Yesterday’s routine was a bit different, but it was another good day.

If you are a regular reader, you are well aware that Kate and I lead a very routine life. That is in large measure because that is the way I try to organize my personal life; however, it also relates to my belief that having a routine might be good for Kate. Our typical day involves a visit to Panera in the morning, out to lunch, home for a while, a visit to Barnes & Noble or Panera, home again, out to dinner, back home, relaxing and going to bed. We don’t duplicate any of our restaurants in a given week, but we do have specific restaurants at which we eat for each meal of the week. There is some variation on Tuesday night, Thursday, and Sunday night. I might add that at each restaurant we have our favorite meals and almost always order the same thing each week.

Yesterday we didn’t follow the pattern at all. First of all, Kate didn’t get up until noon. That meant that we skipped what is perhaps the most regular part of our day, Panera. She wasn’t ready to leave for lunch until almost 1:30. I decided to go to a local deli we rarely visit because it is so busy at lunch. That turned out to be a nice change.

After lunch, we came back home. I put on some music and worked on my blog while, Kate worked jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. I was prepared for her to be ready for either Panera or Barnes & Noble after we had been home an hour. It turned out that we didn’t move for almost two and a half hours. By that time, it was getting close to dinner.

We had had such a good week so far and our daily routine had been so different, I decided to do something different for dinner. I made reservations at Casa Bella. That may not seem different since we eat there the first three Thursdays each month, but those are nights we go for dinner and music. We sit with a group and have a great social and musical evening. Last night we sat a table for two in a smaller and quieter room and reminisced about the many occasions, most happy but some sad, that had brought us there. We usually order the veal piccata. This time we chose one of their daily specials, roasted pork shoulder with baked apples with fennel over polenta. Even for somebody who likes a routine, it’s nice to do something different once in a while. It was a perfect way to end our day.

Follow-up to My Earlier Post

I was right. The day is coming to an end on a high note. As we were finishing our dinner tonight, our pastor and his wife came in for dinner. We asked them to join us and then spent the next hour in animated conversation. During that time we saw another church member and her son as well as two people the pastor and his wife knew. As often happens, a routine meal turned out to be a very pleasant social occasion. It reminds me once again why I think the decision to eat out for all our meals has been so beneficial to us.

When we returned home, Kate commented on how much she likes our bedroom. Then she got dressed for bed and sat in her chair in the bedroom working on her iPad. I turned on PBS Newshour that I had recorded earlier. Like almost every evening it was a very peaceful end to what had been a good day. Then a few minutes ago, she asked, “Where are we right now?” I said, “Knoxville.” She responded, “So we’re still at home.” You may find it hard to imagine that she could sit here in her own house that she enjoys so much and then ask where we are. I hear enough things like this that I am no longer surprised. And because she has been so happy and we have been enjoying our time together, I don’t feel sad either. I’ve known for over seven years that we were coming to this, but I didn’t expect that we could find happiness within the context of such a radical change in the way her brain works. I also know that this will not last forever, but we will enjoy it while we can.

We’re off to a good start today.

After a somewhat rocky day yesterday, I wondered what might be in store for today. Kate often takes a while to fully wake. Sometimes it just takes longer than others. Yesterday was one of those. Today she surprised me when she was ready for her muffin at Panera before I knew that she was up. In terms of my own preferences, she was up at an ideal time. It meant no rushing to get to Panera and then for her to have lunch before the sitter arrives at noon. I can’t stress enough how much better she and I feel when she can take her time getting ready.

It has been a relaxing morning for the two of us. I have taken care of some email communications with Kate’s brother, Ken, met with someone who has given me a quote on a new water heater, arranged a phone call appointment for tomorrow, updated my file on the sitters, and the other things that my friend, Tom Robinson, refers to as his “morninglies.”

Kate has almost finished her sandwich, something she doesn’t always do. I don’t think I have ever commented on the way she eats sandwiches. Most of the time, she doesn’t pick up her sandwich and take a bite. She takes on the top slice of the bread and picks out the various items between the slices. I see that today she didn’t eat any of the slices of tomatoes or the lettuce. She did eat the slice of cheese and the turkey. She also finished the two slices of bread but left all the crust. She doesn’t like anything “crusty.” Lately she has been taking most of the breading off her fried shrimp and the fried chicken she gets at one of the restaurants we visit regularly. She does not eat the bacon if it comes on a sandwich. I have learned to order most sandwiches without bacon or lettuce. We’re always adapting to change.

At Lunch Today

They were having an Easter buffet today. We walked slowly to the tables where the food was displayed. I just got salad with the intention of going back for my entrée. It looked like Kate was doing the same thing. She only had salad items on her plate. She had no greens, but did have some boiled shrimp, a large helping of mandarin oranges, some black olives, and another generous serving of shredded cheddar cheese. On the way to our table we passed the desserts. She got a cupcake and two slices of pound cake.

When I finished my salad, I went back for a serving of roast beef and salmon and brought some back to Kate as well. As I was serving myself, I saw a server we knew had known for a long time. She asked how we were doing, and I told her about Kate’s Alzheimer’s. She asked where we were seated and said she wanted to speak to her.Then she asked if Kate would know her. I told her I didn’t think so, but she responded well socially and would enjoy seeing her. Before I got back to the table, the server met me and said she had spoken with Kate and that she had responded as I as said she would.

When I reached the table, I gave her a slice of roast beef and a some salmon. She started to eat the salmon with her fork, but she ended up eating it with her hands. This is not a very unusual thing for her to do. She usually does it discretely and doesn’t pick up the food with her hands throughout a meal. I do, however, wonder what may be ahead in the future. If that becomes a typical way to eat, that could affect our dining out though I would think it depends on how noticeable it is.

The Value of Social Contact

Occasionally, I have the impression that there are some people who wonder why we always eat out for lunch and dinner. I suspect there are several things that make them feel this way. It is cheaper to eat at home. It is also easier to eat nutritionally at home. There is just something nice about eating in the comfort of your own home, especially in bad weather. I acknowledge all of these things, and I am sure one could argue for more benefits. On the other hand, the longer we have done this, the stronger my belief is that eating out has been one of the wisest decisions we have made. It has little or nothing to do with the objective of eating a meal. It is for the social contact that it has provided us. Take today’s lunch for example.

We ate at Carla’s Trattoria today as we do almost every Tuesday. We now know the hostess as well as several of the servers. Josh is our regular server. When he is not there, we ask for Morgan, his girl friend. That is what we did today. Since they are familiar with us, we have brief conversations depending on how busy they are. Mike knows that we come in on Tuesday and had told Morgan to take good care of us. Near the end of the meal, she asked us if we had tried their cherry gelato. We told her we had. Then she let us know she was bringing a serving to us “on the house.” Kate and I both love desserts, and this was good gelato.

Then a couple of women we know dropped by our table to say hello. One is a member of our music club. The other is the wife of a retired Lutheran bishop who is a member of my Rotary club. We had a nice chat. Then as we walked outside we bumped into a young couple who have recently joined our church. The husband is a past president of our Rotary club. We talked briefly before getting in the car and returning to the house.

This is a rather typical mealtime experience. It wasn’t the meals we had or the gelato that made this a happy time for us. It was the engagement with other people. I can’t say that we always see people we know when we eat out although it does occur frequently. In a city the size of Knoxville, it is hard to go many places without seeing at least one person you know. Even when we don’t know other customers, we do know the servers and often the managers or owners of the restaurants.

I don’t mean to suggest that eating out is something I would necessarily recommend to other people who are living with Alzheimer’s. It isn’t practical for everyone. Kate and I both enjoy being socially active. We are both energized by being with other people. That is especially true for me. My own experience and what I have heard from others leads me to think that it is very easy for a couple in our shoes to become socially isolated. I think that when people are aware that a couple is going through a disease like this one, they tend to be unsure how to respond. This can lead toward fewer invitations out. In addition, a couple like us may accept fewer invitations to events that involve large crowds that can be intimidating to the person with dementia. I certainly see that with Kate.

Kate has faced a special problem. Since we moved to Knoxville forty-six years ago, she has had four very close friends. One of them died in an accident in the mid-1980s. Two others moved out of state. The fourth, Ellen, had a stroke two years ago this past August. Since then she has lived in an assisted living facility in Nashville where she was visiting her daughter when she had the stroke. We try to get there about once a month except for the two to three months after her stroke and another four months after she suffered a couple of seizures earlier this year. She is now in memory care in the early stages of vascular dementia. Ellen is still the only person with whom Kate has shared the news of her diagnosis. They were very close. Losing her last close friend here in Knoxville has had quite an impact on Kate.

For these reasons, the social contact we have by eating out has been very supportive for both of us. As I suggested above, the value of it has far exceeded anything I could have imagined when we began this practice. It has really enhanced the quality of our lives.

Getting a Leisurely Start

We’re off to a good start today. It is a beautiful spring day. I took my customary 3.21-mile walk after getting up at 6:15 and having breakfast. Since then I have been reviewing and responding to email. I purchased a new audio system about 4 weeks ago and have been listening to music much more than in the past. I have found that to be very therapeutic for me.

Kate got up around 8:30 and got some apple juice. I reminded her that we get haircuts at 10:30 this morning and that she would get color. Then she went back to her bedroom and turned on the TV. When I went back about 15 minutes ago, she was just getting up to get her iPad. She asked me to bring her some yogurt which I did. I had started to ask if she would want her morning muffin at Panera but chose not to do so when she seemed like she just wanted to relax right now. I changed out of my walking clothes and dressed for the day. I felt it was better for her to relax, and we could leisurely get to our haircuts. She doesn’t really need the muffin. She is up to 174 now, a far cry from 99 before we were married. It is hard for her to stop eating though. Last night I had suggested we go to Hathaway’s for dinner. I was thinking that we both needed something less fattening. I got a cup of black bean soup, and we split a grilled salmon with asparagus and a baked sweet potato. I had only gotten the soup because the rest is not usually that filling. When I started to ask our server for the check, Kate said, “Don’t you want some dessert?” I really didn’t but knew she did. We ended up getting the skillet chocolate chip cookie which I think is to die for but has to be loaded with calories. The upshot of that was that when we left, I was stuffed again. I find that I am having a difficult time getting my weight back to what I like it to be (160-162 vs. 164-167).

This is just of the type of adaptations that one has to make along this journey. I believe it is worth it, however. I don’t want to look back one of these days and wish that I had loosened up a bit on my routine.