A Day of Anticipation That Ended in Disappointment

Yesterday began with a meeting with the owner of the new (to us) agency that is providing the help this week and in the future. This will be in addition to the three days a week now covered by our current agency. We had a good meeting. I feel very comfortable with them. That is especially true after my interaction with three of his staff last week. He was here about an hour. During that time, I gave him background on Kate and showed him the key areas of the house with which he and his staff should be familiar. He had a CNA prepared to be at our house at noon, but we decided I should call him as soon as I heard that Kate was being released. The nurse and the CNA were to head to our house for a brief orientation and to be present to greet Kate upon her arrival.

In the meantime, that gave me time to make a few preparations. When Kate’s mother lived with us, we had bought a steel ramp that we used to make it easy for her CNAs to get her down the two steps from our family room to our patio. Her mother passed away in 2005. It has been stored in our garage since then. Although it is very heavy, I was able to slide it across the floor of the garage and lift it in place on the top of two steps into the house.

Word about Kate’s hospitalization had gotten around, and I received a number of phone calls and emails offering support. This is the first time I have ever been in this position. I quickly learned something that I had only thought of before when it was someone else in our position. Some people hesitate to call because they may catch me at a bad time. My personal feeling as a recipient of such calls is that they are welcomed. I did have to cut short two or three when I received a call from the hospital or someone else with whom I was coordinating Kate’s return. I found the conversations themselves to be therapeutic. They also filled my day as I was somewhat nervously, but eagerly, waiting to see Kate for the first time in six days.

Shortly after 3:00, I received a call from Kate’s doctor at the hospital. She began by telling me it was her first time to see Kate and was trying to get a clearer picture of her “baseline” before COVID. I filled her in on the fact that she had been declining recently but had been able to stand and walk and was eating well. I explained that COVID had pushed her over the edge, and she had been very weak.

Then she told me that one of the things they had been monitoring involved a measure of muscle tone or strength. I wasn’t too clear on this, but it related to her ability to walk.  The measure had gone up to 700 from 200. The doctor thought it might have something to do with hydration. Kate has been on an IV to keep her hydrated, but she pulled it out the night before. They want to try again and see if they can improve the numbers before releasing her. She went on to convey that she didn’t want my expectations to be too high for her immediate recovery.

This was a gut-wrenching way to end a day of anticipation of Kate’s being back home with me. Perhaps, I will get better news today.

Emotional Times

I always assumed that the last stage of Kate’s Alzheimer’s would involve sadness for me. That is happening now although it is only periodic. It is minimized by the many happy moments we continue to experience. In addition, there are times for which neither happy nor sad seems to be the right word. Those are tender moments when each of us feels a deep sense of love for the other as well as (at least on my part) the recognition that time is running out.

Sad moments for me occur when Kate is disturbed by her lack of memory and any sense of where she is or what she is supposed to do. Most of these experiences are in the morning and have become almost routine. I know how to comfort her, and most of them are not as serious as others. For that reason, I don’t usually feel sad.

Several days ago, she had an experience that was very upsetting to her and to me. It was definitely a sad moment and not one that happened in the morning. She had finished resting in the family room. I looked over at her and saw that her eyes were open. The expression on her face was one of concern. I asked if I could help her. She said yes, and I walked over to her. She wanted to go to the bathroom.

On the way, she continued to act as though something was troubling her. What I initially saw as concern wasn’t about getting to the bathroom. While seated on the toilet, she tilted her head down and held it with her hands. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she was in tears and distraught. She said, “I feel like I am not alive. I don’t know anything.”

This was as sad a moment as I have felt. I focused on comforting her. I said, “I know you’re not yourself right now, but I want you to know I am with you and will always be with you.” When we finished in the bathroom, I took her to the family room where we took a seat on the sofa. I told her I had something I wanted to show her and picked up a three-ring binder of information about her and her family. I reminded her that she frequently asks me to “write that down for the book” she plans to write about her family and told her that the binder contained some of the information she had wanted.

She responded quickly. Offering comfort and diverting her attention are a powerful combination. I don’t know that it will always work, but, so far, it has.

Saturday morning, we shared a tender moment. I put on a Judy Collins album before trying to get her up. It was still playing when we got to the kitchen to take her morning pills before leaving for lunch. As usual, my focus was seeing that she took her medicine and wasn’t thinking about the music. Collins was singing “Amazing Grace.” The music caught Kate’s attention. She stopped taking her pills and commented on how beautiful it was. With tears in her eyes, she grasped my hand and held it tightly. I put my arms around her. She began to cry, and so did I. We stood there, arms wrapped around each other and enjoyed the moment.

As I reflect, I don’t believe either of us was simply responding to the music. Like many people, we love the song, but we have never reacted to it this way. I believe it was a catalyst that heightened our existing emotions. Music can do that. That may be especially true for us because we have devoted so much of our attention to it since Kate’s diagnosis.

This an emotional time for us. She is struggling with the symptoms of her Alzheimer’s. It is frightening not to know anything. It’s also an emotional time for me. I’m happy when she is happy, but the corollary is that I suffer when she suffers. In addition, I experience something she can’t. Although I can’t predict the future, but I am very mindful that our time together is rapidly diminishing. Music can move us anytime, but it is especially powerful when our emotions are on “high alert” as they are now. I am sure it will continue to bring us comfort in the days ahead.

A Sad Moment

Over the past few days, Kate’s memory has seemed even weaker than usual. She often fails to remember her name and the names of her mother, father, and me. When I show her pictures or remind her of things about them, she generally shows a spark of recollection. That is less true recently and especially so today at lunch and afterward.

She has had trouble with her name and mine all day. During lunch, she asked my name, I said, “Richard.” She said, “I can’t call you that.” She struggled with how to explain, and I said, “Because you feel like you are too young to call me by my first name?” She acknowledged that was true. I said, “How about Mr. Richard?” She liked that.

As she often does, she asked the “name of this place.” I told her it didn’t, but it had an address and gave it to her. Then I said, “Some people think of it as Kate and Richard’s house.” She gave me a strange look. It was obvious that she couldn’t understand why it would be called that. I didn’t say anything more.

We were seated at our kitchen table, and a few minutes later, she said, “This is a nice room.” I agreed and told her I thought she would like to see the other rooms. When we finished eating, I took her to the dining room and told her I wanted her to see a few things from her parents’ house. She gave me another strange look and said, “Did I know my parents?” I told her she did. She said, “I don’t remember anything about them.” This was not the first time I had heard her say this. I told her I thought I could help her remember and started giving her the usual tour.

She expressed less interest than usual. She couldn’t get her mind off the fact that she didn’t remember them at all. She asked me where they are. I decided not to say they were gone. Instead, I said, “They’re in Fort Worth.” She said, “Did they like me?” I told her they loved her very much. She said, “If they did, why haven’t they seen me?”

I cut the tour short when she asked if I had any pictures of them. I took her into the family room to look at the “Big Sister” album that her brother had made for her. We didn’t get very far before she said, “I don’t remember any of this.” She was tired and asked if she could rest a while. That’s what she is doing right now. When she wakes up, she won’t remember forgetting her parents. The question is “Will she be fine, or will there be something else that disturbs her? Either one is quite possible.

A Sad Moment to End our Day

The past few days have made me more aware of something many other caregivers  talk about. People with dementia can change quickly from one moment to the next. I frequently find myself caught off guard by Kate’s behavior. Take last night for example.

After spending most of the time sleeping or resting from Thursday night until getting up for dinner yesterday, she was in bed about 7:15 and asleep shortly after that. I was surprised when two hours later I heard her say, “Help me. Help me, please.” I told her I would. She repeated her pleas for help several times before I could get in bed.

After joining her in bed, I asked how I could help her. Her most common response is to say, “I don’t know.” Instead, she said, “I don’t know anything. Help me.” I told her I could help her and said, “First, do you know who I am?” She said, “What’s your name?” I told her and she repeated it but mispronounced it a couple of times. I coached her, and she got it right. Then I asked if she knew her own name. She didn’t. I said, “Your name is Kate.” She said, “Now let me say it.” She couldn’t remember it. I repeated her name twice. She repeated it successfully. For the next 15-20 minutes we repeatedly went over her name and mine. As soon as we finished one repetition, she wanted to go through it again. I wish I could capture the tone of her voice and how intent she was about trying to remember her name and mine. That is what made it so sad. She wanted to do something she simply could not do. The extent to which she was bothered is another example of her awareness that something is wrong with her. She was only successful a couple of times, and then it immediately followed my repeating the name. It was a powerful example of just how poor her short-term memory is, that is, virtually non-existent.

The only good news coming out of the experience is that she began to tire and wanted to go to sleep, and she as been all right today.

A Nice Day with a Sad Ending

I am often worried that I will have a problem getting Kate up on days when the sitter comes or when we have some other commitment. Yesterday was one of those. I had planned to attend a luncheon sponsored by the health foundation on whose board I had served. It had been a while since I had attended any of their events and was eager to be there. Cindy, Kate’s Monday sitter, had an opening yesterday, so it was all arranged.

To top it off, getting Kate up was no problem at all. She woke up on her own around 8:30. and wanted me to take her home. That meant getting her ready was easy. We drove over to Panera where I got her a muffin and brought her home shortly before Cindy arrived. As usual, Kate was tired and got on the sofa to rest. She was wide awake when Cindy got here. She greeted her warmly and showed no reluctance to my leaving.

I enjoyed the luncheon. I got to see a good number of people I hadn’t seen in a while and sat by someone I hadn’t known and got acquainted with her. It was a therapeutic outing for me.

Kate was still resting on the sofa when I got home. Cindy said she hadn’t moved since I left. She also went to be early.

I watched some of the coverage of the New Hampshire primary and went to bed later. I know that Kate was asleep at least off and on before then. When I got in bed, I discovered that she was very uneasy. We began what turned out to be a long conversation. She wanted me to help her and asked where she was, who she was, who I was, and who her parents were. She repeatedly asked the same questions over and over again for almost an hour. As quickly as I gave my answers, she forgot them. I spoke to her very calmly and suggested that I would be able to show her some photos that might help her understand. She didn’t want to look at anything then. Throughout our conversation she was very comfortable with me even though she didn’t recognize our relationship. I told her we had been together a long time, and she asked if I were her husband. When I told her, she didn’t express surprise. It was a simple acceptance of what I had said. At one point, she told me that these were important things that she ought to know. I agreed and told her to count on me to answer all her questions.

It was a sad situation and one I couldn’t solve. It wasn’t like some other incidents in which she was frightened or desperately worried about why she didn’t know these things, but she was concerned and felt she should know. Finally, we both thought we should get some sleep, and we did.

Concerned About Not Doing What She Believes She Should

When Kate got in the shower yesterday morning, she got upset. At first, she was using the soap. I told her to use it. Then she got very teary and said , “Will you still love me?” I told her I loved her from the day the day we met and would always love her. She gradually calmed down .

As I was helping her into the car after lunch, she said she wanted to tell me something. Then she said, “You have told me a lot of things, but I know I won’t remember them. Promise me you won’t be mad at me?” I assured her that I wouldn’t get mad and was happy to tell her as many times as she needs to ask.  She said she knew I wouldn’t but some people would. She said, “I know you must get tired of me asking you all the time.” I found her concern about my reaction strange. I felt almost like she was afraid of me. It was hard for me to imagine that because it is so out of keeping with our relationship.

She went on to say something else but stumbled on the words. My interpretation was that she couldn’t understand why she has so many problems. I don’t know that I am correct though I do know this is an ongoing concern of hers. Earlier at Panera she wondered why she does so many “stupid things” when she is so smart. Periodically she talks about being smart. I think that is because she is aware of so many things she does that seem to contradict that. I don’t usually feel sad, but this is one of the things that does it. I don’t like to see her suffer.

A Sad Moment

I am always happy to report on the Happy Moments that Kate and I share, but there are occasional times when I feel a moment of sadness. That occurs primarily in times when Kate is unhappy, experiencing anxiety or panic. To a lesser extent it also occurs when there is a change as she loses the ability to do things like working on her computer, the yard or her iPad, or the first time she forgot my name. I recover from her losses, but I have never gotten used to the times she is disturbed. One of those happened yesterday.

As I helped her dress, she was in a good humor, and I was sure that she recognized me as her husband. Then we went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. I asked if she would like some mouthwash. She responded as if I had said something that angered her. She said, “I just want to get out of here. I want to get back to my old self.” Moments later, she looked in the mirror and said, “I look awful. That’s not me.” She was very distressed. I told her I thought she was beautiful, but she didn’t believe me and didn’t want to hear that. She has always wanted me to be truthful with her but has also been aware that I want to say things that make her feel good.

In this case, the truth is that she has put on 40-50 pounds since her diagnosis. That has changed her physical appearance. She doesn’t look the way she did before. At first, I told her that we all change our appearance as we get older. She said, “It’s more than that.” My next option was diversion.

When we finished in the bathroom, I told her I wanted to show her something. I took her hand and we walked to the hall outside our bedroom where we have some of her family photos. First, I showed her the picture of her mother, then her grandmother, followed by her grandfather, and her father. Her mood changed immediately with the first photo. We talked about each one and then went to the family room where she reacted to the flowers, her ceramic cat, and another photo of her father. The crisis was over. The rest of the day she was fine.

This particular experience is just one other that lets me know that she recognizes she is not the same as she used to be, and it hurts. Her intuitive insights generally please me but those about herself are painful to her and, thus, to me as well. I take comfort that incidents like this are rare. I would rather have life the way it is now that what it may be like in the future when that self-awareness is gone.

A Repeat of the Previous Two Days, But . . .
I look at yesterday as another good day, but I have to qualify my judgment. It was good in terms of Kate’s and my relationship. It was not good in terms of the increasing signs of her decline. The past three days have involved a variety of symptoms that signal that she is changing. Let me give you a sense of what the day was like.

Because she had lost sleep night before last, I let her sleep a little longer yesterday. When I went to wake her, I found that she was already awake but didn’t want to get up. My sense was that she responded like a person who was depressed. It wasn’t that she felt a need for sleep but that she just didn’t want to face the day. That is something I have observed on a number of other mornings in recent weeks.

She didn’t remember who I was, but she was cooperative when I invited her to lunch and told her I would help her get ready. Like the day before, she didn’t show any “spark” or sign of enthusiasm until she walked into the family room and saw her flowers. We enjoyed music on the way to lunch. When we arrived at the restaurant, she seemed fine in terms of her mood. She displayed no sign of depression and had a good time at lunch.

She wanted to rest as soon as we got back to the house. As she did the day before, she went to sleep. That has not been typical for her. Not only that, but when she awoke after at least an hour, she didn’t want to look through her photo books or anything else. She just wanted to continue resting. Like the day before, she was very relaxed and peaceful. She was content with no sign of worry. She was “at home.” We spoke for a few minutes. Then she rested but didn’t appear to sleep. Later I told her I wanted to show her something. I didn’t tell her what, but she agreed to look. It was a slide show of photos taken during a trip we took to Bruges and Amsterdam. I was particularly interested in her seeing these photos because there were so many taken at Keukenhof Gardens. I knew that she would enjoy the beauty of the floral displays, and she was. The problem was that she was still tired and wanted to stop after a short period of time. She didn’t go to sleep but rested another forty-five minutes before I got her up for dinner.

At dinner, she displayed more confusion. It began with what is becoming commonplace. She had trouble determining where she was to sit even though I was standing by the seat and pointing to it while I said, “You can sit right here.” When our server brought the bread, she didn’t know what it was or how to eat it. I buttered several slices and put them on her bread plate. Instead of picking up a piece of bread and taking a bite, she used her fork to pick it up. It was awkward for her as she tried to put it in her mouth. I suggested she try picking up a piece with her hand, and she did better. When the meal came, she didn’t know what the rice was, but she liked it as always.

After getting home, I asked if she would like to work puzzles on her iPad while I watched the news. That sounded good to her. It wasn’t long before she was stumped. I tried to help, but that came down to my actually putting the pieces in place for her. She tried another one but was frustrated and wanted to get ready for bed.

I turned on the debate as I prepared to take my shower. Then I asked Kate if she would like me to turn it off. She said she would like to listen a while. She didn’t watch, but she was still listening when I got out. I know she doesn’t know any of the candidates and she couldn’t understand what they were saying. I think she just found it a satisfying distraction. When I went to bed, she was almost asleep. She was very relaxed and seemed to know me.

As I reflect on the past few days, I have thought about two other friends who had spouses with dementia. I had been with them and their spouses less than six months before they died, only a few weeks for one of them. In each case, I was very surprised when they passed away. I had no idea when I saw them that they were so close to the end. Wayne Abernathy called me on Saturday. We had a long conversation during which he talked a lot about the last few months of his wife’s life. He saw it as a time when his wife simply slowed down. As he talked about his experience, it made me wonder if Kate might be at the beginning of this same stage.

I also thought of our friend Nancy Hardwick who lives in Dallas. Her husband died a few weeks after we had dinner with them in 2017. He, too, slowed down after we left. He began to sleep more and said to her, “You know I’m dying.” He was gone in less than three weeks.

I don’t pretend to know what lies ahead. I know that Kate’s mother lived with us almost five and a half years with minimal ability to speak or get around on her own. I don’t want Kate to do the same. I am coming to that place I have heard other caregivers talk about. There is a point at which you believe it is better for the one you love to die than to live. I’m not there yet. For the first time, however, I am beginning to think seriously about her passing and hoping the end will come in a way that is similar to that of Wayne and Nancy’s spouses.

Another Milestone in Our Journey

It was January 21, 2011, when Kate received her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Late yesterday Kate had a routine appointment with her gerontologist. As I have done prior to other appointments, I posted an update to Kate’s chart via her doctor’s online portal. That way I am free to explain how Kate is doing without worrying about her feeling talked about or my taking over the visit. It worked especially well this time. The doctor took far less time exploring how she was getting along.

She began by asking questions of Kate. Because my report had mentioned a concern with her vision, she asked Kate to read a sign on the back of the door to the room. She was able to see the first word, “Our,” but not pronounce it. She never got to the rest of the words. The doctor asked about her daily routine. Kate hesitated and then mentioned something completely unrelated to the question and unintelligible to us. I had feared that they were going to go through the usual questions related to the President’s name, date, drawing a clock, etc. but was relieved that the doctor felt she had enough without going further. Kate also mentioned working in the yard, but, of course, that is something she hasn’t done in two or three years.

The doctor was accompanied by a man serving a residency with the practice. She asked Kate if it would be all right if she and I stepped out for a few minutes and let the resident collect some additional information. That was fine with Kate, and we left. While we were out of the room, the doctor gave me the prescription and application for a handicapped sticker for our car. That is something I had requested in my update. She also gave me a sheet with a detailed list of symptoms for the 7-Stage Model of the Progression of Alzheimer’s. She agreed with what I had already estimated, that Kate is at the end of Stage 6 and about to enter the final stage. I looked over the list when we got home. It seems rather clear that is correct. As I said in a previous post about two weeks ago, no one can provide a precise estimate of the length of any of the stages, but it was sobering to receive the information.

I thought back to the time of Kate’s diagnosis 8 ½ years ago. Kate and I both expected to hear that she had dementia. Hearing the doctor say it; however, had a great effect on both of us. That was also true for her current doctor’s confirmation of where she is now. I suspect most people who are around her would never guess that she is this far along. I am personally surprised that she is able to function as well as she does now that she is on the cusp of the final stage of the disease. I am able to see all the signs without any problem, but it seems to me that she couldn’t be at this stage just yet. I was also struck by the specific symptoms of each stage. There are quite a few for Stage 6, but very few for Stage 7. I am copying them below.

  • “Frequently lose the ability for recognizable speech although words or phrases may be uttered.” Just beginning for Kate.
  • “Need help with eating and toileting, and there is general urinary incontinence.” Just beginning for Kate.
  • “Lose the ability to walk without assistance, then the ability to sit without support, smile, and to hold up head; reflexes become abnormal, muscles grow rigid, and swallowing is impaired.”) Just beginning for Kate.

Like so many things, I find myself wishing I knew more precisely how much time we have, but it may be better that I don’t.

Looking back, I am satisfied with the way in which we have approached her diagnosis. Our goal was to make the most of whatever time we had. That goal has served us well. It is my intention to continue the same game plan. I realize that we will reach a point at which we are much more restricted in what we are able to do, but we won’t stop until I find that it is wise to do so. I remember that my dad took my mom with him wherever he went, except Kiwanis, until shortly before her death. I hope that Kate and I will be able to do the same.

This is one of those sad moments, but I want to emphasize that we are still experiencing happy moments and will do so for the foreseeable future. Apart from that, I have accumulated a treasure trove of memories before and since her diagnosis. I never imagined that we could enjoy life so much while living with Alzheimer’s. I am truly grateful.

A Visit With Nashville Friends

We drove to Nashville yesterday afternoon to have dinner with longtime friends Jan and Scott Greeley. Kate and Scott have known each other since infancy. Their mothers were friends and pregnant with the two of them at the same time. We spent the night in a hotel and will have lunch with them before going home this afternoon.

It had been about six months since we last saw them. Kate has changed so much since then that I was eager for us to visit before she declines much more. I am glad we did. This was the first visit with any of our friends in which Kate’s changes have been so obvious. I had already prepared them in terms of conversation with her. What I hadn’t done was to let them know of her physical changes as well. In fact, it is something I have only mentioned in passing in my blog. They discovered this before we even got in the house.

They saw us drive up and came out to greet us. We walked up two or three steps to enter their house. Kate is fearful of falling, and she struggled to get up the steps and into the house. She also expressed audible expressions of anguish. This, too, is something that is common. As we entered the house she wanted to hold my hand. This is something that has become increasing common just in the past few weeks. She is very unsure of herself in unfamiliar places. It’s more than a fear of falling. She doesn’t know where she is going, so she holds my hand to guide her.

Over the past few days, I had been trying to refresh her memory about our relationship with them. Of course, I know that she can’t remember, but I wanted to try anyway. It was of no use. Even after reminders as we got close to their house, she had no idea where we were going and who we would see. For the most part, she handled herself well. I don’t think she said or did anything that suggested she didn’t know them. I believe she felt a general sense of familiarity with them but not as strongly as I had hoped.

The Greeleys are making a trip to New Zealand in December and had asked me to bring pictures from our visit there in 2014. We chatted about hour before looking at our slides. Kate was tired and wanted to lie down. She took a seat in a lounge chair and rested while we continued the slide show. When we were finished, we walked into the den where Kate was resting. Scott said something, and Kate said, “You’re a pretty nice guy, and I don’t even know who you are.”

Going out to eat gave the Greeleys another sign of her physical challenges. There was nothing dramatic, but she walked very slowly. She was unsure of herself as we entered the restaurant. She wanted to hold my hand most of the way to our table. Getting into and out of the booth she seemed like a person much older than she is.

I find moments like this to be sad ones. Because of their history together, Kate has always felt very close to Scott. It was sad that she couldn’t remember him. He and Jan gave her two photos taken when the two of them were in high school. I will put them in the three-ring binder that I call her memory book, although they didn’t prompt the enthusiasm that I would have liked. Kate has clearly reached a new stage.