We’re Always Learning and Adapting.

LIVING WITH DEMENTIA: Please quit trying to make me remember something that I don’t. You see no matter how you keep trying to twist it to make me remember, I only get more & more frustrated & still don’t remember it.  (Written by a person with dementia)

After breakfast and my walk this morning, I went to my computer. I found the message above when I checked in on Twitter. It was timely for me. With the progression of Kate’s Alzheimer’s, I have to be much more careful how I respond to her. Things that have worked in the past don’t anymore. Being a caregiver requires greater attention to more things than most of us imagine at the point of diagnosis. That brings me to what is really on my mind today – Kate and her iPad.

As I have conveyed for years, working jigsaw puzzles on the iPad has been her primary self-initiated activity since she stopped her yard work and use of her computer. I have also pointed to the increased difficulty she has with her puzzles. With my help, she has been able to continue, but we have reached the point at which she can’t follow my guidance. For a while, the primary problem was getting into the store. Once that happened, she couldn’t do anything. It was easy for me to fix but impossible for her.

More recently, the problem has been her ability to locate the pieces she needs and to figure out where to put them. For as long as I can remember, she hasn’t wanted to ask for my help. I would simply notice that she was sitting with her iPad but not doing anything. Then I would help her. My first step was to drop the number of puzzle pieces from sixteen to nine although I go back and forth. My next step was to tell her about the edge pieces. In a nine-piece puzzle there are eight of these including the corners. That leaves only one piece that goes in the center. I discovered that it was hard for her to see the flat sides that identify an edge piece. Sometimes she seemed to get it, but most of the time she seems to have completed puzzles by trial-and-error.

The past couple of days her own approach has failed her. She wanted my help yesterday, and I tried again. This is tough for me because I do know that her lack of rational thought makes it impossible for her to understand, but she wasn’t ready to give up. She still wanted me to help her. I began by trying to get her to identify the four corner pieces. She was unable to recognize them. I put them in place. Then I spread the four edge pieces so that each one was beside the empty spot where it should go. I even put my finger on the piece and then on the space immediately adjacent to it. That was also too much for her. I put them in their places.

Now there was only one empty space directly in the center of the puzzle and one piece left. First, I put my finger on the space where it should go and said, “Can you see that this is an empty space?” She couldn’t. I asked if she could see that it was green. She could. Then I showed her that the whole screen background was green and that it was covered up when she put each piece in place. She was unable to comprehend what I was telling her. Then I asked her to give me her hand. I used her index finger to touch the space. I told her she wouldn’t see the green if she put the piece in that spot. I showed her the piece and asked her to put it in the space. She couldn’t do it.

All the while, I was thinking, “You’ve been doing some variation of this same lesson off and on for weeks. Isn’t it obvious that it’s not working?” That’s why the tweet at the top of this post caught my attention. In addition, I remember and old aphorism. “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

I decided to do what I should have done earlier. I redirected her attention, something that is often recommended for caregivers. I reminded her that we had talked earlier about looking at one of her photo books and suggested we do that. She was ready. We looked one of the books for about fifteen minutes before she said she really wanted to look more but was tired. We stopped, and she lay down on the sofa for about thirty minutes before going to dinner. When we got home, she asked what she could do. I said, “How about working on your coloring book?” She liked the idea but had a hard time knowing what to do. She gave up after fifteen minutes and wanted to get ready for bed

So what am I going to do next time? The truth is I’m not sure although I know what approach I will take. Like everything else, losing an ability to do something occurs over a period of time. It comes and goes but gradually fades away. I believe there is still more time for her to enjoy the iPad. I want her to keep trying, but I am not going to be as persistent in trying to teach her what to do. I will look more and more to other options that will be easier for her. I’ll continue to try the coloring book. She has had some minor success with it. Maybe she will catch on to it. I told her there are no rules. She can color any way she wants.

As I have noted before, we are always learning and adapting. There will be more of that in our future.

Kate’s iPad

Since giving up her computer and then her yardwork, Kate has been dependent on her iPad for all of her self-initiated entertainment. The past several years she has spent as much as eight hours a day working jigsaw puzzles on it. The past few days she has spent very little time with it. The last three nights when I checked the battery level, it was at 88% of capacity or greater. That is the best measure of how little it was used this week.

Some of that relates to her sleeping and resting. Until a year ago, we went to Panera almost every morning. We usually stayed more than an hour and sometimes two hours during which she worked steadily on her puzzles. Now it is unusual for her to get up before 10:30 or 11:00, and we go straight to lunch.

Similarly, she used to use her iPad at home after lunch and often at Barnes & Noble. We haven’t been there in several months. She usually rests after lunch, sometimes as long as two and a half hours. Thus, the sleeping/resting explains why she is using the iPad so much less than in the past, but that isn’t all. She also finds it much more difficult to work her puzzles. She asks for my help significantly more, but she also has more trouble understanding what I tell her. My instructions mean nothing. She is generally more persistent in trying to complete her puzzles, but, increasingly, she just quits or asks me to complete them.

I know she will have to give up the iPad sometime in the future. I just hope she can hold on a while longer. I’m not counting on it, but, perhaps, her photo books and the coloring book may fill in the gap.

It’s the Thought That Counts.

Long before Kate’s diagnosis, one of the first signs I noticed was that she often failed to prepare for dinner. We had eaten dinner out a good bit since she retired, but we still ate at home for most of our evening meals. Gradually, I noticed that she wasn’t shopping for groceries or thinking about dinner at all. I responded by suggesting that we eat out whenever she hadn’t prepared our dinner. Then I began to cook a few meals. I didn’t want to do that all the time, so I started alternating between a few home-prepared meals with meals I brought in from restaurants.

Kate appeared not to notice the shift in responsibility for meals from her to me, and rarely offered to help. As I recall, that suited me because it was hard for her to do things the way I thought they should be done. Difficulty following procedures is another of the symptoms that accompanies Alzheimer’s.

She has rarely offered to help with any of the household chores; however, several times in the past few months, she has done so. At this point, I felt it was good for her to feel useful. Each time I accepted her help.

Last night as we returned home from dinner, I stopped in the driveway and told her I was going to get the mail. She said, “I’ll get that for you. Just go on, and I’ll meet you in the house.” I gladly accepted but was concerned about her walking from the mailbox back to the house. I moved the car forward but stopped before entering the garage. That enabled me to watch what she was doing.

When she got out of the car, she stopped to look at the plants along the driveway. I watched to see if she would remember to get the mail. She didn’t. She walked up the driveway to the back of the house. She stopped at several shrubs and pulled off a few small limbs. This was a reminder of the days when she spent as much as 6-8 hours a day doing just that. It’s been about three years since she stopped because she had stripped the shrubs of all their leaves as well as the branches. They had either died or were in such bad shape that I had to remove eighteen of them. Last year I engaged someone to get the landscaping back in shape. The yard is now getting back to where it was before.

I wasn’t worried that this might be the beginning of repeat of that experience. Instead, I was especially appreciative of Kate’s desire to help at this particular point. After all, her memory doesn’t permit her to follow through with almost anything she starts. It reminds me of an old song, “Little Things Mean a Lot” and the saying that “It’s the thought that counts.”

Yesterday was a good day.

After the challenges of the past week, I’m glad to report that Kate didn’t have any signs of anxiety yesterday. She wanted to sleep longer when I got her up but was cooperative. She was happy to see the sitter and didn’t give any indication that she was sorry for me to leave. She also got along well without me while I was away.

The only problem of the day involved her iPad. That is one I don’t think I will solve. This is a direct result of the progression of her Alzheimer’s. I just hope she will be able to continue for a little longer.

The Fading Allure of the iPad

I made the following entry seven years ago on August 18, 2012.

Thursday afternoon I bought Kate an iPad since her computer is in the shop again, and it seems that her computer is really a lifeline for her. When she is not working on a particular task like photo albums, she likes to play free cell. She also likes to get her email. I keep thinking that an iPad will be easier for her to use since she likes to use the computer in bed which can cause some problems with the connection to the power cord. 

Until I checked my old journal entries this morning, I hadn’t realized that Kate had been using her iPad for so long. At the time I got it, her primary “self-initiated” sources of pleasure were working in the yard (as much as six hours a day) and working on her computer. It’s been five or six years since she gave up the computer. It had become too difficult for her to operate. For a while the iPad was a mere adjunct to her yardwork. It’s been almost three years since she gave that up. That wasn’t because it was too hard. It related to the fact that she had pruned all the shrubs so severely that there was little for her to do. That was the major part of her yardwork although I have recently discovered that she must have been weeding as well. I say that because weeds had never been a big problem until the past two years. She obviously had been keeping them at bay.

When she stopped working in the yard, she was left with the iPad as her only source of amusement. The only thing she uses it for is to work jigsaw puzzles. She has used it morning, noon, and night. I haven’t kept track of the time, but I know that sometimes she must have spent as much as eight hours a day working puzzles.

I charge the iPad every day for her, but it is only in the past week or ten days that I have been especially attentive to the battery life left when I start the charge. My guess is that the average battery life has been somewhere between 25% and 45%. Sometimes it has been totally exhausted. Recently, the figures have been 89%, 88%, 45%, 91%, 75%, 45%, 92%, and 65%. That is a clear indication that she is using the iPad less now.

There are two primary reasons for the change. The first is that she is having increasing difficulty operating the program. The most common problem is that she gets into the store to buy more puzzles when she completes a puzzle. Just this morning, I taped a piece of paper over the upper right hand corner of the display. That is where the icon for the store appears. Like so many things, that could create another problem, but it should be one for me and not her. On other screens there is an “X” icon to exit that page and go back. I don’t believe she normally gets to one of those pages. If I can address that problem, it should make Kate’s life and mine a lot simpler.

There are other problems that I can’t prevent as easily. One of those is forgetting what to do with the scattered pieces. Thus far when this happens, I have been able take care of it by telling her just to put the pieces together to form a complete picture. Another involves her eyesight. She can’t see the lines of the frame against which the edge pieces should be placed. She seems to get there by getting near the line. When she is close enough, the piece will lock in place and can’t be moved. The other issue is that she is unable to associate similar colors or shapes to figure out where a given piece might go. She just seems to keep trying until she gets it right. Similarly, she can’t distinguish between the background color and design to identify places a puzzle should go. I have worked with her enough on this issue to conclude that is impossible for her to learn because of her poor vision.

Last night was particularly frustrating for both of us. I am surprised she persisted as long as she did. In fact, she only stopped working her puzzles because I suggested that she might be getting tired, and it was time to get ready for bed. Prior to that, she had worked on her iPad more than an hour. I was watching (trying to watch) the evening news. Throughout that time, I got up and down from my chair every few minutes to address a problem.

As you would expect, I am concerned about her giving up the iPad. That would create quite a void in her life. It would also add greater responsibility for me to keep her entertained. She does enjoy her family photo books, but they provide a different experience. They are not something that holds her attention as long as jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles also have the advantage of being more interactive. They require her to think more. While I can’t know for sure, I have an idea that she derives some sense of satisfaction from completing them. In addition, she likes the beauty of the puzzle pictures themselves.

One thing I know is that I won’t be able to control much of what happens. It will be helpful if my taping over the store icon works, but the other problems are more a function of the disease itself. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Kate and Her Puzzles

We’ve been at Barnes & Noble about an hour. I’ve been doing my things on my iPad. Kate is working jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. She hadn’t made a sound for almost the entire time we’ve been here. A minute ago, she broke the silence and said, “Fun.” She was expressing her feelings about working her puzzles. I know she must be having fun because she spends at least six hours a day working them – at home, at Panera, and at Barnes & Noble. This was the first time, however, I have heard her express her feelings about it.

I told her I thought she must enjoy it, that she spends a lot of time at it. She said, “Well, I don’t spend much time.” I didn’t argue. Then over a five-minute period she said other things about the puzzles. For example, she just said, “I like the colors,” “They’re not to hard. Well, some of them can be tricky.” Now, she said, “One of the things you know when you want to do something well is not to rush it. That is really true.” Earlier she had said something about liking not having any time pressure. I said, “Or telling you that you are doing it the wrong way.” She added, “Or I told you that yesterday.”

In the meantime, I am noticing that it’s been a while since she asked my name, and, not once, has the subject of my being or not being her husband come up.

We’ll be leaving here shortly. I have a Rotary dinner this evening. It is a benefit for Alzheimer’s research, and I will be making a few remarks. I changed the sitter’s schedule to come at 6:00 this evening. This will be the first time I have left her at night. I am optimistic this will work out well. My plan is for Mary to take Kate to get her Friday night pizza. That should help them pass a little of the time. The rest of the time they can relax at home.

I just asked Kate if she were ready to go. She said, “I’m just piddling. I just want to finish this one. . . Then the next one and the next one . . .” Then she said, “You had better just say when you think we need to leave. I said five minutes would be fine. She said, “Let me finish this one first.” I am really glad she has her puzzles.

Kate’s Treats

Yesterday after leaving the orthopedist, we went to Panera. We hadn’t made it in the morning, and Kate said she was a little hungry. I got her a muffin. There’s a nail salon a couple of doors down from there. It had been too long since she had had a manicure and pedicure, and they were able to get her in and out before dinner. I used to see that she went there at least once a month, but somehow got out of the habit. She doesn’t express any special pleasure when she goes, but she used to enjoy it. Besides she needs to have her nails trimmed.

Two or three years ago I also arranged for her to make regular visits to a nearby spa. She goes every two weeks and alternates a massage one time and a facial the other. This is not something that was a regular part of her life before I started it, but I thought it would be good for her to have something that was a treat and something she could do without me (except for making the arrangements and providing transportation). Like the mani/pedi, she doesn’t express a lot of enthusiasm, but I believe she must enjoy it. The only comment she makes is how soft and smooth her skin feels after the facial. She’s right. It does.

Surprise, Kate worked outside with her shrubs yesterday.

It has now been several months, since Kate has shown any interest in working outside in the yard. That is a dramatic change from the past when she worked through even the coldest months. I’ll never know what accounts for that. My guess is that the shrubs were so denuded that there were no longer any leaves for her to “pull.”

Yesterday that changed. When I came home after going to the Y and running errands, I found Kate pulling the new growth on shrubs along our driveway. I had two immediate reactions. The overwhelming one was a burst of happiness. It’s been a while since I have written about her work in the yard, so let me summarize why I felt this way. Since her diagnosis, more than seven years ago, Kate has had three primary activities other than those I provide for her.

One was working on family photo albums. She was introduced to this by her brother, Ken, who has completed numerous albums. He and Kate worked on one together, an album about their mother’s family. It represents a beautiful family history. She wanted to create her own albums for us and our children and grandchildren. She got her start after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even though she worked on one for several years, she never got beyond selecting photos and editing them. Two years ago, she just stopped working on her computer altogether. She didn’t even continue with email. I think it got too challenging for her.

That left her with only two other activities. The major one was working in the yard. That meant pruning and “pulling leaves.” She had learned about the value of pruning long ago. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, I think she did it for herself more than here shrubs. It was a kind of therapy. It required little effort. When she had pruned back about as much as she could, she started pulling off the leaves. There were days when she would spend as much as 6 hours outside. It was great because she enjoyed it, and it was something she could do on her own without anyone’s telling that she was doing anything wrong.

This past fall she stopped working in the yard. I suspected that the colder weather played a part. In addition, we both had colds and the flu during the first of this year. When the weather began to improve, she didn’t get back to her yard work. I began to think it was a thing of the past, so I was much relieved to see her working yesterday.

I said, however, I had two immediate reactions. The first was elation. The second was apprehension related to the condition of the shrubs. I knew there was a chance that some of the shrubs could be permanently damaged by what she had done before, but I felt it was worth it for Kate. As spring has approached, I have been eager to see how many, if any, of the shrubs would come back. As I expected, it appears that some of them are dead. Others appear to have dead branches, but there is new growth coming from the base of the trunks as well as the roots around the base. In addition, there are some that look like they are going to be just fine.

So why the apprehension? That arises from the fact that the ones that look fine have new leaves that are sprouting. Those, of course, would be the only ones with leaves she can pull. It is still too early for them to have an abundance of new leaves. Many of them have only a handful. This means that the very ones that seem to be living may not ultimately make it. My hope is that enough of them survive to keep her busy until next winter.

Yard work is important to her and, thus, to me as well. If she loses that, she will have only one activity of her own, working jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. Right now she spends 5-6 hours a day, and sometimes more, doing that. It has become harder for her in the past year, but I see no sign that she is about to drop it. I never imagined how important an iPad be could. She doesn’t use it for anything other than jigsaw puzzles. I am thankful she has it.

Kate’s Fourth Trip to Panera Today

After our two back-to-back trips to Panera this morning, Kate and the sitter went again this afternoon. Kate was resting on the sofa in the family room when I got home to relieve the sitter. Her behavior after the sitter left makes me think she may have been either tired or bored. Typically, when I return home, she gets her iPad and is ready to go to either Panera or Barnes & Noble. She didn’t do that today. She continued resting.

I decided to look over the tax returns I had picked up from the accountant after leaving the Y. I went to the back of the house for something and stopped at the sofa where she was lying. She asked what she could do. I mentioned several possibilities, one of which was Panera. She jumped on that. She said, “I just want to get out of the house.” She put her coat on and walked into the kitchen where I was putting my laptop in its case to leave. Apparently, she had forgotten about Panera. She asked again, “What can I do?” I told her I was just getting ready to take her to Panera. Then she asked, “Are you going to stay with me?” I said, “Of course, I will be with you.” She seemed relieved. This is another of those times when I have the feeling that she may not be enthusiastic about the sitter. I’m not sure this is true because of the way she greets the sitter when she arrives. Kate seems very comfortable and at ease with her. It may be that she thought that I might be leaving her alone.

We’ve been here over an hour now and will leave shortly for our Monday night Mexican meal at Chalupas. When we left home, she seemed a little down, not as cheerful as she was this morning. Perhaps that was because she had been resting a while. Now she is perfectly fine.

A moment ago, she asked for my help getting back to the right place for her jigsaw puzzles. She occasionally hits a wrong button that takes her to the store and doesn’t know how to get back. That had already happened a couple of times since we arrived. This time she said something that warms a caregiver’s heart. She thanked me for helping her and said, “You know what I like about you? You don’t treat me like I’m stupid. You just show me again how to do it.” I am not only touched by her sentiment. I am also struck by the fact that she realizes that she is asking me over and over to do the same thing. Her expression of appreciation makes it much easier to keep helping her. I know, of course, that she is not remembering other occasions when I may demonstrate less patience than I did today. Nonetheless, this is another of many reasons I believe Kate and I have been very fortunate living with Alzheimer’s. I know many couples are not so lucky.

Things pick up in the afternoon.

Kate has never been a morning person, but I think her cold has made it especially difficult to get going. She didn’t get up until shortly after 10:00 today after going to bed close to 9:30 last night. When we got to Panera at 11:20, she was still not fully awake and not very jovial. She didn’t recover during lunch. After getting home, she went directly to bed where she rested about 45 minutes. When she got up, she joined me in the family room where she worked on her iPad for another hour. We didn’t talk during that time, but she seemed to be more alert. Finally, she indicated, though not in words, that she was ready. She just closed her iPad and said, “Well.” I said, “I guess you are ready to go.” She said, “Whenever you are.”

As we drove to Barnes & Noble, she was quite cheerful and talkative. I was playing a CD of the musical Cats. When she heard “Memory,” she said, “I love that song.” I said, “It is interesting that it is probably the best known song from the musical, and it’s the only one not based on one of T. S. Eliot’s poems.” She hadn’t remembered that the musical is based on his book, An Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats. She said, “That’s got to go in the album.”

She was talking about her photo album of our family. She hasn’t worked on it in at least two years, but she still occasionally mentions things that she wants me to remember to put in the album. I could tell she would never finish the album more than two years before she stopped working on it. The only thing she has ever done to create the album is to select some family photos for inclusion and edit them. She has never put anything into the software that she would use to make the albums. She did edit and edit and edit the photos. That was the first of her activities to go. That left her with the yard and jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. Now it’s looking like the yard may become a thing of the past as well.

Speaking of the yard, spring is on the way. We see various trees and shrubs beginning to bud and flower. I have been watching to see if we might get any new leaves on the shrubs around the house. I am glad to see that at least some of them are coming back. I haven’t seen any indication that others have any new growth. They are completely bare. I’m not going to give up hope just yet, but it’s not looking good.

The short rest that Kate had gotten after lunch must have done the trick. She has been just fine since she got up. Once we were at Barnes & Noble, she got rather chatty. She started reminiscing about her mother and father as well as our marriage and how good she felt about our children and grandchildren. These are things she says quite often. She and I talk about how fortunate we are. Periodically, she would say, “Okay, I’m going to stop now.” She would look down at her iPad. Then she would start talking again. She must have done this at least four or five times before she really stopped. At that point, she said, “Now, I think I’m going to play.” Then as though she had to justify that to me, she added, “You know, you can’t do serious things all the time.” I am glad to see I’ve got the “real” Kate back now, and I am grateful that we always seem to have good afternoons and evenings.