Another Slow Start and Strong Finish

Because we were going to Nashville yesterday to visit our friend, Ellen, I wanted to get Kate up a little earlier and hoped that would be possible given that she went to bed earlier the night before. That wasn’t to be. It took over an hour to get her out of bed. She was very tired, but I didn’t rush her. She never got upset with me. Nor did she give me any strange looks as though she didn’t recognize me. Close to the time she got up she said, “Where am I?” I told her she was in her bedroom at her house in Knoxville.” She said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’ll bet I don’t look like a stranger.” She said, “No.” Then I told her that I am her husband. She didn’t express surprise or any other emotion. Then she asked, “What’s your name?” After I told her, she said, “What’s my name?” I told her. Again, she asked, “Where am I?” Then, “What’s your name?” She asked me to repeat my name slowly. Over the course of the next 10-15 minutes, she repeated these questions several times.

She wanted my help getting out of bed. She also wanted me to tell her what she should do. I suggested that she go to the bathroom and then get dressed. That gave her too much information. I led her to the bathroom. After using the toilet, she wanted to know  what she should do. I told her she should brush her teeth. When she was finished, I helped her with her clothes. She still likes to do as much as she can, but she also likes me to help, especially determining the front and back of her pants and top. She also gets her feet stuck in the pant legs. I get the bottom of the pant legs over her feet. Then she is fine.

After she was dressed, she began to appear normal. We had a quick lunch at Panera and left for Nashville where we had a good visit with Ellen. She was surprised and glad to see us. I am sure that her daughter had told her we were coming. She just can’t remember. That is one of the few signs I can see of her memory problems. She is always surprised to see us. I also notice it in other things like her not remembering the names of her grandchildren. During our last visit, I noticed some signs of confusion. This time she seemed more confused. I was surprised, however, that I was able to understand more of what she said this time than the last. It could be that her ability to speak goes through ups and downs in the same way that Kate’s memory does.

We were with Ellen a full two hours. We don’t often stay that long, and it didn’t seem long at all. I didn’t play as much music as our two previous times, but it was just as meaningful as before. I played a series of YouTube videos of Renee Fleming. At one point, Kate reached out and took Ellen’s hand, and they shed a few tears as they enjoyed the music. I love seeing each of them express such enjoyment. I sometimes wonder how long we will be able to keep up these visits. Both of them are declining, but I don’t see anything yet that will prevent our continuing to come. I hope that’s so.

We stopped for dinner on the way home. It was a restaurant that is a cut above most of the ones we frequent, but it seemed like a good way to celebrate such a nice afternoon. It made for another nice moment for Kate and me. We got home late, so I’ll be interested in seeing when Kate gets up this morning. I checked on her a few minutes ago. She had gotten up to go to the bathroom and then went the guest room and got into bed. When I asked if she wanted to rest a little longer, she smiled and said she did. I didn’t see any sign of confusion, and she seemed both cheerful and relaxed.

A Full Day Yesterday

Despite Kate’s getting up unusually early yesterday, she didn’t nap at all. Part of the reason was that, except for two hours, we were gone all day. I had fully expected her to want to return home from Panera for a nap before lunch, but we stayed there until meeting our pastor for lunch at another restaurant. We had a very good visit with him and took a longer-than-usual lunch. Kate handled herself beautifully. She had been the volunteer church librarian for 19 years. Our pastor commented about the contribution she had made in that role. It didn’t take any encouragement for Kate to speak up about the library and how she managed it. I love seeing her get opportunities like this. On so many other occasions, she finds herself in conversations in which she is unable to contribute much.

We had just enough time to freshen up before Kate’s bi-weekly massage. Kate was in the waiting area of the spa when I picked her up. I said, “Did you enjoy it?” She said, “What?” I said, “Your massage.” She said, “I didn’t have a massage.” That’s a striking example of how short “short-term memory” can be.

After that, we came home for two hours before going to dinner. During that time, we relaxed in the family room, she on her iPad and I on my laptop with music playing all the time, of course. It was a very pleasant time. We followed that by going to dinner at Bonefish Grill.

Near the end of our meal, Kate wanted to use the restroom. It was located in a direct line from our booth to the back of the restaurant, but I walked her there to avoid any confusion. Then I went back to our booth and sat on her side of the table so that I could watch for her when she came out. I wasn’t surprised when she walked out of the restroom and took an immediate left instead of walking straight to our seats. When I caught up to her, she was entering the section where the bar is located. I called to her, and she turned around. She looked very relieved. When we got back to our seats, she thanked me for getting her. Then she said, “I didn’t panic at all.” Moments later she confessed that she was worried and thought I might not be able to find her.

On the way home, Kate said, “If someone were to ask where we live, what would you say?” I told her. Then she said, “Who are my parents?” That prompted me to tell her not only their names, but that her Dad was from Fort Worth and her mother from Battle Creek. Then she asked how they got together. As I told her about their meeting in Michigan, falling in love, their marriage, and her mother’s moving to Texas, she was excited just as though this were the first time she had every heard the story. For her, of course, it really was like the first time. She showed no recognition at all of her mother’s being from Michigan or anything else I told her.

I wasn’t surprised that Kate wanted to get ready for bed soon after we got home. First she brushed her teeth in the guest bath next to our bedroom. When she came out she didn’t know where to go. I heard her say, “Hey” and went to her. I brought her to our bedroom. A few minutes later she left to get something. She got lost again. Again, I heard her say “Hey.” This time she had made her way to the kitchen. It’s just another example of how even the things she has held on to the longest are drifting away.

Dinner with Friends

Two weeks ago, I got a call from Marvin Green. Kate and I met him and his wife, Angela, ten or fifteen years ago when they joined our church after his retirement as a Methodist minister. Their daughter and her husband, both Methodist pastors, married our daughter and her husband 27 years ago. Marvin served as my backup Sunday school teacher when I was out of town and also led my dad’s memorial service. We have gotten together with them periodically for lunch or dinner since Kate’s diagnosis. It had been a while, and he was calling to see about our getting together. We did that night before last at Bonefish Grill.

We have always enjoyed socializing with them. This time was no exception. We were in such active conversation that we never got around to what I had been most interested in hearing about. They recently returned from a trip to Ireland during which they hiked from one town to the next during the day and spent the night in B&Bs. I guess that provides a good excuse for getting together again soon.

While Kate was not an active participant in our conversations, she got along well. I suspect Angela and Marvin didn’t notice much, if any difference, since the last time we were together several months ago. In addition to our own conversation, we saw two church members who were leaving shortly after we came in.

Toward the end of our meal a woman approached me, and said, “I know you, but I can’t recall from where?” I’m not sure what prompted me except that she is a very humorous and talkative woman, and I answered, “I was your first husband.” That led to an extended conversation. I told her our real connection was at Casa Bella on one of their music nights. Every time she speaks to me, she asks me to guess how old she is. I always guess around 70. She is actually 87 but turning 88 today. She is also the daughter of a man who had operated a clothing store that was well-known by folks who grew up in the city. It made for a fun way to end our evening.

I mention this because experiences like this do a lot for both Kate and me. As I have noted elsewhere, eating out has been valuable in preventing any feelings of isolation, something that often accompanies couple who travel this same road. It is even more than that. The experience of eating out with friends adds an extra measure of pleasure to our lives, and we are especially grateful for those occasions.

Our dinner with the Greens came a few days after the Robinsons visited us for lunch on Saturday. Since our relationship extends back to our undergraduate days at TCU, maintaining that connection is especially important. There are only a handful of couples we can say that about. As the years go by, the value of these friendships becomes increases. That is especially true for a couple living with Alzheimer’s.

Our Visit With the Robinsons

As I had expected, our visit with the Robinsons went very well. I received a call from them saying they were almost to our house as we were preparing to leave Panera. They arrived a few minutes before we did. It was just like old times. We came inside and chatted about fifteen minutes before leaving for lunch at Carla’s. We had a good lunch as well as conversation despite their having a very popular brunch that brought out a bigger crowd than we are used to on weekdays.

Kate handled herself well, but I suspect Angie and Tom noticed more changes in her behavior this time. Several times she asked who we were talking about because she had forgotten from moments before. She also asked to us to repeat ourselves a number of times as well. This could have related to the noise in the restaurant, but I know it is very common for her to forget who or what I am talking about within seconds. At times she was also asking because the conversation moved too quickly for her to follow.

I’ll have to hear from Tom about this, but they may have noticed more of her comments to or about me that are characteristic of her light-heartedness these days. At one point, she said something like “Men are like that.” I looked at Tom and said, “Remember that.” I will explain in an email to him later today. In recent weeks, Kate has made quite a few comments about men and women. They all tend to be statements about men’s views of women and the role women play in the world. I don’t ever recall her saying things like this at any other time during our marriage. Neither one of us has made sweeping generalizations about the other’s gender. It just hasn’t been part of our normal conversation. I’m not sure what has prompted this.

After lunch, we came back to the house. After a while, Kate’s eyes were closed as if she were napping. I see this as a normal response to the difficulty she has following conversations. It becomes too much for her, and she bows out for a while. I am glad she feels comfortable doing this.

After the Robinsons left, we went to Barnes & Noble. We were there two hours before leaving for dinner. Kate worked on her iPad without a break. She would have continued if I had not made early dinner reservations at Emilia. It’s a nicer place than most of the places where we eat on a daily basis. We enjoyed excellent meals in a quiet setting and then returned to the house.

At home, I watched part of the UT football game while Kate worked on her iPad. She was so engaged with her puzzles that she didn’t want to get ready for bed. She must have been well-rested from the previous two nights. I encouraged her to get in bed, but she said, “Let me finish this one.” She frequently says this, but she can never remember that she has said that, so I always have to stop her at some point. Last night, I decided she might come to bed if I got in bed first. That worked. We got to sleep quickly.

I was up at 5:30 this morning. Kate was up at 9:00 and has just finished her shower. This makes several days in a row that I haven’t had to be concerned about her sleeping too late. Funny how that happened just as I was ready to give in to her sleeping late. Now I wonder what will happen this week. One thing I know; it’s good to be flexible.

Sunday in Nashville

After leaving Ellen Saturday afternoon, we had dinner and then went to our hotel for the night. Normally, we drive back to Knoxville on the same day, but my longtime friend from, West Palm Beach, Gary Dinkins, and his wife, Jeanette, were in Nashville for Gary’s brother’s 80th birthday. We stayed over a night so that we could have lunch with them.

Kate was tired after the day’s activity and was in bed early. She also slept late. I’m not sure how long she might have slept had I not awakened her around 10:00. Like the previous day, she was a little sluggish getting up. I let her rest another thirty minutes before getting her up.

As with everyone we get together with, she had to ask me Gary and Jeanette’s names several times on the way to meet them. She had done the same thing with Ellen. In fact, after spending 90 minutes with her, she said with surprise, “That was Ellen.” as we walked away from her. I don’t know at what point she forgot who we were with. I know that she was aware at some points during our visit because of the things we talked about. There were references to Ellen’s father and children and several friends. Kate gave no sign of wonder as to who we were visiting.

The visit with Gary and Jeanette went very well. I always wonder how she will do in different social situations. I’m not sure why I wonder. She handled herself quite well. She connects very well with both of them. She was at ease from the beginning and was an active participant in our conversation. Gary and I go back a long way. We knew each other as far back as junior high school and were roommates at TCU our freshman year. We don’t lack for things to say. Kate picked up on that. Several times she had side conversations with Jeanette. I could tell she was talking about our “gift of gab.” That’s a kind way of saying we talk too much. Despite that, she truly enjoyed herself. It was obvious to me while we were together, and she specifically mentioned having had a good time as we walked to our car. That meant as much to me as my own personal pleasure.

We topped off the day with a nice phone call from our daughter Jesse. We always enjoy catching up with her and her boys. Our conversation was a particularly nice one. It’s great to say that we had another good day.

Our Visit With Ellen

Yesterday was one of those days when Kate slept late. I tried to get her up around 10:00, but she wanted to sleep a little longer. I tried again at 10:30 and was successful.

When we got to Ellen’s memory care facility, she was in bed. She woke up quickly and was surprised to see us. That has been true the past four or five times we have visited her. Although she has been in memory care for at least two years, that is the only significant sign of her memory problem I have noticed. I know that her daughter tells her that we are coming. Ellen simply can’t remember. This is another reminder of how difficult it is for someone who is not around all the time to detect memory issues. To me, this has to be one of the biggest differences in caring for a parent and a spouse. It is much easier to see the signs of dementia for a spouse than for a parent. I was living in the same town as my mother and visiting her regularly and missed the earliest signs.

Having said that, I do notice more change in Ellen with each visit. At first, it was just the her speech. On subsequent visits her aphasia lessened so that we could understand about 60-70% of what she said. We found that challenging. Now we only understand about a third of what she says. That makes conversation even harder. It requires Ellen to repeat things a lot. For us, it means asking a lot of “yes/no” questions for clarification. Fortunately, she seems to understand everything we say. She clearly knows who we are, and she recognizes the names of mutual friends and acquaintances we mention. In fact, her understanding is so good that she seems misplaced in memory care. I don’t mean that she really is, just that it seems that way to casual observers like us.

It was a beautiful day yesterday. For the first time, we visited her on a back porch. We had been there about thirty minutes when Kate said she needed a restroom. I located an attendant who took her. This was the first time I had been alone with Ellen since her stroke over three years ago. For that reason, I have never said anything to her about Kate and how she is doing. After Kate left, Ellen put her hand on my knee and said, “How do you do it?” I was taken aback by her asking, but I answered, “With pleasure.” In the few moments we had, I explained how fortunate we had been and that even with her severe loss of memory, we are still enjoying ourselves. I also told her that we are going through big changes and that she sometimes doesn’t know me or herself. She didn’t ask any more questions before Kate was back.

As I have done on two previous visits, I brought my iPad and played about 30-40 minutes of music on YouTube. We started with “The Piano Man” with Billy Joel and Kevin Spacey at the Gershwin Award and followed that with a beautiful performance of “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” sung by Andrea Bocelli and Nicole Scherzinger. From there we went to several different choral works before it was time to leave.

This time it seemed much harder for Ellen to see us leave. I felt almost the way I did recently when I left Kate with a sitter. I know this was difficult for Ellen because we are about the only people from Knoxville that have been able to visit with her. I know of one other couple who were her neighbors. They have visited her once. I think one or two others from her church may have visited her the first year. This seems tragic to me. Ellen was very well known and liked in Knoxville and is a people person. For her to be in a memory care facility with few others with whom she can communicate must be depressing. I told her we would be back and that we would keep coming as long as we can.

Our Visit With Another Longtime Friend

We got in another good visit with the Stones yesterday at lunch. Dot had an obligation at church and joined us a little later. That gave Reggie and me and chance to catch up on a number of old friends and colleagues from our graduate school days. Although he has had a number of TIAs, I was impressed with his memory. In most cases, I thought his long-term memory for those days was better than my own.

Before meeting them, Kate repeatedly asked me their names and tried to remember them. It was impossible. Once again, she handled herself well. At one point after Dot had joined us, she said something about Dot’s manner or personality that was very complimentary. It was a reminder that although her memory is virtually gone, she is still able to perceive certain qualities in people. I wish I could remember exactly what she said. It may have been something about Dot’s smile that she felt conveyed a warmth that Kate liked. I have noticed that she often comments when she sees smiles that appeal to her. That is especially true with photos. It may also be a reminder of how important a smile can be for anyone in social encounters.

We (I) left the Stones on a high note. It had been wonderful seeing them again. I was glad we had made the trip. For Kate, the experience was different. She did not express her feelings, but I could tell she got along well during our time with them, but that her memory of them was gone right after we left them. Even while we were together, she couldn’t remember their names. When Reggie got up from the table to go out front to meet Dot, she said, “Who is he?” At no time did she remember that we were in Raleigh. That should not surprise me. She doesn’t remember when we are in Knoxville. It is interesting that wherever we are she tends to think we are in Fort Worth, her hometown. That connection is still alive.

After lunch, we drove over to Chapel Hill where Kate’s longtime friend, Evelyn Schmidt, had recently moved into Carol Woods, a continuing care community. We have always loved Chapel Hill. I was disappointed that Kate’s memory of the place is fading. Before coming last week, she spoke fondly of the town. Yesterday, she couldn’t remember it at all or why we were coming here.

Evelyn gave us a tour of her new home. It is set in the middle of a beautiful, wooded area. Of course, that is easy to do. One of the things we always liked about Chapel Hill is the trees. It is a deeply forested community. I loved seeing Kate’s reaction to Evelyn’s new residence. I mean the setting of the place, not the apartment itself. As we walked from place to place, she would wander away to the windows that open on to such scenic beauty. Her aesthetic senses were working on over time.

As we walked around, we met several of Evelyn’s friends who also live there. Interestingly, one of them received his undergraduate degree from TCU just a few months before I was a freshman there. He and Evelyn’s husband, were colleagues in the English department at UNC. Although Kate enjoys social encounters like this, her attention was still focused on the beauty around her. I’m not even sure she realized that he had been at TCU. If she had, she would have responded with more interest.

When our tour was completed, we went to dinner at a small French restaurant where we had a good meal and enjoyed conversation with Evelyn. Afterwards, we went back to Evelyn’s apartment that is still stacked with cardboard boxes from her move. We looked at some of her wedding pictures as we had done with Dot and Reggie. We had also attended Evelyn’s wedding. That was over 40 years ago. It was Jewish wedding, and I reminded Evelyn the impression that the stomping of the wine glass during the ceremony had made on our son. After that, he said he wanted to be Jewish so that he could break the glass.

We came back to our hotel, and Kate crashed immediately. She got up once about 1:30 this morning but is still sleeping soundly right now at 10:30. I’ll wake her shortly so that we can hit the road for Knoxville. I’d like to be back home for dinner.

A Short Trip to Visit Long-Time Friends

Friday, we drove to Raleigh to visit with our friends, Dot and Reggie Stone. The trip seemed like a long one. Of course, it was compared to our typical trip to Nashville. We ran into a good bit of construction. It took us almost an hour longer than usual, but it didn’t seem to bother Kate. She was quite relaxed. I should add that she is usually peaceful in a car. That is one of the reasons I started our Saturday and Sunday lunches at restaurants that are 20-25 minutes from our house. I’m not sure how much she slept, but her eyes were closed most of the way to Raleigh. She talked very little.

I am trying to be especially sensitive to her response to this trip. In some ways, it is a test of our ability to make our planned trip to Texas for Thanksgiving with our son, Kevin, and his family. The other day he asked me if I thought we would be able to make it. I told him I would know more when we get back home Monday night.

I can see already that there is an extra amount of confusion that occurs when we travel. If she gets the least bit confused knowing where to go in our own home, you can imagine what it is like when we are in strange places. Nothing is the same. Not even the Paneras. <G> Yesterday morning I saw a tweet that indicated the length of short-term memory for someone well into dementia is 3 seconds. That’s a pretty good estimate for Kate, sometimes even less. This confusion means that she is asking “Where are we?” much more than at home.

Yesterday, we spent a good bit of time with Dot and Reggie. I prepared them for the fact that Kate often sleeps late and that I needed to be flexible regarding our meeting time. I was quite surprised when I got back to the room after breakfast to find that she was up and preparing for her shower. That was about 8:30. As I have done in the past, I made a sign telling her that we were in the Residence Inn in Raleigh, that I had gone to breakfast and would be “back soon.” This time it didn’t work. I put the sign right next to the clothes I had selected for her. I figured (incorrectly) that she would see the sign if she got up before my return. I was only gone about 20 minutes. When I asked if she had seen the sign, she said, “What sign?” I showed it to her. She had no recollection. I have no idea if she missed the sign or forgot that she had seen and read it. The good news is that she wasn’t worried that I was not there. Maybe the fact that she doesn’t see me when she gets up everyday has developed a comfort level. I don’t know. It’s another one of those things that is impossible to know. She can’t tell me how she felt, and I can’t get inside her brain to see for myself.

Because she was up early, we had a little time before meeting the Stones shortly for lunch after 11:30, so we stopped at a nearby Panera (of course). Between the time we left the hotel and the time we met Dot and Reggie, Kate continually asked me to tell her their names. I would tell her. She would try to repeat them. Then I would tell her again and so on. At one point, she got confused and thought we were also meeting our children, so she also asked their names. When I told her we wouldn’t see Kevin and Jesse, she was relieved. She seemed nervous enough about getting together with the Stones that adding the children seemed overwhelming. In situations like this, I almost always tell her that it isn’t important for her to remember the names, but she worries nonetheless.

It turned out we all had a good time and enjoyed good meals with a terrific tiramisu for dessert. It had been years since we had been together, but we picked up right where we left off.. It would be no surprise to people who know us that Dot and I talked more than Kate and Reggie, but I was pleased they contributed their part to the conversation as well.

After lunch, we went back to Dot and Reggie’s place. They have lived in a continuing care community for five years. I was interested in hearing about their decision, the move, and overall how they felt about being there. They have a very nice two-bedroom apartment overlooking a beautiful stand of trees. Kate and I both admired the view from their living room and the adjoining balcony.

I had not planned on our staying too long, but Kate seemed to be getting along so well that we were there until about 4:00. That’s a long time for Kate to stay engaged. By the time, we left she was tired. It was a successful visit. In a brief conversation with Reggie after lunch and an exchange of text messages last night with Dot, it looks like the Stone’s impression was similar to my own. I thought Kate engaged her social skills beautifully. I also think Dot did some things to bring Kate into the conversation. She showed us pictures from their wedding 25 years ago. It was interesting to see how young we all looked at that time. Kate was particularly drawn to pictures of their granddaughter. As I have mentioned before, she loves children, and the granddaughter is adorable. That’s a winning combination.

We came back to the room for little over an hour before going to dinner. We didn’t need much after our lunch, but that didn’t make any difference in our eating last night. Once again, we topped off the meal with a dessert. This time it was Key lime cheesecake.

Today we will meet Reggie for lunch. Dot has an obligation at church and will join us a little later. Then we’ll go to visit another friend whom Kate has known since our undergraduate days at TCU. We’ll have dinner with her this evening and return to Knoxville tomorrow.

Yesterday was a full but good day.

A lot happened yesterday, and I know I won’t be able to capture all of the relevant things I would like. That’s probably a good thing. I’ve always admired people who seem to be able to recall the details of their experiences during a day. I’ve never been particular good at that, but I’ll try.

I need to back up to Sunday. That afternoon Kate took a two-hour nap. I finally woke her up and suggested we go to Barnes & Noble. I was concerned that she might not be able to get to sleep that night. It turned out that I was right. She was in a talkative mood at bedtime. I don’t know when she got to sleep. I know she was awake about 11:30. That concerned me because I knew we planned to drive to Nashville yesterday morning to have lunch with our friends Ann and Jeff Davis before paying a visit to Kate’s very close friend, Ellen, who is now in a memory care facility.

Kate surprised me. I knew that she was awake when I got up at 6:00, but I expected that she would go right back to sleep, and I would have to wake her to get ready. Instead, I heard her getting ready about 7:30. This was another time that I had gotten our bathroom ready for her shower only to find that she had gotten up earlier and showered in another bathroom.

She had already picked out the pants she wanted to wear. I went to her closet and picked out three tops and let her choose the one she liked best. I also put out her shoes and socks. When she came out ready to go, she was wearing a golf shirt that must have been mine by the size of it. It fit her like a tunic and had TCU emblazoned on the shirt pocket. She was also wearing shoes and socks that were not the ones I had picked out and didn’t match as well. I didn’t say anything about the shirt, but I did bring her the shoes and socks. She didn’t complain at all and simply changed them.

Before leaving, I mentioned that we were going to have lunch with the Davises. She frowned and said, “You’ll have to tell me something about our children that I can tell them.” I mentioned a few things. We both realized this wasn’t going to work. She said, “You’ll just have to do the talking.” I should emphasize that she wasn’t upset about visiting with the Davises; it was her own insecurity about her memory. This is another good illustration of how long into this journey she has been able to recognize her problem and to be insecure about it. She exhibited a similar reaction after our visit with Ellen.

As it turned out, the conversation with the Davises went very smoothly. A lot had happened since our last visit, so Kate didn’t get put on the spot to say anything about our children. They asked about our children, and I answered for her. It was a nice visit.

From there we went to Ellen’s. We found that she had declined noticeably since we saw her three weeks ago. We could understand very little of what she said. We also found she is beginning to exhibit a few of the symptoms that accompany dementia. One of those occurred shortly after we arrived. I had taken a DVD of Les Miserables. I had intended to play a portion of it later in our visit, but communication was so difficult that I put it on not long after got there. Initially, Ellen was quite interested. She was even a little disturbed when some of the staff were talking loudly and made it more difficult for us to hear. Then she turned around in her wheel chair and started to leave the room. I asked where she was going. Through a few words that I could pick up and her gestures, including touching her hair, I discovered that she thought she had an appointment with the hair dresser. I checked and found that the hair dresser doesn’t come until Wednesday. Then Ellen wanted us to go back to her room where we spent almost the entire visit.

Once we reached her room, I got out my iPad and opened the YouTube app, and we had an hour-long “concert” of music performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. That was a winner. She and Kate became engrossed in the music. We only stopped when it was near the time for us to leave, and Ellen wanted to use the bathroom. I called one of the attendants to help her and closed up the iPad.

As we walked to our car, Kate said, “I’m so sad.” She was disturbed to see Ellen had changed. She also seemed to be concerned that the staff had no awareness that Ellen was a musician (singer, pianist, choir director, and TV producer). We had mentioned this to someone the last time we were there, but, of course, the message doesn’t get around to everyone. Then Kate said, “I’m so glad I have you to take care of me.” I don’t know exactly what was going on in her mind. It sounded like she was thinking about herself and happy that she was at home under my care. In the car, she expressed her appreciation to me. She said, “I couldn’t get along without you. Well, I could get along, but it wouldn’t be the same.” She paused and said admittingly, “I really couldn’t get along without you.” She displays far more awareness of her situation and other people than I would have expected at this stage.

We capped off our day by eating at the same place we had eaten the last time we visited Ellen. It’s a bit fancier and pricier than what we are accustomed to but made for another special time together. I had a delicious sangria followed by an Ahi Tuna entrée. Kate had grilled trout that was quite good. She said it as “OK,” but she ate all of it along with the creamed spinach that came with it. We topped it off with a calorie-laden bread pudding.

The trip home was uneventful. That’s a good thing. It was another good day for us.

The Power of Music (Again)

Yesterday, Kate and I went to see our good friend, Ellen, who now lives in Nashville. Although I had to wake her, Kate got up, showered and dressed in an hour. That gave us time to get a quick lunch at Panera before we hit the road. We arrived in time for their Sunday afternoon ice cream. That was a little treat for us. In the past, we have always arrived later. That’s because we have frequently had lunch or a quick visit with our friends the Robinsons or Davises who also live in Nashville. I did not try to get together with them this time since I have been unsure about what time I would be able to get Kate ready. Going directly to Ellen’s avoided any pressure. This may become our regular routine.

Since Ellen was already in the dining area, we stayed there our entire two-hour visit. That has its pluses and minuses. Last time we had spent our visit in Ellen’s room. It is a nice room but a little darker than the common areas. We may split our time between the two next time.

This was our third visit to this particular facility since Ellen moved there in May. She had made the move after having a couple of seizures that, on top of the stroke she had three years ago this month, required greater care than she had needed previously. We were eager to see if there had been any change in her ability to speak. There had been a change, but it was not for the better.  We could understand very little of what she said. Of greater concern was that she didn’t try to talk as much. She was always a big talker. After her stroke, she continued to talk a lot. That was a natural part of her personality, but I believe it may also have related to the fact she has been so socially isolated. She had lived in Knoxville for over forty years and has lots of friends here. It is not so easy for them to travel to Nashville. I only know of one other couple who has visited her in the past three years.

The saddest part for me is that mentally Ellen is in much better shape than the most of the other residents. If she could only talk, she might be able to establish a relationship with a couple of them. That appears to be impossible at this point.

Remembering that on our last visit, the three of us had enjoyed listening to a little music on my phone, I went thinking that we might try it again. It turned out to be even better than last time. Then I just played a few pieces of music I thought she would like. This time I played a greater variety and played music for a longer time, a full thirty minutes. At a couple of points, I was a little concerned that I might be playing too much, but she said she was enjoying it.

It may seem strange to think of the three of us sitting together in the middle of a common area of a memory care facility listening to music from a phone, but for us it was a special moment. For a short period, one of other residents joined us, but she wanted the volume turned up, and it was already as high as it would go.

We stopped when it was nearing time for dinner. The last time we stayed during dinner we found that another resident dominated the conversation. Ellen was left out. Since Ellen gets so few social encounters with friends, I want to maximize our time with her. I’m already thinking about our next few visits. I may take our DVD of Les Miserables. Even though it is too long for us to play on a single visit, she could enjoy it the way Kate and I do at home, a little bit at a time. I may also take a Bluetooth speaker for either my phone or computer. There is a tremendous amount of music on YouTube I could play for her.

Knowing that both Kate and Ellen are declining, I am unsure how long we will be able to continue our visits. Until then, we’ll do just what we do at home, take it one step at a time.