Two months ago this week, I reported on the progress Kate has made over the past few months. I noted the improvement was not with her Alzheimer’s, but she has more cheerful moments and is talking more than she has since her stroke six months ago. Much of what she says is not intelligible; however, she responds in a way that conveys she knows what we say or ask. Overall, she seems to be more at ease.
Despite my encouraging report, I was guarded about the future. Would this continue? If not, how long would it last? I still don’t have answers to these questions, but she has continued to amaze the caregivers and me as well as the residents and staff we see on a daily basis.
Last week, her caregiver and I were stunned by a conversation she had with Alicia, a member of the food staff. She’s a young woman who took an interest in Kate more than six months ago. She is a person of great warmth who leans over and speaks to Kate in a gentle voice. Kate responded well to her in their first contacts together.
A week ago Saturday afternoon while we were having our ice cream, she stopped to say hello on her way to the dining room. Until then, Kate had been rather quiet. She wasn’t unhappy but not cheerful and not ready for conversation. When Alicia put her hand on Kate’s shoulder and spoke to her, Kate smiled and responded audibly. It was striking how quickly her mood changed. For the next 5-10 minutes they engaged in a conversation in which Kate was almost an equal partner.
Since she had to report to the dining room for the evening shift, Alicia couldn’t stay long. As it turned out, she was our server that evening. That provided additional opportunities for them to talk. I took several short videos of their conversation. Kate and I frequently have conversations like that. Sometimes our children have the same experience. A few weeks ago when my brother and his family paid us a visit, Kate responded similarly to my brother’s wife. There are also periodic occasions when she makes a brief response to a staff member or resident; however, this was the first time I had seen Kate engage in a conversation with someone outside our family. She was perfectly at ease.
It was only three or four years ago that I learned about the distinction between rational and intuitive thought/abilities and their significance with respect to dementia. My thanks to Judy Cornish (The Dementia Handbook and Dementia with Dignity) for introducing me to this distinction. The experience with Kate and Alicia was a dramatic example of how well Kate’s intuitive ability works even though her rational abilities are virtually gone.
It also reinforces my belief that the improvement she has experienced in recent months relates to her intuitive abilities. Kate may not know what day or year it is, people’s names, or where she is, but her ability to sense the world around her enables her to experience pleasure.
Our daily routine has opened the door to other people who relate to her as a person, not a person with dementia. She has the same experience at home with the caregiver and me. Together, these things must be making a difference how she feels and responds, but how long will it last? I don’t know. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll continue to take pleasure in each moment we have together.