Selfcare (With a Lot of Help From Others)

Despite the challenges and low moments while “Living with Alzheimer’s,” I’m upbeat most of the time. That is only because I have lots of help. Most of that involves my contact with other people. I have remained as socially active as I could since Kate’s diagnosis eleven and a half years ago. Since our move to a retirement community a little over a year ago that has increased. The activities of the past ten days are a good example.

I’ve always been a creature of habit and have a routine for each day of the week. Most of those involve engagement with other people. That begins on Monday with my weekly Rotary lunch. I’ve been a member since 1983, and it’s good to connect with people I have known for quite a few years. I also eat out (outside the grounds of our retirement community) for lunch on three other days of the week. Every Tuesday and Sunday, I eat lunch at two different restaurants at which Kate and I ate regularly for eight or nine years before the pandemic in March 2020. Since she has been unable to get out, I go alone; however, I know the managers and staff, and I am usually served by the person who has served us/me for years. Since our move, I have found a new spot for my Saturday lunch. As a regular, I’ve gotten acquainted with the owner, my server, and a few others who work in the kitchen.

The other three days of the week I have lunch in the café downstairs in our building. It’s a very friendly community. We’ve lived here just over a year, and I’ve eaten alone fewer than five times. On the way in, I usually see someone who is already seated and join them for lunch. If I start out alone, someone joins me.

Some days I find myself in more conversation than expected. One of those occurred last Thursday. In advance, I had invited a couple to join me. We were seated only a few minutes when someone else asked to join us. When we finished, I went down to the main dining room to return a cloth napkin that Kate had brought back to the apartment the night before. As I entered, I saw another couple who had just been seated for their lunch. They asked me to join them. When I told them I had just eaten, they said, “Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with us?” I accepted their invitation. We spent the next hour in conversation.

Every afternoon at 3:30, the caregiver and I take Kate to another café on the grounds for ice cream. The seating is beside the main hallway that links all the buildings, eating venues, meeting rooms, a gift shop, and a hair salon. We spend an hour there and have conversations with residents and staff as they go from one place to another. I think this is good for Kate and know it’s good for me.

At 4:30, we go directly from having ice cream to dinner. That’s yet another time for social contact. That begins with the staff since there aren’t that many other residents who eat as early as we do. Everyone on the staff knows all of the residents. They treat us very well. During any given meal, we may have as many as 5-10 different staff drop by our table to say hello and often chat for a few minutes. As other residents arrive, some of them stop by our table. As we leave, we stop at several tables to do the same for others who arrived after we did.

That’s the daily routine, but there are also many other impromptu encounters. This past Sunday, the server had just brought my coffee when a couple I know was seated at a nearby table. They asked me to join them as they have done on a couple of other occasions. It had been a while since I had seen them, so I accepted. All three of us are big talkers, and we spent the next hour and a half talking and eating.

There are always other unanticipated events that keep me going. Two of those occurred during the past two weeks. One of those involved a new caregiver. She replaced one who was quite good with the basic CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) skills but not so good with “Tender Loving Care.” Our new caregiver is adequate with the basic skills and very good with TLC. The second day she was with us I walked into the living room where Kate was looking at the caregiver and smiling. They were holding hands. That never happened with the previous caregiver. I was elated.

As you would expect, how Kate is feeling has the greatest impact on how I feel. Her Alzheimer’s, Covid, and stroke have left her less upbeat than she was before. She rarely says a word until mid-afternoon; however, some days she is more cheerful than others. She’s had a number of days like that during the past two weeks.

I shouldn’t close without mentioning the support I get from those who read this blog as well as my followers on Twitter. You have often given me words of encouragement at moments when I needed them most.

It is true that I am not as active in the local community as I used to be, and I don’t participate in many of the events on the grounds of our retirement community. Nevertheless, the things I outlined above boost my spirits considerably. I’m living well and grateful for that. I know of many caregivers who are not so fortunate.

Our 59th Anniversary

Kate and I celebrated our 59th wedding anniversary on May 31 last week. We gave up giving presents to each other many years ago. We concentrate on sharing special experiences together. That has often involved travel. Alzheimer’s ended that, but we always seem to find other ways to celebrate by being together. This anniversary week brought us an abundance of joyful moments.

It was highlighted by several particular events. One of those happened a week ago Saturday afternoon. I had just returned from lunch. Kate was resting in her recliner. I pulled up a chair beside her and started playing some of our favorite songs. For almost an hour, we held hands as we listened to the music. She closed her eyes, smiled, and ran her fingers over my hand. We forgot all that is going on in the world around us and enjoyed the music and being together.

Another happened on the following Tuesday, the day of our anniversary. I’ve looked forward to this for some time and have reminded Kate frequently over the past few weeks. She couldn’t remember, of course, but I hoped that my reminders might ring a bell when I wished her a Happy Anniversary. It was National Smile Day, and she smiled all day long. She was awake early, more alert, and more talkative. The following day was similar, so the day after she needed to rest and did so pretty much all day. She bounced back the next day.

Another thing made the week an especially good one. We had a new caregiver (Regina) Monday through Thursday. She had been with us one other time for just a couple of hours, and I had been impressed with the way she related to Kate. She sang and talked with her. That was most unusual. We’ve had only two or three others that I know have taken the time to connect with her.

Last week, she was here for four 8-hour days. At first, it looked like Kate was a little unsure of her, but on the third day, I got a surprise. I had been working on my computer in another room when I took a break to check on her. Regina had pulled up a chair beside Kate’s recliner, and they were holding hands. She told me that Kate had initiated the contact. It was a beautiful thing to see. Kate seemed perfectly comfortable with her. It reminded me of the way she relates to me.

There were more good times throughout the weekend. Kate had an especially joyful experience with music on Saturday. We had just returned to the apartment after an early dinner. I turned on one of her favorite albums by the Susquehanna Chorale. It includes songs like ”Loch Lomond,” “Danny Boy,” “Shenandoah,” ”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Deep River.” She attempted to mouth the words of the songs and moved her head with the rhythm of the music. She was deeply moved by the music. I took pictures of her response along with several videos that I passed along to our family. It’s hard for me to express how wonderful it is for me to see her so happy. Music continues to be a powerful source of pleasure and therapy for both of us.

My expectations for our anniversary celebration were not high, but it was a week punctuated with joyful moments. “Living with Alzheimer’s” is not easy, but moments like those we experienced last week lift our spirits and sustain us during more challenging times. I am very grateful.

Our Lives at Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s

For the most part, “Living with Alzheimer’s” has meant a long gradual decline for Kate and a similar pattern for our adaptation to change. The way I describe it is that our “world” becomes smaller as she declines. Until the pandemic, however, we continued to live somewhat normally. The pandemic caused us to live a more sheltered life. I know that was true for everyone, but it brought us some special challenges.

Prior to that, we led active lives. We went to Panera almost every morning. We ate out for both lunch and dinner, and we went to the café at Barnes & Noble in the afternoon. During that time we had contact with lots of people, and Kate worked jigsaw puzzles on her iPad 6-8 hours a day.

Unlike earlier changes, the pandemic brought about more abrupt and consequential ones for us. Suddenly, we were homebound. No Panera. No meals out. No Barnes & Noble. To make matters worse, Kate had already begun to lose her ability to work puzzles on her iPad. One week into the pandemic, she completely lost that ability. It was her last self-initiated activity.

That put a good bit of pressure on me to take up the slack. I used all of the tools in my caregiver’s toolbox to do that; nevertheless, we had inactive moments during the day. Kate became tired of specific activities and wanted to rest more than in the past.

At least six months before the pandemic, she began to decline in other ways. She had more difficulty getting out of a chair and out of bed in the morning. She was becoming uneasy going down steps and unsteady while walking. Her doctor and I had talked about a walker and decided that her Alzheimer’s would make that difficult. A wheelchair would be the next step. I am sure all this was exacerbated by our more sedentary lives during the pandemic.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, we both got the virus. That brought about another abrupt change. She was in bed so long that she lost her mobility altogether. I’ll never know exactly, but I believe the virus pushed that ahead 6-8 months.

Our world shrank considerably. It hasn’t all been downhill since she had COVID. We moved into our new home in April 2021. Gradually, we started getting Kate out of bed each day. Then, we began to take her on short walks in her wheelchair around the various buildings in our community. I had been bringing in carry-out meals from the dining room, but as Kate began to feel more comfortable, we started eating in the dining room. After that, we added an afternoon trip down the hall for ice cream. Being able to get Kate out twice a day has improved our quality of life significantly.

Having said that, we continue to have ups and downs in our daily lives. As I noted earlier, our world is much smaller now. That became especially true with Kate’s stroke 3 ½ months ago. Her aphasia began at least two years ago and worsened with the stroke. She’s recovered a little, but not much. She talks significantly less than she did before, and what she says is mostly unintelligible. The good news is that in recent weeks, she is talking more. I am hopeful that she will improve, but I also recognize that Alzheimer’s itself will eventually take that ability away from her.

At this stage, she sleeps or rests more than she did in the past. She is in bed at least eighteen hours a day and sometimes a little more. That has been the pattern since she came home from the hospital after COVID. She actually sleeps more now because she often falls asleep between 6:30 and 7:00 right after the caregiver leaves. That is new since her stroke. Prior to that, we spent the evening watching music videos on YouTube. That was the best part of our day. I treasured those moments. 

One of my new concerns is that she frequently chokes. Sometimes that occurs when she is eating, but it happens more often when she is not. She seems to accumulate phlegm in her throat and coughs it up periodically, something that is common at this stage of Alzheimer’s.

Kate’s mornings have always been the most difficult time of the day. It still is. She often wakes up with a puzzled look on her face. I get in bed beside her and turn on music that I know she enjoys. Even then, I can’t count on her feeling comfortable. Generally, she doesn’t speak a word until late morning or after I have gone to lunch. When I get back, she frequently smiles and speaks a few words, but remains quiet most of the time.

Despite these changes, there is much for which we are thankful. One of those is the fact she is still with me. It’s been almost 11 ½ years since her diagnosis, and 15-17 years since her earliest symptoms. Not only that, we still have our “Happy Moments.” They may be less frequent, but they are very special. Sometimes she wakes up in a cheerful mood and gives me her beautiful smile. In those cases, she also speaks or tries to speak. We even sing songs together.

When I return from lunch, I often get a smile. She’s always in her recliner, and I get down on my knees so that I can look into her eyes and tell her how glad I am to see her.

We enjoy our afternoon ice cream and dinner. Most of the time she doesn’t say anything, but sometimes she does. She often smiles, however, and residents often comment about that. They love it, and I do too.

On top of these things, we sometimes have very good days. One of those was this past Saturday. She was awake early and cheerful all day long. We spent all morning together before the caregiver arrived. Then I went to lunch. We spent the rest of the day enjoying ice cream, dinner, and music until we went to sleep. I never thought we would have days like that this late in her Alzheimer’s, and I am hopeful that we will have more of them in the days ahead. I am grateful.

Kate’s Recovery Continues

Our lives are not back to normal since Kate’s stroke nine weeks ago; however, she continues to improve in significant ways. In addition to the changes noted mentioned in previous posts, she does not always go to sleep right after we put her in bed for the night between 6:30 and 7:00. You might think that’s a small thing, but it’s a big one for me.

In recent years, our evenings have been the best part of our day. It’s the time when the obligations of the day are over, and we spend quality time together. Music, of course, is always a part of that. For several years, our habit has been to listen/watch music videos on the TV. At first, that meant DVDs, but I soon learned about the wealth of music on YouTube. That expanded the variety of our musical entertainment, and I looked forward to this nighttime ritual. We didn’t talk a lot. Our focus was on the music and each other. Kate’s stroke changed that, and I have missed those evenings together.

At first, I thought these moments were gone forever, but there are signs of their return. Four nights during the past week Kate was awake until after 9:30. More importantly, she was very much like she was before the stroke. She was very relaxed and at ease. That is what I had come to expect for several years. It’s as though she feels the pressure of the day has been released. I know I feel that way. The combination makes for a good evening for both of us.

I have grown accustomed to the many changes that accompany Alzheimer’s, but when something new occurs, I always wonder if it will be a new pattern or just an isolated variation from the new norm. I’m far from concluding that Kate’s four nights of being awake longer in the evening is going to be the custom in the future. Like so many other Happy Moments, I’ll just appreciate and savor them when they come.

This morning when I was about to upload this post, I noticed that Kate was awake, alert, and smiling. I had to take advantage of that moment and got in bed beside her. I turned on YouTube and brought up a short series of singalong videos of songs like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes,” and ends with Elvis singing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Kate loved it so much that we went through the series twice. She even tried to sing along with two or three of them. What a great way to begin the day. Her recovery continues.

A Week to Celebrate

As I have recently conveyed, Kate’s stroke has had an impact on our daily lives over the past 8 weeks, but last week was a very good one. In fact, she had a few moments that were every bit as good as those she had before the stroke. That doesn’t mean she has fully recovered. On the other hand, she has experienced moments of cheerfulness and clarity of mind that I hadn’t seen in a while.

The first occurred while we were having ice cream Monday afternoon. A retired Methodist minister, Tom, dropped by our table. During our conversation, he told us a few funny stories of experiences he had during his ministry. One of them involved a baptism. Methodists don’t typically baptize by immersion, but a new member wanted that, so he contacted a local Baptist minister for help. He agreed to let them use their church.

When the day came, the family gathered at the church. I don’t recall the details, but Tom asked where they should change clothes before getting into the baptistry. The minister pointed to an area beside the baptistry with a wire draped by a curtain and said, “Right behind this curtain.” As Tom performed the baptism, the curtain fell and exposed a man standing there stark naked.

The caregiver and I laughed, but what we noticed immediately was Kate. She was laughing as well. I don’t think I’ve seen her laugh so hard in years. Because she doesn’t say much, we often assume that she isn’t following conversations like this. Clearly, we were wrong in this case. As he regaled us with other stories, she continued to laugh as did we. It was a beautiful experience.

She was in a cheerful mood throughout dinner and actually responded to several servers and residents while we were eating.

During the past few years, I have had some success reading to Kate. As with so many other things in my caregivers’ toolbox, it hasn’t been as reliable in the past year or so. She has responded more favorably recently, so after lunch on Tuesday, I picked up The Velveteen Rabbit and sat in a chair beside her. Typically, I sit facing the same direction as Kate, but this time I turned the chair facing her. That enabled me to watch her facial expressions more closely. I am so glad I did.

Before reading to her, she was smiling and seemed more alert than usual. From the very beginning, she was engaged. As I read, I think each of us was attentive to the other and responded similarly. I try to read somewhat dramatically to emphasize the feelings of the rabbit as he encounters the various situations in the story. She loved the story, and I loved watching her.

She has also been awake more during the morning and evening. That has given us a little more time together. I have especially enjoyed that. After finishing my morning walks this past week, there have been a few times that I picked up my laptop, put on some music, and got into bed beside her. She didn’t talk much, but I enjoyed being with her.

She generally goes to sleep soon after we get her to bed, but the last two nights she has been awake until almost 10:00. The fact that I had the TV tuned to basketball may have had something to do with that. Whatever the reason, we enjoyed our time together.

I had intended to post this yesterday morning, but I got tied up in a few other things. That gave me a chance to add a couple of other events from yesterday afternoon. The first one occurred when Kate had finished her ice cream. The caregiver had bought something that looked like an antipasto salad. Kate looked over at it and said, “What do you have there?” That may not seem like much, but it would have been unlikely for her to ask that even before her stroke.

The other event happened after we returned from dinner. I hadn’t turned off the music before we left, and a Charles Lloyd album was playing as we walked in. Almost all the music is very relaxing, and Kate quickly took an interest. I pulled up a chair beside her and faced her. I took her hand in mine, and we sat there for thirty minutes listening to the music. With her eyes closed, she stroked my hand and arm and moved her head with the music. I spoke very little. She said almost nothing, but words weren’t necessary. We were connecting just the way we always have.

So, it’s been a great week. She’s been awake more, talked more, and displayed signs that she not only hears us but can respond appropriately. I realize that the coming week might be quite different, but, as always, I am grateful when Happy Moments like these occur.

Kate is Making Progress, But Life is Not the Same.

As I’ve said before, I’m encouraged by the progress Kate has made since her stroke almost three weeks ago. She is awake more. She’s beginning to use her right arm again. Her eyes no longer appear to be frozen to the left. We have taken her to the dining room seven times, and Wednesday we took her for ice cream, (As it turned out, the freezer was down, so there was no ice cream, but she ate a muffin.) I’m amazed at how well she is doing. I also recognize that recovery is a process. She is likely to improve even more in the days or weeks ahead.

Nevertheless, Kate’s stroke is having a significant impact on us. Like her original Alzheimer’s diagnosis and her hospital experience with COVID, it is another challenge in our journey, “Living with Alzheimer’s.”

Several signs suggest the stroke might push her several steps further along this road. One is that she is less emotionally expressive than before. This is most noticeable when we are getting her dressed and in and out of bed. That makes it easier for the caregiver, but Kate has lost a little spark that we respected. In many ways, it seemed appropriate for her to protest.

She is also more neutral in her verbal and facial expressions. She smiles, but her big smiles occur less often. The good news is that she has another smile with her lips closed that I find endearing.

You’ve heard me say many times that she often awakes in the morning without knowing where she is, what she is supposed to do, and even who she is. That experience still occurs, but it seems that she’s more placid in her response rather than being puzzled or afraid.

Along with these things, there are more times when she doesn’t know who I am although she almost always senses she can trust me or does so within a reasonably short time.

I’m particularly concerned about her speech. Although her aphasia made it hard for her to communicate, we were able to converse. It is much harder now, not because I can’t understand what she says. It’s largely because she speaks so little, even when asked a simple question like “Would you like something to drink.” I have a litany of things I say to her about our dating, marriage, children, grandchildren, and travel. They often bring smiles and comments. That isn’t as true now.

I’m very happy to say that we continue to have our Happy Moments. A couple of mornings ago, she was awake early, and I took advantage of that opportunity to spend more time with her. I put on some music I thought she would like, but she didn’t show much interest. I shifted gears to see if I could perk up her spirits.

I put on an album of 100 children’s songs that I had downloaded several years ago when she was disturbed about something after waking from a nap. It saved us that day, and we sang together for at least thirty minutes. She quickly forgot about whatever had disturbed her. I’ve used that album periodically since then, but it had been a long time. I discovered it still works.

It was different this time because she doesn’t speak much. She tried, however, by mouthing the words. She’s good at following the rhythm. It didn’t take her long before I could see expressions of happiness on her face. She got a special kick out of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” I stood at her bedside singing, clapping, stomping, and saying “Amen” when called for.

That night we had another Happy Moment. We’ve always had great evenings, but the stroke has made those different. Sometimes, she goes to sleep right after the caregiver leaves. Often, she doesn’t wake until the next morning. That particular night she woke up after an hour or so, and I turned to YouTube and selected a series of songs that I know she likes. I caught her at a good time. For over an hour, we held hands and enjoyed the music. Off and on, I talked to her about our marriage and children. She didn’t say much, but she said a lot with her facial expressions.

Yesterday afternoon, I didn’t have any special plans except a brief visit to the grocery store. I spent the extra time with Kate even though the caregiver was here. I pulled up a chair beside her recliner and talked with her. At first, she wasn’t in the mood for conversation. As I spoke, she loosened up a bit. We spent almost two hours together. She dozed off and on, and I did most of the talking, but she was very responsive with her smiles and facial expressions. We both had a great time.

The other day when we were out, the woman in the apartment next to us stopped to visit for a few minutes. She spoke to Kate who didn’t respond. Our neighbor commented that she missed her smile. Me, too, but they haven’t disappeared altogether. And moments like those described above give me an emotional boost and hope that we’ll have more of those to come in the days ahead.

Making Progress and Speculating on the Future

It’s been a little over a week since Kate’s stroke. Although it was a mild one, it has made its presence felt. Clearly, she is making progress. The first four days she was asleep. Her doctor had told us to expect that. On Monday, she was awake almost all day with a few short rests in between. Between Friday and Monday, she was more alert and made a little effort to speak.  Tuesday was more of a day of rest.

She has continued to eat and drink well, and she hasn’t lost her smile. Music also retains its appeal. She often moves her body (feet, hands, or head) to the rhythm. and attempts to mouth the words.

I contacted her doctor on Monday and asked when we might get her out of bed. He said to use our best judgment. He also indicated that getting her out of bed would be good for her. The next day we got her into her recliner for the afternoon. That went very well. She rested most of that time, but it was good to see her dressed and out of bed.

Yesterday was an especially good day. Our regular caregiver had a doctor’s appointment, so we had two different people come in, each for two hours. The first was very experienced, and we were able to get Kate up and dressed and in her recliner. The second one was a person who had been with us two times before. She has a special touch with her clients. She immediately pulled up a chair beside Kate’s recliner and started talking to her. I made a trip to the grocery store. When I returned, I was surprised to see she was still sitting by her, and they were actually having a conversation. Most of what Kate said was unintelligible, but the caregiver was able to converse anyway. It reminded me of the way she and I converse.

When our regular caregiver arrived to take her place, we decided it was time to try taking Kate to dinner in the dining room. We agreed that if we encountered any problem along the way, we would come back to the apartment. It turned out that wasn’t necessary. We had brief conversations with other residents as we entered and left the dining room as well as at our table during the meal. Everyone spoke to Kate, and she responded remarkably well.

Despite how well she is doing, I can’t help wondering about the long-term consequences. The stroke affected her right arm and leg. She also has a slight droop on the right side of her mouth that has an effect on her speech. Initially, her right arm was totally limp. She can now move her arm a little although she strongly favors her left. I am hopeful that she will continue to improve.

I am less optimistic about her speech. She was already experiencing aphasia as a result of her Alzheimer’s. The stroke itself has had its own impact. Although she sometimes says a few words very clearly, her speech is more garbled now. She also speaks far less than she did before the stroke.

What is most important to me is that the Kate I’ve always known shines through it all. On Saturday, I was sitting up in bed beside her while we played music videos on YouTube. She was moving her head to the music of an Irish instrumental group. I leaned over and told her I loved her. Then I said, “You’re the greatest. You’re my Kate.” She smiled and said, “Yes, I am.” After five days with little attempt at speaking, those were three beautiful words to me.

About seven o’clock on Valentine’s morning, I noticed her eyes were open. I walked to her bedside and took her hand. She pulled my hand to her lips and kissed it. Yesterday afternoon, I told her I loved her and said, “I’d like to give you a kiss.” She puckered up, and I did.

Regardless of what happens in the days ahead, I think, “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

“Focus on the Person, Not the Dementia”

I continue to believe that the most profound information I’ve learned during Kate’s journey with Alzheimer’s came from The Dementia Handbook by Judy Cornish. She emphasizes that “all is not lost with dementia” and points out that while rational thought is lost, people with dementia continue to experience the world through their senses. That enables them to appreciate and enjoy many pleasures of life.

I have made that an essential piece of knowledge in my care for Kate, and it has provided years of joy while living with Alzheimer’s. The quote in the title above comes from one of Cornish’s posts on Twitter. It caught my attention as useful advice, and I’ve discovered numerous ways to apply it. The most typical example is when I return to the apartment after lunch or running errands.

In almost every case, I find Kate sitting quietly in her recliner with her eyes closed while the caregiver sits across from her looking at something on her phone. When I come through the door, I say, “Hello, I’m home!” She often responds with a greeting of her own and gives me a smile as I rest on my knees beside her. I tell her how glad I am to see her. She generally beams. Her whole mood changes in those few moments. It just took focusing on her and conveying how important she is to me.

Here are other examples of how it worked with Kate over the past few days.

Kate’s mornings have always been the most troublesome part of the day. Not all of them are that way, but she usually gets a slow start. That means she doesn’t talk much, and, frequently, she doesn’t want me to talk either. Sunday morning was one of those. She appeared to be bothered by something.

I went through my normal routine. I tell her how glad I am to see her and how special she is to me. On good days, that’s a real ice breaker. On other days, like Sunday, it falls flat.

I didn’t push her. I know from experience that doesn’t work. I got her morning meds and gave her something to drink. That went well. Then I played her Love Changes Everything album and got in bed beside her. I didn’t say anything for a good while and then commented on how much I liked the music. Then I told her I also liked being with her. She smiled, the first affirmation I had received that morning. She was coming around.

That led to a very nice conversation before she drifted off to sleep. She was half asleep when the caregiver arrived at noon. Sometimes that makes it easier to get her dressed and up for the day. This was not one of those times. She protested more than she has in several months.

I can’t be sure, but this may have been related to the fact that the caregiver is new. She began in January, and Kate hasn’t reached a comfort level with her. There are two problems as I see it. First, she doesn’t have as much experience as our other caregivers. Second, she is very quiet. She’s been here fewer than ten times, but she hasn’t said much to me or to Kate except when I have asked direct questions. In addition, she speaks softly and wears a mask, so Kate and I usually have to ask her to repeat herself before we know what she has said.

Given Kate’s mood, I felt that it was better that I stay home instead of going out for lunch. In fact, I remained at home the entire time the caregiver was here. That led to some good things because Kate wasn’t getting any attention from the caregiver and looked bored. I took a seat beside her while she was in her recliner and read The Velveteen Rabbit to her. She perked up right away. I followed that by reading about one of her grandfathers from one of her photobooks.

Things were going well, and I suggested we go for ice cream. While we were out, she had a delusion and hallucinations that disturbed her. Her mood shifted. We went back to the apartment. I spent some time with her while holding her hand and talking to her in a comforting way. I assured her that I would take care of several specific things that troubled her. She became less worried, but she wasn’t as cheerful as she often is at this time of day. I wondered how things would go at dinner. That is usually a good time for her, and it went well except that she wasn’t as talkative as usual.

The day picked up after the caregiver left, and Kate was in bed. She was very relaxed and happy. We talked a little about how comfortable we felt when it was just the two of us. I treasure times like that. She was tired and slept for an hour while I watched one of the NFL playoff games.

Our daughter called as she was waking, and we talked for almost forty-five minutes. Kate often has trouble with phone calls but did very well with this one. It was a beautiful end to a day of ups and downs.

It was a day that reinforced how the personal touch makes a difference in the way Kate feels. It doesn’t prevent delusions, hallucinations, or any of the other typical signs of Alzheimer’s, but it goes a long way toward relieving her anxiety or elevating her mood. That’s exactly what happened that day. Now, let’s look at another example that involves a caregiver.

One of my problems with our in-home care is that Kate doesn’t get this same kind of attention from any of her caregivers. I have accepted the fact that their training focuses heavily on things like bathing patients, dressing them, and using a lift to transfer them from bed to chair and back again along with a host of related things. Everything they do is important, and I don’t have the skill to do the things they do. On the other hand, they tend to focus on their basic skills and neglect treating Kate as a person.

That is why I feel that focusing on her as a person is my primary responsibility. As her husband, I’m in the best position to do this. I love her, and I do my best to express that love in every way that I can.

Having said that, we had an experience with a new caregiver on Monday that offers another example of the importance of having a personal connection with Kate. It also encouraged me to discover a caregiver who has the personality and skill to give Kate the attention she needs.

The new caregiver came to us for the first time one day last week. The agency had alerted me that she had not had much experience. I found that to be true, but she was more personable than most of the others, and I felt comfortable leaving for lunch. Before leaving, I put on a playlist of music I thought Kate would enjoy. I also explained to the caregiver that music had been very important to us. She told me it was important to her as well. She is active in a church choir and has written and recorded a few songs.

When I returned to the apartment, she was sitting in a chair beside Kate and the two of them had been singing along with a Peter, Paul, and Mary album. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see Kate singing with her. To the best of my knowledge, that has never happened with another caregiver. It made a big impression on me, and I was delighted when she was back on Monday.

That experience was a good one as well. This time they were in a conversation when I returned from lunch. I spent a little time checking email, and they continued to talk. It was truly remarkable and another great example of the difference it makes when someone is able to “Focus on the person, not the dementia.”

A Victory with Sound of Music

Kate and I have always enjoyed movies. They became an especially important part of our lives after her diagnosis. Gradually, it became difficult for her to understand the plot and follow much of the action. I was about to give up on movies when we saw two that she enjoyed in 2018. One of them was Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Mr. Rogers’ television program. The other was RBG about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We saw the Mr. Rogers movie at least four times and the Ginsburg film two or three times. I’ve had little success with movies since then.

Periodically, I’ve tried them at home with no success. It’s very hard for her to focus on them. On the other hand, we’ve had great success with music videos on YouTube and the Twenty-fifth-anniversary concert of Les Miserables. We watched the latter over and over for several months after I first got it. A lot of the non-music elements of the concert were unimportant to her although she did respond to individual singers as they sang their solos. The same is true of the other music videos we watch on YouTube. It’s really the music itself that catches her attention.

Last year, I bought several DVDs with the film versions of Broadway musicals. I thought she might enjoy them, but there is too much dialog between the songs to keep her attention. Last week, I decided to try again with Sound of Music. At first, I thought I would simply fast forward to the songs, but then I took a different approach. I narrated the movie for her, explaining what was going on and the emotions the characters were feeling. Having taken one of the Sound of Music tours on a visit to Salzburg years ago. I also reminded her of the places we had seen when we were there. I was pleased when she seemed to be engaged from the beginning, but how long would it last? The answer? Until it was time for us to turn out the lights.

The following night we began where we left off – with the scene outside the gazebo where von Trapp and Maria express their love for each other. Kate didn’t say a word, but she was touched by it. She took my hand and held it firmly. It was a beautiful moment for the two of us.

I know that she didn’t understand many of the things that happened during the movie, but it was clear that she experienced the same feelings that millions of other viewers have had while watching this movie.

After that success, I risked being disappointed by watching it again this week. It worked again. The first night, she enjoyed it just as much as last week, but she was tired last night. We’ll finish it tonight. I’m encouraged by her response. She’s always liked My Fair Lady and Annie. I might try one of them sometime soon.

The Blanket

Not too long after our daughter, Jesse, was born 53 years ago, Kate decided she wanted to knit a baby blanket for her. She hadn’t dabbled in knitting before, but this was something she really wanted to do.

She got off to a good start but found that being the mother of a newborn required more of her than she expected. It wasn’t long before she put it aside “for the time being.” I didn’t know how far along she had gotten. I only knew that she wasn’t knitting anymore. It came up in conversation once in a while, but she never finished.

As I made preparations for our move, I came across the blanket. It was one of those items that called for a decision. Take it with us? Give it away? Throw it away? I quickly decided to take it with us but wasn’t sure what I might ultimately do with it.

A couple of months ago, I was talking with the woman who lives next door to us. She’s a knitter and participates in a knitting group in our retirement community. The group knits blankets for oncology patients who make regular visits for chemotherapy. I told her about Kate’s blanket. She volunteered to finish it for me. I liked the idea and told her I would get it to her, but I didn’t get around to it.

Three weeks ago, she and I were going back to apartments after lunch. I remembered the blanket and asked her to wait a minute while I got it. The next day she told me how beautiful it was and how close it was to being finished. It only needed an edge, and it would be done.

A short time later, she said she was almost finished and wanted to know if I would like the blanket back or donate it to the chemo patients. I said would be happy to donate it and thought Kate would like that as well.

The next week she told me she liked the way it had turned out and had been thinking of what to do with it. She said she thought it might be a good addition to our community’s gift shop. All the proceeds go to a residents’ assistance fund. I gave her permission to put it up for sale. It became part of the shop’s inventory this past Monday.

I stopped by to take a look at it that afternoon; however, by the time I got there, the shop was closed. While I was at lunch yesterday, I received a text from my neighbor with a photo she had taken of the blanket with the sales tag that read, “$45, Handmade by Kate Creighton” My first thought was “I should buy that myself.”

When I got back to the apartment, I started to write an email to Jesse telling her that it was finished and was on sale. I wrote only a few words before changing my mind. I thought it would be nice if I bought it and gave it to our daughter whenever she becomes a grandmother. I headed straight for the gift shop. Fortunately, it was still for sale.

There were only two people in the shop as I entered. One is a resident who is one of a number of volunteers who staff the shop. The other is one of the staff members of our community. They greeted me and asked what they could do for me. I point to the blanket and told them I wanted to buy it. I asked if they knew the story behind it. They hadn’t, so I explained.

When I returned to the apartment, I draped the blanket across Kate’s lap and told her what I had done. Now we will be able to give it to Jesse for her first grandchild. She had a big smile and loved the way the blanket felt to her touch. It was a Happy Moment for both of us. Maybe we’ll give it to her the next time she comes to town.