Follow up to Kevin’s Visit

As always, we had a good visit with Kevin. Except for Kate’s minor anxiety attack the other night, she enjoyed herself. She did feel tired, but that was probably related to getting up so early two of the days he was here. On a few occasions, she was more animated than normal. That was good to see except for the times when she was a little grouchy. That was only in the morning before she was fully awake.

That didn’t end when Kevin left. She’s been a little gruff with me this morning. She was in the shower by 9:00 and ready for Panera just after 10:00 and now seems to be all right. The first thing she said to me this morning was “What’s your name?” She followed that with “What’s my name?” Before we left for Panera, she asked my name again. After I told her, she said, “You’re a nice guy.” I think much of her gruffness is an attempt at humor. Mostly, she is trying to tease me, but it doesn’t come off that way. It was this behavior that led me to stop teasing her quite a while ago. There were times that I am sure that I offended her, especially early in the morning before she was wide awake. The change in my behavior worked. It’s only in the past few days that I have seen this emerge again. I unwittingly teased back. That isn’t a good thing. I will need to be more careful in the future.

That leads me to something else. Having read quite a few caregivers’ experiences, I recognize that we all make mistakes we wish we hadn’t made. I did that earlier this week but didn’t realize it until this morning. Among the potential side effects of Aricept (Donepezil) is diarrhea. To counter that I include an antidiarial with her nightly meds. I forgot to do that when I prepared her pills this week. She got by all right until this morning. Fortunately, she hadn’t developed a serious problem, but I am sure that it was unpleasant for her. She never said a word to me. I just found a few traces of the problem around the toilet this morning. She has only two medications that have noticeable effects. The other is Venlafaxine. I like to avoid these problems and feel bad when I don’t make sure she gets these meds. The good news is that missing the antidiarial was a first. There have been several times that she has missed Effexor (venlafaxine), but I have always discovered it the next time she was to take it.

Enjoying Columbus Day With Our Son

As I mentioned in my previous post, Kate was ready for Panera unusually early yesterday. That gave us more time to spend with Kevin. We were back home shortly after 10:00. That worked well. I put in a DVD of Kate’s father’s family movies from the mid-1930s through the early 1940s. Kevin hadn’t seen most of the footage before, and Kate loved seeing them once again. She particularly liked seeing movies of her mother and father when they were so young. She also took delight in seeing herself shortly her birth up to about age 4 or 5.

After the movies, Kevin and Kate took me to my Rotary meeting, and the two of them had a nice lunch together. This is something they do on each of his visits. I think it is great for them to have that time together.

Following lunch, we went to see the documentary, Love, Gilda. Over the past year, I have had less and less luck finding a movie that Kate enjoys. This one wasn’t a winner for her. She didn’t find anything that engaged her. Her eyes were closed a good bit of the movie. I’m not sure if she was asleep, but I know she wasn’t paying attention.

We came back to the house where she rested about 45 minutes before going to dinner. We had a very good meal and shared two large desserts. It was a good way to top off the day.

More Happy Times

I like good news, and that’s my report today. In my post yesterday, I noted that Kate was in a good mood and had accepted having the sitter without any reservation at all. When I left them, they were beginning to watch Fiddler on the Roof. When I got home, Mary was in the family room watching TV. Kate was in the bedroom resting. Mary said Kate had watched Fiddler for a while and then got sleepy. She got in bed and went to sleep.

When I went to the bedroom to see Kate, she wasn’t asleep but still resting. She was very relaxed but cheerful. This was Mary’s first time to see Fiddler and loved it. I explained that to Kate. I also said that it was nice that she (Kate) could share this experience with Mary. Kate, then, felt she had done something nice for Mary. I mentioned that she might share other musicals with her in the future. Kate liked the idea. I know that she won’t remember that, but I also know that she would feel good if she is able to introduce Mary to something she hasn’t known before.

Last night I asked if she would like to watch Fiddler. Yes, that’s the same show she had watched with Mary. She was excited about that. She was engaged right at the beginning. At 9:30, I suggested that we stop and watch more another night. She said she was getting sleepy but wanted to watch more. We continued for another 45 minutes before I said, “I think I’ll stop it here, and we can watch the rest another time.” She said that was fine, and we were off to bed.

I thought that was the end of the day, but Kate was wound up. We had quite a conversation. I can’t remember all that she said, but I was impressed with her expression of feelings about life and the two of us. She talked about how well-matched we are. Once again, I was struck by the accuracy of the things she said about our respective personalities. That reminds me of something that happened this morning. We stopped by Panera to get a muffin for Kate to eat in the car as we went to the airport to pick up our son, Kevin, who is visiting us for a few days. When I mentioned that she could eat the muffin in the car, she gave me a look of amazement and said, “What’s gotten into you?” The reason I mention this is that I have always been particular about not eating in the car. This time I felt we didn’t have enough time for her to eat it inside. I also knew that she wanted something to eat before we would be able to eat lunch. She may not always remember my name, but she knows me well.

Kevin arrived shortly after 11:30. We had a nice lunch and have been back at the house watching a little football. Kate has continued to be very cheerful. She has teased me a good bit today. I told Kevin that at times she seemed like a child trying to show off with company. He is also getting to see a few of the things that I have told him about. For example, she asked me to tell her where the “restroom” is. I walked her there. As she walked into the hallway, she said, “This looks familiar.” She saw a picture of her mother on the wall and stopped to look at it. She remembered it was her mother, but she had to ask me her name. When she came to a doorway that opens into family room, she said, “Oh, I like this room.” It was just like she had never seen it before.

We are meeting a high school friend of Kevin’s and her mother for dinner. We’re having happy times.

Sunday Night

I am always glad to report good news. That is appropriate for last night. After dinner, I suggested that we watch some of Kate’s father’s family movies that I had recently transferred to DVDs. If she were in charge of the Academy awards, they would have won multiple Oscars. She loved seeing films even though they had deteriorated significantly before being transferred to VHS sometime in the 1980s. I always find them interesting myself. Although her grandparents on her father’s side were gone when I joined the family in 1963, I knew most of her aunts and uncles. It is always interesting to see them in their early days with their children whom I also knew. Now almost everyone in the films except for a Kate, her brother, one first cousin, and a few second cousins have passed on.

We watched for more than an hour before going to bed. The movies really brought Kate to life. She was quite talkative even after we were in bed. I was happy that they gave her a sense of connection to her family. As her memories fade, she feels so isolated. She is disconnected from everybody. The movies, like her “Big Sister” photo book restore that family connection even if it isn’t long lasting. I think I will see that we watch more of the films in the future.

In addition to talking about her family, she also talked about our marriage and our relationship. I won’t say anything more about that. I have said it before. Just know that it is something she comes back to regularly. I think some of that occurs because her world is shrinking, and I am becoming an even bigger part of it. I am grateful that she is so appreciative of the things I do for her. I was especially touched the other night when she was so confused. As I was trying to comfort her, she thanked me and said, “You are so kind.” Last night, she took a line from my page when she was talking about what a strong relationship we have. Then she said, “Even if I don’t know your name, I know you. A name is not that important.” Given that she has a hard time remembering things, I was struck by the way she fed back to me what I have told her about not remembering my name. I felt we had had a good day, and we had.

Travel Day 7: San Angelo to Lubbock

A week ago today, Kate and I left on our trip that brought us to Lubbock and San Angelo after an overnight stop in Nashville. I am glad to report that the trip went well. I had planned the trip since our last visit here in January. On that trip we were able to spend very little time with Kate’s brother and his wife. Knowing that future trips may not be possible, I felt this was an important one.

It was an especially good visit. We enjoyed being together with Ken and Virginia. It was a perfect blend of easy conversation mixed with visits to interesting places. One of those was the restaurant at which we had lunch yesterday. It is located along the Concho River Walk. It was a beautiful day to be overlooking the river.

We said our goodbyes to them after lunch and made the drive back to Lubbock. The day was not over. We topped off our visit to Texas by getting together with our son and his family for dinner at our favorite BBQ place in Lubbock. We went back to their place where we played a game of Sorry before we came back to the hotel for the night. Kate gets very confused playing games; however, a game of chance like Sorry gives her an opportunity to shine. She did just that by winning.

As I have mentioned before, her recent sleep pattern has been more erratic than in the past. During the trip, she seems to have gravitated back to her old pattern. She has been getting to sleep somewhat later than normal but is getting up between 9:00 and 10:00. That seems to be a pretty good routine. During the trip, she has been completely off her Trazadone that was to aid her sleeping. I am happy to see her drop a medication.

Today, we fly back home via Nashville. No overnight this time. We arrive there about 6:10. We’ll get something to eat and then drive drive to Knoxville. Although Kate has been confused over people’s names and where we are, she hasn’t displayed any uneasiness that I can tell. Travel is more demanding than it was prior to Alzheimer’s, but we haven’t encountered any special problems like losing her in an airport as happened last fall. It’s been a week of special moments with family. Our trip has been a success.

Whoops!

As I have often said, Kate handles herself well in social situations and has done so since we arrived here in San Angelo. Before she got up yesterday morning, Ken, Virginia, and I talked about how well she is doing. Of course, she slips up occasionally. That occurred last evening when we left our table at the restaurant and moved to an adjoining coffee shop. Ken and I went to the counter to order our dessert while Kate and Virginia selected a table. I should add that we have known Virginia since 1993 when she and Ken got married. Later Virginia told me that Kate said, “How do you know Ken?” Virginia answered, “He is my husband. I am his wife, Virginia.” She said Kate’s face lit up and she said, “I’ve heard your name. I’ve heard such wonderful things about you. I am so glad to put a face with the name.” Although some might focus on the sad aspects of memory loss at at time like this, Virginia celebrated the moment with Kate who was so happy to meet her (again). When Virginia told the the story, I felt the same way.  It makes me happy to know she can experience such special moments.

She had a similar experience when we first arrived on Tuesday. She saw the photo album Ken had sent to her about ten days ago. She went through it two or three times. Each time she experienced it as though it were her first time to see it. Each time she showed Ken and Virginia a page with their wedding picture.

Travel Days 5 and 6: San Angelo

We left Lubbock on Tuesday right after an early lunch and drove to San Angelo where we are spending two nights with Kate’s brother, Ken, and his wife, Virginia. We arrived in time to have a pleasant afternoon in their home catching up on the happenings in our lives since we were last with them in January. We didn’t have much time together on that occasion. That is why I wanted to arrange another visit. Given the changes Kate has been making over the past few months, I’m not sure if we will be able to make it back again. Virginia fixed dinner using two popular recipes of Kate’s and Ken’s mother, chicken spaghetti and asparagus casserole. It was a perfect way to celebrate being together again.

Yesterday we spent the morning at home. Kate slept a good bit. She joined us about 10:30. We looked at some old family photos and chatted more before going out to lunch. We relaxed at home during the afternoon and went out for a nice meal at a restaurant overlooking the area near their home.

She continues to forget where we are. She woke up around 4:00 a.m. yesterday and went to the bathroom. When she returned, she said she was going upstairs. Ken and Virginia live in a single-story home. I told her we were at Ken and Virginia’s. She said, “What are we doing here?” I explained that we were visiting a couple of days after having spent a few days with Kevin and his family.

Despite this confusion, she has enjoyed herself. Both nights, we watched a DVD on the history of Fort Worth. Since that is where Kate and Ken are from, and I lived there while a student at TCU, it was of special interest to us.

This afternoon we return to Lubbock where we will have dinner with Kevin and his family. We will spend the night and then fly out to Knoxville tomorrow.

Travel Day 4: Lubbock

Yesterday we had a shorter than usual morning. At least I did. I didn’t get up until 7:00 and Kate didn’t get up until 9:15. By the time Kate was ready to get something for breakfast, it was almost 11:00, so we skipped Panera. Instead we dropped by a Starbucks that is one block away from the restaurant where we were to meet Kevin, Rachel, and Brian. Kate, Brian, and I decided to visit the National Ranching Heritage Center during the afternoon. Kevin had a conference call to make before then. That meant that we didn’t get away until almost 2:30. I think all three of us enjoyed the museum. It was especially engaging for Kate. I am sure she couldn’t understand all that she read or that I read for her, but she tried to take it all in. Quite a few times she turned to me and said, “I want to remember that.” That’s what she says when she wants me to be responsible for remembering something she wants to include in her family photo album. Of course, she hasn’t done any work on the album for two to three years. I know she won’t ever get to it again, but I always tell her I will remember “it” for her. We left the museum through a different door than the one we used to enter. When we walked by the entrance, Kate noticed it and acted like she wanted to go in. I hesitated in responding. Then she said, “Have we already been there?” I told her we had. I didn’t tell her we had just walked out of it.

This was a day when she didn’t ask me to remind her of a single name. She either remembers the names (unlikely) or has learned that she doesn’t have to remember the names in order to participate in our conversations. She did ask several times where we are or where she is. One of those times we were with Kevin. When I told her we were in Lubbock, she said, “So we’re not in Fort Worth.”

We went to an Italian restaurant for dinner.  Kevin, Kate, and I arrived at the restaurant first. Kate wanted to use the restroom. I took her there. She asked me to “stay right here” outside the door to the restroom. I only recall her asking me to do this one or two other times. She obviously recognizes her difficulty getting back to our table. We had a good meal. From there we came back to our hotel. For the second night in a row, we sat in the courtyard. It was a good way to end another nice day.

Travel Day 3: Mother’s Day

Kate had a nice Mother’s Day with our son, Kevin, and his family. We joined them for lunch at a down home hamburger place that was a stereotypical Texas kind of place. I pulled into a parking space, and Kate said, “We must be in Texas.” I said, “What makes you say that.” She said, “All the Texas license plates.” It’s easy to assume that she is not processing much of what is going on around her, but this is a good reminder that her brain is still working. As she sometimes says, “Don’t count me out yet.”

After lunch, we went back to Kevin and Rachel’s house where we watched the Celtics trounce the Cavaliers. Rachel’s parents live just outside of Lubbock and came in for dinner at another Texas-style restaurant located in the house and barn of an old ranch. I had the chicken fried steak while Kate had her preferred variation, the chicken fried chicken. Kevin and Rachel brought red roses to their mothers.

Kate and I came back to the hotel where we sat outside in the courtyard. There was a nice breeze that was welcome following a high temperature in the low-90s in the afternoon. We were the only guests enjoying this pleasant evening. I suppose they were thinking it must still be hot.

Kate continued to work on her iPad as she did most of the afternoon when we were at Kevin’s. She would be lost without it. I am glad she has something that she can still do almost entirely on her own. Periodically, she accidentally hits a button that takes her to the store to buy new puzzles. I have to get her out. Otherwise, she works the puzzles on her own.

The other day on our flight, I watched her moving puzzle pieces around as she tried to put each one in its proper place. This is not an easy thing for her. She doesn’t seem to clearly differentiate pieces for the edge from those for the puzzle’s interior nor does she consider the shapes or colors. It appears that she completes the puzzles solely by trial and error. It takes her a long time, and most of the puzzles have only 16 pieces. You can set them to many more pieces, but it is quite difficult when the pieces are very small. I started setting them to 16. When she reworks them, that is how they are set when she opens them. The other thing I noticed is that she sometimes works the same puzzle several times in succession. Of course, given her memory problems, that should not surprise me. It definitely does not bother.

Although she asked me for the names of Rachel’s parents a number of times, Kate didn’t express any of the trepidation I observed the previous night when we met Kevin and Brian. I think she has gotten more comfortable with her surroundings.

One of the characteristics she has developed since her diagnosis is to more positively evaluate just about everything. People are smarter and nicer. Food and live theater productions are better. And hotels like the Residence Inn are viewed as higher quality than she would have said before Alzheimer’s. She really likes it here. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone trust her assessment of the things she likes, but it is pleasant to be with someone who is so positive about life. I like that.

About 9:15, we came inside and got ready for bed. Kate commented about how relaxing it had been to sit outside for an hour or so. She was right. It is also true that the period of time between our coming home from dinner and going to bed is always a very relaxing time for us.

Once we were back in the room, she talked about how good she felt about our marriage. She expressed a generous amount of appreciation for what I do for her. (Remember what I said in the previous paragraph. She does have a tendency to exaggerate on the positive side of most things; nevertheless, it is nice to be on the receiving end of praise.) It was a good Mother’s Day, and I felt as though she had treated me like it was Father’s Day.

Kevin’s Visit: Day 4

Kate and I have enjoyed each day Kevin has been with us. Yesterday was an especially good day. It is interesting that music played a role in making this a day to remember, but it wasn’t just any music. It was music played by Kevin and his former piano teacher, Marian Covington. On two of his previous visits, we have paid a visit to see her. She will be 90 in June and still plays beautifully. She made her debut in Carnegie Hall when she was around 19 and has spent her entire adult life teaching piano. She has always been especially fond of Kevin who was one of her star pupils for many years.

During his college days at TCU, he focused more on the organ than piano and has served as organist and interim organist at several churches over the years. With the growth of his family and his involvement with his career, he has played much less. Marian has encouraged him to practice so that they he might play for her on another visit. This time he had worked on Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” He played it for her and then invited her to play it. She took the opportunity to give him another piano lesson.

The music they played was beautiful. Kate loved it. So did I, and we were both touched to watch the two of them talk about the pieces. They were two people sharing a common bond with the music of the piano. Kate kept commenting on the way in which Marian spoke to Kevin. It wasn’t just that of a teacher speaking to a student. It was more like one colleague discussing music with another colleague. Another comparison would be that of a private master class with a mentor and her protégé. Kate was so proud of Kevin and the way he has grown. As I sometimes say, Kate is not moved by as many things these days. When something like this happens, I am moved to see her so engaged. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Though clearly the highlight of our day, there were other good experiences. We had lunch at our church with the seniors group. Today, a retired rabbi spoke to us about Jerusalem focusing on archeological findings. We had met him some years before at the home of our friends, Ellen and Gordon Seacrest. We had a good conversation with him before his presentation. Coincidentally, we also saw him at dinner this evening and got to see his wife.

Kate handled herself well again with this group. In particular, she participated actively in our conversation with the rabbi and with a former Methodist minister who are friends of ours. She was just as natural as she could be. No one who didn’t already know about her diagnosis would have ever guessed.

This visit Kevin has been able to observe some of Kate’s symptoms that I have told him about. That includes his missing clothes as well as a number of other little things. He also saw her express some irritation with me and her growing openness about not remembering things. As we left a conversation with our friend, the former Methodist minister, she said with a little frustration, “I don’t know why I can’t remember his name.” I sloughed it off in the same way that many others do. I said, “Remembering names can be hard. Everyone has trouble.” At this point, I don’t see any good reason to remind her that she has Alzheimer’s and that it will only get worse.” At dinner, she asked me to stop talking and give her a simple explanation of something I was telling her. Just as important, he has been able to see how well she can function despite the many symptoms of her disease.