Yesterday was not a typical day. Kate seemed to be in a cheerful mood, but she was also irritable off and on throughout the day. I observed that very early when I told her I thought she should shower before getting dressed. It had been four days since her last one on Sunday. Each of the previous mornings I had encouraged her but let it go when she resisted. I did the same yesterday.
We commonly hear about anger and violence as symptoms of people with dementia. There is another school of thought that suggests that such behavior is not a direct symptom itself but a bi-product of symptoms like confusion and misperception. According to this interpretation, anger and violence are or can be natural responses to the way the brains of people with dementia work (or don’t work).
If I employ this line of thinking to what happened between Kate and me yesterday, I would say that Kate wasn’t just in a bad mood, she may have been responding to the way I told her it would be good for her to take a shower. In fact, I don’t believe I was as gentle in my suggestion as I usually am. If I had thought of a gentler way to do it, she might have willingly agreed to shower. Instead, she dug in her heals. I didn’t push her.
I told her I had her clothes for her, and she thanked me. When I started to help her dress, she was resistant. She said, “I can do that myself.” Ultimately, she had to have my help with her bra and her pants, but she was determined to be as independent as possible. As I helped her, she snapped at me. Then she felt bad and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” She clearly understood that was not typical for her. I think her reaction related to my not being gentle enough in my attempt to get her to shower.
While she went to the bathroom to brush her teeth, I went to the kitchen to get her morning meds. Shortly, I heard her call, “Daddy!” I called back from the kitchen, but she didn’t hear me. She called again. “Daddy!” I walked toward the bedroom and said, “Here I am.” This was a time when I thought it was best not to tell her that I am her husband. When I reached her, she looked a little frightened and said, “I didn’t know where you were.”
As we drove to lunch, I played some music that she likes. She didn’t talk much. When she did, it was to comment on the music. She enjoyed it. We had a pleasant lunch. It was as if the problems getting up had never happened. The afternoon also went well. We spent a couple of hours at home. She worked on her iPad a while and then rested on the sofa. After her rest, she wanted something to eat. It was ninety minutes before time to leave for opera night at Casa Bella. I took her to Panera for a bagel. We got home in time to change clothes and leave for dinner. That’s when another problem occurred.
I made a complete change of clothes and had picked out a different top for her. She didn’t want to change and snapped at me. I tried not to push her. She consented, but she wasn’t happy.
As usual, she enjoyed the evening of music. The man with whom we share a table commented several times about her enthusiasm. He and his wife got to observe an example of Kate’s memory problems when she looked at me and said, “And what is your name?” I said, “Richard.” She frowned. I knew that meant she wanted my full name and said, “Richard Creighton.” She frowned again. I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” That was the right answer.
The biggest problem of the day occurred just before we left. I was seated across the table from her. The seat to my left was empty. I was seated with my back to the singers and moved to the empty seat and turned halfway to the right so that I could see them. When the program ended, I looked at Kate who was disconcerted. She looked at me and said, “Is that you?” It turned out that she had lost sight of me even though I was only four feet diagonally across from her. She was quite relieved to see me.
The man in the seat to my right got up, and I started to follow him out. He stopped to help his wife with her walker. The two of them were standing between Kate and me. I chatted briefly with a man at the next table. When I finished, I went around the couple to see Kate. That’s when I saw that the couple and another man who had been at our table were trying to comfort her. She had been very disturbed because she didn’t know where I was. When she saw me, she said sternly, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” I am sure the three people who were trying to soothe her were shocked that these words expressed so strongly came out of the mouth of someone they had no doubt viewed as very soft spoken.
It amazed me that she had become so anxious in such a short span of time. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes. Of course, with no perception of time, it could have seemed much longer to Kate. I was standing within six feet of her the whole time, but she couldn’t see me. I apologized and told her I would never leave her. As we walked through the restaurant to leave, she continued to be a little upset. My apology must have been too light-hearted because she said, “This is no laughing matter.” By the time we got to the car, she was fine. I played several pieces of music she loved on the way home. That made her even happier. The crisis was over.
It is obvious that Kate’s insecurity is increasing and that I am her “security blanket.” I also think the events of the day illustrate how much her emotional reactions are tied directly to her perceptions of the events around her. Her rational abilities are not working well enough understand what is going on. That misunderstanding leads to insecurity that is sometimes expressed in behavior that is not typical of her.