Kate and I got to bed late night before last. As a result, yesterday was a very short day. It was almost 1:00 before she got out of bed. She didn’t want to shower, so we were able to leave for lunch close to 2:00. I was afraid we might be looking at 2:30 or 3:00. As it was, we didn’t get back home until 3:30. I wasn’t surprised that she was tired. She took a nap in the family room while I checked email and watched a little football.

We ate so late that I didn’t feel like eating much. We went to a nearby Mediterranean restaurant where I got a bowl of soup, and Kate had salmon over basmati rice. Her meal came with a salad that I ate. That leads me to make a comment about two changes in Kate’s eating habits since her diagnosis.

The first is that she was known for her salads and desserts. Her mother was an outstanding cook, and Kate took after her until Alzheimer’s entered the picture. When our children were little, she was especially careful to prepare nutritional meals and snacks. As children Jesse and Kevin enjoyed her homemade yogurt, granola, bread, and whole wheat pizza crusts. She even made yogurt popsicles with orange juice for their snacks.

After the children left for college, she and I started eating out more often. That was the beginning of a lessening of her interest in cooking. One of the things she kept up with was making very good salads. Since Alzheimer’s and her shift away from salads, I have missed those. She is now a “meat and potatoes” eater. I have learned to order her “Bacon Turkey Bravo” sandwich at Panera without bacon (too hard for her) and lettuce. I sometimes ask that they omit the tomatoes as well since she often doesn’t eat them. When we split meals at restaurants, servers often ask if we want them to split the salad or bring an extra salad. I always tell them to bring just one salad and give that one to me.

My explanation for this change is that she has been guided for years by what she thought was nutritionally appropriate. With Alzheimer’s she eats the things she likes without regard to any dietary or nutritional concerns. This is not unusual for people with dementia. For a long time broccoli was one vegetable she would eat, but that is just about gone now. It is not just taste that is relevant. She frowns at the mention of certain vegetable options at restaurants. I recently mentioned our having squash soup at two different restaurants. She didn’t like the idea. I got her to taste mine, and she liked it.

One of the big surprises has been a change in her taste for Dr. Pepper, her favorite beverage after iced tea. Now she frequently comments that there is something wrong with it. When she asks me to taste it, it seems fine to me. I have taken advantage of this by often ordering tea for her just to avoid the calories. I still keep Dr. Pepper (8 oz. cans) at home. She often fails to finish one. That is not unique to Dr. Pepper. When she was drinking apple juice, she rarely finished one glass.

Another change that has occurred involves her sense of hunger. I know from others that this is very common among people with dementia. It is not uncommon for her to ask, “When are we going to eat?” within an hour or so after a meal. Because she has so little memory, this is understandable; however, she often doesn’t feel too full after a very filling meal. This does not mean that she has lost her ability to feel full while eating. Sometimes she tells me she is full. Other times I can’t be sure whether she is full or didn’t like her meal. I make this point because we had a filling meal at lunch yesterday. She ate a lot of bread, her entrée (minus the spinach), and our eggnog cheesecake. We finished our meal about 3:00. At 5:00, I told her I didn’t feel hungry right then and would like to wait until 6:00 to leave for dinner. She was comfortable doing whatever I wanted but would have been happy to go at 5:00.

Having slept late yesterday morning, did not affect Kate’s bedtime last night. She got in bed around 9:30. She was ready to go to sleep. It was not one of her talkative nights. When I got in bed a little later, she was still awake. I moved over close to her. She said something that made me think this was one of those times, she didn’t recognize me as her husband. Then she pushed me away. She often feels hot after she gets in bed. Most nights I move close to her when I get in the bed. I don’t usually remain that close for long because I get hot, and she gets hotter. (I’m talking body heat now. <g>) This made me ask if she was hot. She said, “Yes. That’s part of it.” I said, “What’s the other part?” She said, “I’m trying to think of how to tell you. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.” That’s quite a note on which to call it a day. I know she won’t remember this when she gets up this morning. I’ll never know what it was she was trying to think of how to tell me. I do know this. Within a few minutes, she moved closer and affectionately put her arm around me.