Music Is Still One of the Best Tools in My “Caregiver’s Toolbox”

Periodically, I’ve talked about my “Caregiver’s Toolbox” and the fact that caring for Kate requires a lot of different tools to meet the variety of problems we encounter. I’ve also noted that some of these tools no longer work as well as they did in the past. In particular, photo albums don’t have the same appeal they did for years. One of those I can still count on much of the time is music. The pleasure of music continues to lift Kate’s spirits and provide many hours of enjoyment for both of us.

Since her diagnosis 10½ years ago, I’ve called on music to address specific problems. The first time occurred in the early days when I rushed her as we were getting ready to attend a concert by our local symphony orchestra. She had a panic attack and hadn’t fully recovered when we left the house. As soon as we were in the car, I turned on the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto. It’s a very peaceful adagio that runs just over 10 minutes. Kate was calm before it ended. That experience led me to create a short playlist of the second movements of the Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Mendelssohn violin concertos for use on other occasions.

Several years ago, Kate was uneasy after awaking from a short nap on the sofa in our family room. I was seated across from her and went over to see what I could do to help. After an unsuccessful attempt to calm her, I started to sing a children’s song, the name of which I no longer remember. That seemed to bring a brief smile to her face, but my memory of songs escaped me. I took my phone out of my pocket and searched for albums of children’s songs on Google. I found one with 100 songs and downloaded them to my phone. For the next 30-40 minutes, we sang songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle,” “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and many others. The crisis was over in no time.

As I was about to go to sleep earlier this week, Kate had a delusion like many others she has had in the past. She was worried about someone she believed was coming to see us. She couldn’t stop talking about it. I tried to reassure her by telling her I would help her and that I had everything worked out, but that didn’t do the trick. I leaned upon music to help me. Lying beside her with my head on her shoulder, I began to softly sing “Edelweiss.” Then I hummed it again. I followed that by humming “Nearer My God to Thee.” My next step was to start a search for both of these songs to play on my audio system. Before I could do that, she had stopped talking. She was calm and drifted off to sleep. Music had come to the rescue once more.

There are many other examples of the ways in which music has enriched our lives. I don’t know how long this will last, but I’m optimistic that it will be important to us the rest of our lives.

“Happy Moments” Make for “Happy Days”

Almost all of our “Happy Moments” are unplanned. That’s part of what makes them special. One of those occurred the other morning when I was giving Kate her meds in a cup of strawberry and banana yogurt, a favorite of hers. After her last bite, she began to whistle. (She’s hasn’t been a whistler until the past 6-12 months when she began whistling to express her happiness.)

One of my many quirks is that I often hum, whistle, or sing softly without being quite aware of doing so. In this case, I began to whistle “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” She expressed her pleasure with a smile. It doesn’t take much encouragement for me to break into song, and I sang the song to her. Spurred on by her pleasure, I whistled “Old Man River” and followed by singing it.

She was enjoying the music so much that I put on an album of children’s songs I downloaded 3-4 years ago when she was disturbed about something. Since that time, I have periodically used it for entertainment, not to solve a problem. We spent the next 20-30 minutes listening and sometimes singing songs like the “Alphabet Song,” “If You’re Happy,” and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”

When we finished, Kate was ready to rest, but it was another unanticipated “Happy Moment” that didn’t require any planning or great musical talent. Just two people connecting through music that added an extra measure of happiness to our day.

Some might say, “What’s so special about that?” John Zeisel answers that in his book, I’m Still Here: A Breakthrough Approach to Understanding Someone Living with Alzheimer’s. He points out that too often we treat people living with dementia like “patients” rather than as “people.” We need to accept and appreciate their capabilities that last long after the diagnosis. It’s possible to maintain positive relationships with our loved ones with dementia through many things like photos and music that have been very important to Kate and me. This particular “Happy Moment” illustrates how we are able to continue to enjoy life and each other. May it always be so.

How is Kate?

Every day, people ask, “How is Kate?” That’s a question I’ve been asked since I became open about her diagnosis 4-5 years ago. Because I’m around people much more since our move, I hear it more often these days. For years, I said, “Remarkably well.” For the past couple of years, I’ve been more likely to say things like, “She’s having a good day.” “She’s happy.” “Our relationship is as strong as ever.” Sometimes I say, “She had a rough day yesterday.” Each of the things is true, but it never tells the full story.

Something similar is true about this blog. Over time, my posts convey a pretty good picture of how she is doing, but reading only a few posts can be misleading. For that reason, I would like to give you a better sense of how she is at this last stage of her Alzheimer’s.

I have focused heavily on Kate’s recovery from COVID since Thanksgiving. She had only one problem, but that was a significant one. She was frightened by everything that involved moving her. She has made slow, but steady progress. The fact that we are able to get her up every day and sometimes take her out of the apartment are the best indications of that.

That doesn’t come without any problems. She still protests a little when we change her. She is also bothered by minor bumps when she is in her wheelchair. For example, she feels even slight changes in elevation as we roll her from the floor to the carpet and back again and responds with an audible protest. Getting her into and out of bed with the lift is going much better as is getting into and out of a chair. Her responses also vary from day to day.

Our visits to the café where we get her a milk shake or ice cream have been especially good times. It’s not the ice cream that is the major benefit. She, the caregiver and I enjoy spending time in the seating area that looks onto a courtyard. It is relaxing for each of us. I also like the fact that it gives Kate the opportunity to see other residents. Not every interaction goes the way I would like, but I think it is good for her.

A couple of days ago, for the first time, she became belligerent when we were about to leave the café. She yelled and screamed when we tried to get her feet on the footrests of her wheelchair. I’m not sure why, but she doesn’t like using them. It is one of the things that frighten or bother her. Despite this, she is getting better. Two days this week, she didn’t protest at all and kept her feet on the footrests the entire time.

While she’s recovering from the trauma of COVID, she seems to be on a plateau with respect to her Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t seem very different than she was a year ago. In three ways, I believe she has declined. She seems to have fewer cheerful moments than in the past, although she periodically has very cheerful and talkative periods that can last several hours.

When these moments occur, they are usually rooted in a delusion in which she refers to people and situations that are not real. Her caregivers and I converse with her as though she is making perfectly good sense. We know that she is happy, and we are glad to see it. This experience is especially common around the dinner hour. She almost always enjoys her food and expresses it joyfully. In between these cheerful moments, she has longer periods in which she is more passive or withdrawn than she used to be. Thankfully, she is happy most of the time. Even when she is sleeping or resting, I often notice that she has a smile on her face.

Following a longtime pattern, she is generally “slow” in the morning and sometimes confused but improves throughout the day. She is at her best after 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. This usually lasts until she goes to sleep.

Another change involves Kate’s interest in her photo books and her family. Her mother has always held a special place in her heart. Now, Kate expresses little interest in her mother’s pictures or even hearing about her. Similarly, she displays less interest in her children and grandchildren. The exception is when she talks with them by phone. Sometimes, she responds as warmly as ever.

She is also less comfortable with people who drop by to see us or those she meets when we take her out. She often fails to say anything at all. Sometimes she surprises me. She did that earlier this week when the caregiver and I took her to get a milkshake. A church friend stopped at our table and spoke with us a few minutes. Kate didn’t say a word even when the person spoke directly to her and asked a question. When our friend said goodbye, Kate responded to her as warmly as if the two of them had been talking for ten minutes.

There is one other change that is particularly significant to me. She has more moments when I am not familiar to her. It’s not that she doesn’t remember my name or that I am her husband. I feel sure that happens more than I know. The difference now is there are times when she responds to me like I am a stranger. Sometimes she doesn’t seem bothered by that and asks in a friendly voice, “Who are you?” That happened last night as we were enjoying a series of YouTube videos featuring Peter, Paul, and Mary. Several times in succession, she asked who I was. Each time I answered she repeated her question. Other times, she seems disturbed and doesn’t say anything or respond to my questions.

In either case, I tell her my name and that we have been together since college. I mention our falling in love, getting married, having children, and that we’ve been happily married fifty-eight years. This usually sparks a sense of recognition. Even when it doesn’t, she seems more comfortable.

We had an experience like that this morning. After telling her who I am, she was still uncomfortable talking with me. I reached for The Velveteen Rabbit on the end table and read it to her. She kept her eyes closed the entire time and didn’t respond in any way. At the end, I said, “I like that story. Thank you for letting me read it. I hope you liked it too.” She looked as though she might be asleep and didn’t say anything, but she nodded her head. She was going back to sleep, something not unexpected as she had been awake 2-3 hours earlier than usual. Did she “know” me then? I don’t know, but she was relaxed.

Except for this change in recognizing me, our relationship remains strong. She is glad to see me when I return after leaving her with the caregiver. Sometimes she is very expressive and says, “I’m so glad you’re here.” She still calls my name when she needs something or during times she when the caregiver is doing something she doesn’t like. Most of the time, she also responds rather quickly when I try to calm her as the caregiver changes her. In addition, she frequently grabs my hand in moments when she feels threatened (bothered?) by the caregiver’s efforts to change her or move her in any way.

Several other good things remain the same. Music is still an important part of our lives. At times when Kate is quiet, her caregivers and I often notice that she is moving her head or feet in rhythm with the music. I don’t read The Velveteen Rabbit to her as often as I used to, but I am pleased that she continues to enjoy it.

Most important of all, to me at least and I think to Kate, is that the best time of our day is after the caregivers leave each night. We both relax and enjoy being together. That is something I hope we can hold onto for some time to come.

Tender Moments at Stage 7

Yesterday, I worked on a draft of a new post focusing on Kate at this stage of her Alzheimer’s. I haven’t finished, but we had an experience during the afternoon that I decided to tell you about first.

I often think of the fact that our relationship has changed so radically over the course of Kate’s Alzheimer’s. Many things that were a regular part of our lives are now gone, but love remains and makes itself known to each of us every day. One of the changes is that she no longer does things with the deliberate intent of making me feel happy.

When she does express her affection for me, and I don’t believe a day passes without her doing so, it is a simple, often non-verbal, expression of her love. That would not be enough for some people, but it is for me. The impact of simply reaching for my hand has great impact, something that would not have had the same value early in our relationship.

We had one of those experiences yesterday. The caregiver and I started to take her out for a stroll around the hallways and to get a milkshake when she became upset. She refused to put her feet on the footrests of the wheelchair. That not only makes it harder to push her, it runs the risk of twisting her feet and legs as she drags them on the floor. I suggested to the caregiver that we back off, give up the idea of going out, and just focus on calming her. She was sulking as we went out on the balcony.

I put on some music that I thought might calm her. Then I took her hand and spoke to her very gently. I expressed my love for her and talked about our falling in love in college, getting married and having children. I spent at least 30 minutes doing this without her displaying any change in mood. Then I said something she thought was funny. She smiled and laughed. I said, “I guess you think I’m a silly guy.” She responded quickly and firmly with a “No.” That opened the door for me to mention how much I like her smile.

We sat quietly for a few minutes while the music played. Then she looked at me while pulling her hands together and held them close to her chest as though she were trying to tell me something. She followed that by extending her hand to me. I reached out to take it, and she pulled it to her chest and held it tightly. We looked in each other’s eyes, and I said, “I love you. I always have. I always will.” It was a tender, yes, romantic moment, for both of us.

Our Relationship

First, let me say that Kate had been in a good mood all day. Second, nothing in my caregiver’s toolbox works every time. On the other hand, Kate and I still work well together most of the time. Here’s an example from last night.

Kate was awake very early yesterday, just before 8:00. In fact, in the past few days, she has been awake as early as 7:00. It’s not unusual for her to do this occasionally, but she typically goes back to sleep. Not so, this time, and I took advantage of the opportunity of being together. I got the photo book I made for our recent anniversary and jumped into bed with her. We spent a good while going through it together. This was a time when she was interested. We enjoyed reminiscing about all the things we have done together. We only stopped when she began to tire. Then she rested until the caregiver arrived.

The afternoon also went well. Kate, the caregiver, and I spent over an hour relaxing on our balcony. That’s becoming a regular part of our daily routine at least until the summer heat makes it less appealing.

Although she is adjusting to our getting her out of and back into bed as well as changing her, Kate continues to protest, at least a little, most of the time.  That was true when we got her into bed after dinner. As the caregiver started to pull her slacks down, Kate responded forcefully both verbally and physically.

I responded by getting into the bed from my side. She was holding tightly to the caregiver’s arm with one hand and her pants with the other. I spoke slowly and softly and asked her to take my hands. She didn’t release her grip. As carefully as we could, the caregiver and I took her hands and put them in mine.

Then I said something like this. “Sweetheart, it’s about time for Lilly to go, and before she does, she needs to get you ready for bed. She needs our help. I know you would like to help her.” She said she did. I continued, “What we can do is just relax and let her do what she needs to do. She’ll be very gentle. She knows how to do this. I know this isn’t easy for you, but I am right here with you. You can hold my hands and squeeze them as tight as you want.”

She began to relax. Lilly did what she needed to do, Kate never protested. The two of us talked about how much we appreciated having someone to help us. When she was ready for bed, she said, “Thank you” (to Lilly). A potential problem had been averted.

This recovery wasn’t a singular event. It grows out of our longtime relationship and individual personalities. We are both conflict avoiders, and each of us likes to please the other. That has carried us a long way in our marriage, but I never imagined that it could pay such benefits in the last stage of her Alzheimer’s. Will it last forever? Obviously, I hope so, but I can’t even be sure it will happen the next time we encounter a similar situation. Still, I’m optimistic that the nature of our relationship will continue to help us face future challenges as they arise, and I know they will.

How is Kate?

I am often asked how Kate is doing. Typically, these are situations in which I have little time to elaborate. For that reason, I’ve developed short answers that do the job. For years, I said, “She’s doing remarkably well.” During the past two years, I’ve been prone to say “She’s declining, but we still enjoy life and each other.” More recently, I’ve said, “Life is more challenging now, but we still enjoy life and each other.”

Her bout with COVID, especially her hospitalization, brought about the most abrupt changes she has experienced during the ten years since her diagnosis. Now when people ask me about her, I say, “She’s making progress but very slowly.” Here’s a fuller story.

Before we got the virus, Kate had entered the last stage of Alzheimer’s. That involved lots of delusions and hallucinations. In addition, I was concerned about her long-term mobility. It was becoming more difficult for her to get up from a seated or a prone position. For years, she had been frightened by sudden noises. I had to warn her when I was going to get ice from the ice maker. Even when I did that, she was often shocked. Along with that, she became uneasy going up and down steps. Her physician and I agreed that she would probably skip a walker and gravitate to a wheelchair because she was unlikely to be able to maneuver a walker. A week or two before she tested positive for COVID, I had to enlist the help of the owner of the Mexican restaurant where we had just finished our meal because she was afraid to step off the curb to get in the car.

A large percentage of the time, she did not know that she was in her own house. Thus, the experience of being taken from her bed to an ambulance and then to the hospital for eight days must have scared her to death. I have compared it to a person’s being kidnapped. Even though the hospital was a place for her to get help, she wasn’t in a position to grasp that. I am sure she was frightened off and on during her entire stay.

She quickly recovered from the physical effects of the virus, but she remained traumatized when she arrived home. We were able to get her up for less than an hour her first day home; however, she was too scared to get out of bed for the next seven weeks.

Today marks the sixteenth week since returning from the hospital. She has made slow, but very gradual, progress. Her physical recovery from the virus hasn’t been a problem. She never had any fever or breathing problems. She recovered quickly while in the hospital from the symptom that took her to there – weakness.

After coming home, we had Home Health for two months. Physical therapy was the primary object of their care. They discontinued service because she wasn’t responding as quickly as they had hoped. Once again, the problem wasn’t anything physical. It was, and still is emotional. She is simply frightened almost every time we try to move her in any way. That involves changing her, lifting her out of bed, putting her into her wheelchair, and putting her back in bed. During these moments, she can be quite combative. She often yells and screams at us. Sometimes she tells us to “Shut up” and “Get out of here.” On some occasions, she presses her nails into my arms and those of her caregivers.

There is one good thing. Her anger usually ceases as quickly as it comes. It is not unusual for her to apologize or thank us after each event. Frequently, however, she is very passive, non-talkative. That normally lasts a few minutes but can last as long as an hour or more.

During the first few weeks after her hospital stay, we did our best to minimize the problem because we felt we were continuing the hospital experience and didn’t want to aggravate her emotional problem. After seven weeks, we decided she needed to get out of bed if she was going to make the kind of recovery we hoped for. We noticed there were occasional times later in the afternoon when she wanted to get up and took advantage of it. At first, the caregiver (with a little help from me) lifted her from the bed to her wheel chair. We found that difficult and gravitated to using a Hoyer lift. Now, that’s the only way we get her up from her bed or a chair which we do four or five times a week. One of the things I like about this is that she and I get to eat dinner together at the table.

The lift works well, but Kate often protests at several points in the process. Each step involves maneuvering her in some way. Fortunately, once she is suspended in the air, she generally relaxes. This process is definitely less offensive to her than changing her, and we depend heavily on it.

My role in everything is to make Kate feel more comfortable. When we change her or get her ready for the lift, I get in bed and tell her what we are going to do. I also tell her that she can help by remaining calm while the caregiver does what she needs to do. When it’s time to turn Kate on her side, I ask Kate to give me a hug, and I put my arms around her. I count to three and pull Kate toward me while the caregiver pushes in the same direction. Kate usually screams or yells, but, once on her side, she is quiet. She holds me tightly and general strokes my back, and I do the same to her. Once in a while, I say, “We never imagined we would be doing this when we first married.” Despite the intended humor, this is a touching moment for me. Throughout the process the caregiver and I tell her she is doing well and thank her for helping us.

Over time, Kate has protested much less than before, but she continues to resist at least minimally most of the time. Last week she went several days with little combativeness. Then over the weekend, she gave us problems. What I hope for is that she will gradually sense that we are not going to harm her, but I am prepared to accept that she may never walk on her own again.

The best thing I can say is that she is happy most of the time, and our relationship never been stronger (except at those moments when we move her). Our evenings after the caregivers leave continue to be the best part of our day. This may not last forever, but I will always be grateful for moments like these and so many others we have shared for almost fifty-eight years.

Our Own Christmas Story

Very early in the pandemic, I learned the following expression concerning our plight. “We may be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.” That struck a chord with me. I believe it holds for just about every obstacle we encounter in life. I definitely believe it applies to people’s experience with Alzheimer’s. Our situations are very diverse. Some people’s experience is like being in a “leaky canoe” while others may be like traveling on an “ocean liner. As regular readers know, Kate and I have been fortunate to face her Alzheimer’s as if we were in a battleship safe from the harsh storms that sink smaller boats.

With that in mind, you might ask what this year’s Christmas was like for us. Judging by the number of Christmas cards, phone calls as well as the flowers and goodies we received, quite a few people may have thought the most fitting piece of Christmas music for us would be “In the Bleak Midwinter.” (One of my all-time favorites, by the way.) Had I thought about it, I might have felt the same way. Kate is in the last stage of Alzheimer’s and bedridden for four weeks related to her recent experience with COVID. Not only that, but we were going to celebrate the day alone except for Kate’s caregiver. As it turned out, we had a joy-filled day.

As usual, I was up early, had breakfast and took a 60-minute walk. I had a relaxing morning before going to wake Kate about 11:15. Her eyes were open when I got to her bedside, and she greeted me with a big smile, just the kind of beginning I like. I took care of her morning meds. Then I served her breakfast in bed. Of course, that isn’t exactly special when you have been in bed for a month as she has, but she still loves her food. Now that I am crushing her pills, even that is a pleasant event for her. I always put it in yogurt or apple sauce. I don’t even tell her she is taking medicine. I just say, “I’ve got a treat for you.”

When the caregiver arrived, it was time to change her. Neither Kate nor the caregivers and I like to face this. She is no longer as combative as she was the first couple of weeks, but it is still something she dislikes and resists. Yesterday was also a day to change the sheet as well, so we did it all at the same time. That is something that is especially disturbing for Kate, but it went relatively smoothly.

The afternoon went very well. Kate was quite talkative even though that involved a lot of delusions. I sat up in bed with her almost the entire time while we watched several Christmas musical programs on YouTube. During one of them, I pointed out that all the musicians in the orchestra were wearing Santa caps. Kate didn’t know what I was talking about, so I put on my own that I wear each year when ringing the Salvation Army bells.

After the caregiver left, we had our Christmas dinner. The meal itself was quite good. I arranged for it through a caterer we have used since near the beginning of the pandemic, usually on a Friday night. Her menu for Christmas was a generous portion of beef tenderloin accompanied by sweet potatoes gratin, twice-baked potato, and green beans. The dessert was an assortment of goodies including fudge, baklava, chocolate mint brownies, and Christmas cookies. We indulged ourselves but still have some leftovers for another meal tonight.

We had a good meal, and both of us enjoyed every bite. The setting itself was nothing to write home about. Kate, of course, was in bed. I stood by the bed and fed her while eating my dinner between her bites. In some ways, one might compare the glamour of the situation to the Parker family’s Chinese dinner in A Christmas Story. The big difference was that Kate and I were having a good time.

After dinner, we watched a portion of It’s a Wonderful Life. Kate was engaged as I tried to explain what was going on; however, I decided to move on to something else and scrolled through the TV schedule. I saw that The Wizard of Oz had just started and turned to that. As I had done with the previous movie, I explained what was happening throughout. She was so engaged that she didn’t want to stop when I first said it was time for us to go to bed. We ended up watching over half of it before calling it a night.

What could have been a depressing way to spend our Christmas Day turned out to be one I will remember fondly. We were together and very happy.

A Special Day for Kate and Me

During this season of the year, people’s thoughts are on the traditional holiday celebrations. That’s also true for Kate and me; however, December 19th is also a day we celebrate. On this day 59 years ago, we had our first date. We attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah on the campus of TCU where we were students. This began a lifetime attending many musical and theatrical performances together.

Despite remembering the date, I only recall a few other things about that night. One of those is picking her up at a neighbor’s house where she and her family were having dinner with very close friends who had known Kate since birth and were like an aunt and uncle to her.

Another was that sometime during the evening, Kate said her father wanted her to ask me a question. He wanted to know if I knew a doctor, then living in West Palm Beach, who had been a groomsman in her parents’ wedding. She was surprised when I said that I had gone to high school with two of his children, was in Key Club with one of them, and that he was my dad’s orthopedist. We were off to a good start.

We had an interesting courtship. In January, I took a job as an ambulance driver with a funeral home. That job played an integral role as our relationship became more serious. My responsibilities also included assisting with funerals. Sometimes I found a few stray flowers. When I did, I took the opportunity to drive by the campus and put a flower or two in the front seat of her car. Other times I was asked to drive to another city to bring back the body of someone who was to be buried in Fort Worth. When I did that, the funeral home would pick my meal expenses. I usually took Kate with me. I was pinching pennies at the time, and that was a good way to have a date without its costing me. (The owner of the funeral home knew I took Kate with me, and he picked up her meals as well.)

I had intended to return to Florida after graduation; however, by late March, it was clear that we were getting serious. I decided to stay in Texas. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Kate’s mother was also noticing the signs of our budding romance. In 2013, after my dad’s death, my brother found about 100 letters I had written to my parents during my days at TCU. Among them was a letter from Kate’s mother to mine. It included the following paragraph.

I wish you could be experiencing with us all the fun and excitement of their friendship. Yesterday was the 19th and on Dec. 19th, Richard had his first date with Kate to attend the “Messiah.” So they celebrated a six-month dating anniversary with 6 lovely red roses. They have such wonderful times, and it keeps us young just watching them.

Appropriately, we became engaged on the first anniversary of our first date. Since then, December 19 has been special for us. Kate has long forgotten that, but I will always remember. Happy Anniversary, Kate. Because of you “I have been changed for good.”

Making a Recovery and Two Very “Happy Moments”

Kate is still a long way from a full recovery from COVID, but I’ve been encouraged by her progress over the past two days. Although she is still not out of bed, she is somewhat more accepting of the efforts of the caregivers to change her and move her in any way. Changing her is one thing with which I am still helping. We have found that my getting in bed with her and asking her to hold my hands seems to give her added security. Except for the actual move to her side and back again, she has been calm.

I will say, however, that changing her and the mattress pads (chucks) is no easy task even with my help. I continue to be struck by the little things that the caregivers know to get the job done. I would not have believed that they could change the bed sheets while Kate is lying on them if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Were it not for Kate’s strong resistance to being moved, it would be even easier.

She is eating more now, and her “plumbing” is working as it should. It took two attempts, but Senokot did the trick. In addition, crushing her meds has made pill time a breeze.

We are still dealing with a problem that occurred while she was in the hospital. I wasn’t with her during that time, but the reports of her behavior and what I have observed at home with all the new caregivers tell me that she has been traumatized by not having any idea of who these people are and why they are “pushing her around” so much.

That leads me to tell you about two very “Happy Moments” we had last night and the night before. For years now, our evenings together have been the most predictably good times of the entire day. I’ve always attributed that to the relaxed nature of our activities after dinner and ending when we go to sleep; however, the contrast between our days and nights has never been as great as it has been since she came home from the hospital. It was quite dramatic the past two nights.

During both afternoons, I played YouTube videos of Christmas music. Several of them were full concerts. Two nights ago we watched “Christmas in Vienna 2018”. That brought back a pleasant memory of December 2008 when Kate and I were in Vienna and attended a live performance of this annual Christmas program. I think Kate enjoyed the video as much as I did. She was happy, and so was I.

Last night, I watched the evening news after dinner while Kate rested. Then I got in bed with her and turned on YouTube again. Kate was exactly like her old self. She was fully at ease, and we were able to talk periodically, generally about our relationship and how good it was to be together. Last night, she introduced this conversation by saying, “I’m so glad you are here.” I interpreted that as a response to all the time she has spent with the caregivers during the day. I think it also makes a difference that she has had at least five or six new caregivers and only one who has cared for her in the past. She has been with us for over three years. Both nights, I ended our evening by reading (you guessed it) The Velveteen Rabbit. She was especially moved by it last night and expressed her pleasure throughout.

Before reading the book, I went back to YouTube and turned on a fireplace video. I’m not sure what motivated me to do that. I know that I had learned about them years ago, but it never seemed like something we might enjoy. It may have been the Christmas music we had enjoyed so much combined with Kate’s joyful mood. It was very much like a Christmas evening we might have had long before Alzheimer’s.

When I finished reading, I decided not to turn off the “fireplace,” and we watched the fire and listened to my favorite album of Christmas music sung by Chanticleer. Kate loved the fire. It actually created a slight glow in the room with the lights out. We talked another 15-20 minutes before calling it an evening, but they were special moments.

Moments like these are encouraging to me. They remind me of something that has been true over the entire course of Kate’s Alzheimer’s. She has gradually lost more and more of her abilities over time. That has been especially true in the past 6-8 months. With each loss, however, we’ve experienced moments like the past two nights. We don’t know, and have never known, exactly what lies ahead of us, but I am optimistic that we will continue to have moments like these. I might even try the YouTube Fireplace again. You can’t have too many tools in your toolbox.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Morning confusion isn’t something new for Kate. She isn’t usually frightened by it, but that happened earlier this week. She was sleeping soundly at 11:00 when I went in to wake her. The look on her face is always the first sign of how she is feeling. She often smiles. Sometimes, she is quite cheerful. Sometimes, I see the look of confusion. This time, I sensed fright and said, “You look scared. Are you?” She nodded.

I launched into what has become a common routine. I try to be reassuring and say, “I can help you. You and I met at TCU and have been together ever since.” She looked doubtful that I could do anything for her. I went on to tell her that I knew a lot about her and her family. Then she said something that I’ve never heard her say before and can’t remember her exact words. She conveyed that she wasn’t able to think of anything, something that fits what I have perceived before as her mind’s being a “complete blank” though she had never been able to articulate it.

When I repeated that I would like to help her, she said, “What can I do?” I told her it would probably help if she could get up and get dressed. I went on to say that I thought she would feel better after she got up. She surprised me when she said, “You’re probably right.” I was encouraged by that, but when I asked her to give me her hand to help her, she said she couldn’t do it.

I sat down on the side of the bed and talked with her a few minutes and tried again. She wasn’t ready. I gave her a little more time but continued to sit with her. When I tried again, she was cooperative. She was very uneasy as we walked to the bathroom and had the normal confusion about what to do once we were there. As we completed each step, she seemed to be more at ease. By the time we walked into the family room on the way to the kitchen, she seemed fine. We stopped a few minutes for her to enjoy the flowers and plants and to rearrange a few things on one of the tables.

Breakfast went well. She enjoyed her food, and the music I was playing. When she finished eating, I asked if she would like for us to spend some time together in the family room. She wanted to stay at the kitchen table. I don’t think I have commented on this before, but she seems very comfortable sitting there. One of the sitters told me that once she wanted to remain there after lunch, and they stayed there for a couple of hours.

That evening she was fine when she got in bed. Two hours later when I was about to get in bed, she had that look of fright on her face and asked who I was. She wasn’t reassured after my telling her. Then I thought of The Velveteen Rabbit. She wasn’t particularly interested, but I read it anyway. Midway through the book, she was making her audible responses to the passages I read. She was fine when I finished. I said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you, too.” Another rough edge smoothed out.