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.

Visit With Friends

On Saturday, Kate and I visited Angie and Tom Robinson in Nashville. That followed my previous post about Kate’s difficulty with conversation. I think that put all of us on alert. Before we left, I had a brief phone conversation with them. I didn’t have any good suggestions except to keep in mind that she can talk about her feelings about things without remembering the actual facts. I also told them I didn’t have any special concerns and thought the visit would go well. That belief was based on the fact that we have a long history together. Our friendship goes back to undergraduate school. Even if she couldn’t remember their names or any of the facts about them, I thought her intuitive abilities would help her feel at ease. Having felt that way, I also told them I would step in if I felt there was a way that I could facilitate the conversation. As it turned out, the visit went well. The best indicator of that was Kate’s remark right after we got in the car. She said, “They’re a nice couple.” If she had felt otherwise, she would have said so.

We had a good time, but this visit was distinctly different from others. To me, it seemed like Kate exhibited more of her symptoms than before. When she said goodbye to Angie, she said, “It was nice to meet you.” Tom later told me in an email that she had told him “It was good to see you and, Oh, . . .” and then pointed to Angie. It was obvious Kate couldn’t remember Angie’s name. They also got to hear her snap at me one time. There were a number of other times that she hadn’t been able to follow or understand something that was said and had to ask us to repeat or explain.

One especially interesting thing happened. Kate picked up a book by Bishop Spong that was on the table in front of her. We have heard him speak at Chautauqua on at least four different occasions, but I doubt that she remembered him. I think she was caught by the book’s title, Unbelievable. She leafed through it and found a number of topics that intrigued her. Once she wanted me to read a portion of a chapter. I read a line or so. It was obvious that this was going to be too much for her (and for the rest of us as well). In a follow-up email, Tom took note of her interest. It’s the kind of thing one might assume is unlikely for a person with dementia. As I have noted in other posts, this represents an interesting intersection of rational and intuitive abilities. She no longer possesses the rational ability to understand many things, but she retains an intuitive feeling that intellectual things are important and/or interesting. She wants to know far more than she is able to grasp. That’s a sad thing, but she doesn’t seem to be disturbed. Once she realizes she can’t understand something, she lets it go. I am always glad to see that she retains her interest in intellectual and social issues.

One final note about our time with the Robinsons is that they did notice her physical deterioration. She has considerably more trouble getting up from a seated position as well as walking, especially when it comes to going up and down curbs or anything that she thinks is a high elevation. I have been increasing concerned about this myself. I attribute it to the fact that she is far more sedentary now than in the past. She doesn’t exercise at all, and we don’t go out as much as we did before. When we are at home, she spends all of her time resting, sitting while working on her iPad, or looking at family photo albums. At the rate she is going, she will soon be using a walker. I would like to postpone that and a wheelchair as long as possible. There is always something new that requires attention.

The Challenges of Conversation

Kate has always been adept at handling conversations in ordinary social situations even though she is a bit introverted. Her mother was very gifted in the same way. In addition, she grew up in a large family, many of whom lived in the same town and went to the same church. Her life was filled with many experiences that enabled her to develop her conversational skills.

The skills she developed over the years served her well when Alzheimer’s entered the picture. She was able to get along quite well without feeling insecure or revealing her Alzheimer’s to other people. That has gradually changed over the years. She is now handicapped in three ways. First, the loss of memory deprives her of a significant amount of information that is useful in conversation. Think a moment. When you bump into a friend or acquaintance, you are usually able to call them by name or remember the connection you had with that person (someone you worked with, played bridge with, was a member of your same book club, etc.). You probably remember if that person is married, has children, has a particular interest, and many more bits of information. When Kate encounters someone, she has none of those things to go on.

The second deficit she has is that she has difficulty understanding the conversations in which she finds herself. That leaves her unable to follow up on something the other people have said. These days her participation is heavily oriented to questions that ask who or what is being talked about and asking for explanations of the content or specific words. Her vocabulary has decreased significantly. That has to add another measure of confusion.

Third, dementia makes it harder for a person to process information. It is never easy to understand what is said, but it is especially difficult given the normal speed with which people speak. While Kate is trying to process the first bit of information someone is saying, the other person is already on to the second, third, fourth, or fifth bit of information. It is simply overwhelming. In restaurants where Kate experiences most conversations, there are also many distractions that occur simultaneously. The noise level itself can present a problem understanding what others in your party are saying. Sometimes a serving tray overturns or the server comes to the table to take your order. All these things make it hard for Kate and others with dementia to process information.

I’m thinking of these things because Kate and I had dinner the other night with a couple we know from our music nights at Casa Bella. Apart from sitting with them at Casa Bella, we have eaten out with them at least six or eight times in the past eight months. Two of those times were overnight trips to Flat Rock, NC, where we had dinner and attended a show at the Playhouse. She cannot remember them at all. I’ve never seen any sign that she recognizes them – even intuitively.

That night we went to a new restaurant and had an excellent meal. The other couple and I are the talkers. The restaurant was very noisy, and we sat near a server’s station where they dropped dirty dishes on top of one another. Kate hardly spoke during the entire evening. I believe the only words she spoke were questions regarding the menu or for clarification about something that was said. We ordered a cheese and hors d’oeuvres platter. Her vision problem prevented her being able to identify some things. Kate and I shared a large platter of paella for our entrée. She liked it but said nothing about it. I worried about how she was getting along, but there was simply no way to make the situation much easier for her. When I asked how she enjoyed the evening after we left, she said it was a nice evening. By that time, I’m not sure she could even remember what it had been like.

That is just one of a few other similar occasions with friends. It is just one more marker on this journey. I am grateful that she has gotten along so well in the past, but I don’t like the direction in which we are moving. In addition, it feels like the changes are coming more quickly now.

This afternoon we are visiting our longtime friends Tom and Angie Robinson in Nashville. I will be eager to see how that goes.

Our Weekend Trip to Nashville

Kate and I don’t travel much any more, but we did make an overnight trip to Nashville this past weekend. I have pretty much ruled out trips of anything more than a couple of days, so I’m glad to say that this one went well. We had a nice dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s after leaving the Davises. Kate turned in early while I watched the Texas Tech/Michigan State game.

When Kate woke up Sunday morning, she looked over at me at the desk where I was working on my laptop. I got up from my chair and walked toward her. She said, “Richard?” I said, “Yes, did you think I was someone else?” She said, “I was hoping it was you.” I said, “That must have been scary if you thought I might be someone else.” She said, “Not really scary, but . . .” She couldn’t think of the words to say what it was like, but she was definitely relieved to know it was me. This is just one more occasion when I try to imagine what it is like to wake up and not have any idea of where you are. Even though this happens to her at home, I feel sure there is a certain amount of comfort in being in “familiar” surroundings. Being in a hotel doesn’t offer that.

From there we went to brunch at Maggiano’s. When we checked in at the hostess stand, the managing partner was standing there. I don’t know what he said, but he and Kate got into a brief exchange in which each was kidding the other. I had a difficult time getting her away to follow the hostess to our table. It was one of those times that I pulled out one of my Alzheimer’s cards. Shortly after we were seated, the manager came to our table and thanked me. He said he had an aunt with dementia, and something Kate had said made him think she might as well.

Kate had brought a TCU magazine with her. He noticed that and said that he had worked in several restaurants in Texas. He and Kate connected once again. She enjoyed hearing him talk about her home state, especially since he had enjoyed his time there. Our server was very helpful with the menus that included both brunch and regular menu items. She was also very attentive. We were off to a good start. About mid-way through our meal, an assistant manager dropped by to check on us. We had a good conversation with her. When she left, she dropped a card for a free dessert. We took advantage of the offer and had an enormous piece of flowerless chocolate cake.

After eating, we were off to Ellen’s memory care facility. We had another good visit with her. We chatted for about an hour before turning to YouTube for music. This time we viewed segments from several Andre Rieu concerts. Once again, music played an important role in our visit. That is becoming more important as her ability to talk continues to decline though not too much since last time.

It was a successful trip. I will consider making Nashville an overnight trip in the future – at least as long as it works for Kate. Seeing friends in the afternoon, having a nice dinner that night, brunching at Maggiano’s, and visiting Ellen makes for a nice weekend.

A Nice Visit with Longtime Friends

Several of our longtime friends live in Nashville, and we have visited all of them periodically for many years. During the past six to eight months, we haven’t done as well. We have continued to see our friend Ellen who is in memory care there, but I have not been good about arranging visits with the others. I miss seeing them and need to make a serious effort to see them more during the rest of the year.

As a first start, I arranged for us to see Ann and Jeff Davis in connection with our regular visit to see Ellen. Because Kate has often slept so late, we have been getting to Nashville late in the day to see her. That puts us back in Knoxville later than I like. This time I decided to visit the Davises in the afternoon and stay overnight at a hotel. That way Kate can sleep late, and we will be able to see her earlier. So far that is working well.

Even though she can’t remember, I always tell Kate where we are going and who we will see. I did that the day before we left, the morning we left, and even in the car on the way. When we parked at their house, I said, “This is the Ann and Jeff Davis’s new house. She said, “Who are they again?” I explained a little about our history together and told her that she and Ann had been very close when they lived in Knoxville. She surprised me when she said, “She and I used to talk a lot about our daughters.” That was the first time in recent memory that I can remember her recalling something like that. She didn’t say anything more specific, but I remember they talked about their daughters who are the same age and attended the same schools during middle school and high school.

In advance of our visit, Ann and I had several email communications. She had asked advice about engaging in conversation with Kate. I gave her a few suggestions and explained how well she has been able to get along and that I expected it would be the same on this visit. We got off to a good start when Kate noticed the flowers planted around their house. Ann and Jeff had seen us coming up the walk and came out to greet us. Ann and Kate had a few minutes to connect as they talked about the flowers and trees at the back of the house.

As we walked inside, we took a tour of their new home. It wasn’t planned at all, but we divided up so that Ann took Kate and Jeff took me. I think that made for a good beginning. I believe that gave Kate a chance to reconnect with Ann before the four of us sat down to visit. Kate took great interest in their home. For the next two hours we sat on their sun porch and talked.

Some of the conversation was between Ann and Kate and some between Jeff and me. For the most part, however, it was the four of us. Kate was not especially talkative, but she was comfortable and participated without any problem. As in other conversations, Kate said things that are not correct. For example, Ann asked if we used our pool very much. Kate told her that she used it more than I. The truth is that neither of us has used in much in recent years and that I am the one who occasionally takes a swim. In fact, I have recently suggested that we use it more this summer. Each time I’ve mentioned it, she has balked. I don’t mean to suggest that Kate wasn’t telling the truth. She just can’t remember. In conversation, her imagination takes over.

We could have talked much longer, but I felt it was time for us to check into our hotel and have dinner. As soon as we closed the doors to our car, Kate said, “I like them.” Once again, I thought about Kate’s intuitive abilities. Kate and Ann had been very close friends. Kate can’t remember that, at least not very well, but her feelings for Ann were rekindled just by being together. I don’t think it relates to something special that Ann said to her. I think there was something Kate was able to pick up intuitively that made the difference. Once again, I am struck by the power of her intuitive thought. It has carried us a long way.

Social Engagement and Music

I have often expressed how fortunate Kate and I have been. We’ve not had to face some of the problems that others encounter. Social isolation is often a problem for couples living with Alzheimer’s. That has not been an issue for us. It is true that we don’t attend many events that keep us out past 9:00, but in other respects we still get around. I’ll never know if that has played a role in Kate’s doing so well. I do know it has helped us maintain the quality of our lives.

Wednesday night we had dinner with friends we originally met at Broadway night at Casa Bella. We’ve gotten together with them for dinner a number of times in recent months. Kate and I have enjoyed their company. We always have a good time.

Yesterday we had lunch with a church friend. He and Kate became friends when she was the church librarian. His wife died about four years ago. She had Alzheimer’s, and he has been very sensitive about our situation. He stays in touch by phone, but this was our first time to have a meal together. We talked about our getting together again and look forward to that.

It was Opera Night at Casa Bella last night, and we had an especially good time. A new couple joined our table, both church friends. The husband is a professor of voice at UT. The two singers were students of his, both working on their PhDs. There were a number of ties that made it an interesting evening. Our church friends also knew the couple we sit with. For many years, they had been neighbors. The music was also outstanding. Kate and I first heard the male singer when he was an undergraduate four or five years ago. It was amazing to see how much he has improved since that time. The soprano was someone we remembered having sung in our church choir several years ago.

I was pleased to see Kate insert herself into the conversation, but I felt she was just on the edge of doing it inappropriately. We had an active conversation. That can be difficult for her. She handled it well. We have come to know (at least recognize) many of the people who attend. As the crowd gathers, people “greet and meet” those already there. Some of them are aware of Kate’s Alzheimer’s and are especially attentive to her. I like that because large groups are challenging for her.

As we left, Kate was on a high. She loved every minute. As we talked about the evening on our drive home, she expressed how much she enjoyed herself. She said, “I’m so glad we enjoy the same things. It wouldn’t have been as much fun without you.” I told her I felt the same way. She mentioned how much we have in common and that we were “on the same wave length.” Then she said, “And what’s your name?” I told her. There was a pause in our conversation for a few minutes. Then she said, “I’m glad we came.” I knew immediately that she thought we were in Texas. I said, “Me too.”

When I turned into the driveway at our house, she said, “I like the place where we’re staying.” After we pulled into the garage, she commented on what a nice garage it was. Once inside, she needed me to guide her to our bedroom and bathroom, but I didn’t hear anything more that suggested she thought we were in Texas. That is becoming more common these days.

Our Trip to Nashville to See Ellen

Yesterday we paid a visit to see Ellen Seacrest, one of our longtime friends who lives in a memory care facility in Nashville. It is now three and a half years since she had stroke. It affected her mobility and her speech. For a while the speech improved, but it has been much worse since having a couple of seizures a year ago. During our last two visits we could only understand about 25% of what she said. Yesterday it was even less. For the first time, that may have had an impact on Kate’s response to her.

We met in the activities room. Kate noticed some jigsaw puzzles on a shelf and brought one to the table where we were sitting. She never opened it, but she never seemed as engaged in the conversation as she had been in the past. It also seemed like Ellen directed more of her comments to me. That could have made Kate feel less involved. On our next trip, I think I will make more of an effort to excuse myself for a few minutes and let them have some private time. I am sure Kate would take more initiative if I were not in the room.

After we were there about an hour, I brought out my iPad. Ellen was enthusiastic about viewing musical performances as we have done for the past eight months or so. Apart from her career as an ETV producer, Ellen directed her church choir for almost forty years. I selected videos of the Wartburg College Choir in Lincoln, Nebraska, thinking that might be of special interest. I was right. She loved it. What’s more, Kate did as well. They were seated side-by-side with eyes fixed on the iPad. It was hard for Ellen to express her feelings except by the expression on her face, but she did convey that she liked the pageantry of some of the videos. Several of them featured the choir’s entry as they marched down the center aisle to the choir loft. Several of the pieces were accompanied by a small orchestra. I don’t think she has been to church since her stroke, so it was an especially meaningful experience for her. I am glad we got to share it with her.

After we left, we went to dinner. I was reminded of how closely I need to watch Kate when we are out. We were seated near the restrooms, but I always walk her to the door and often open it for her. Then I wait near the door for her to come out. As usual, it took quite a while for her to finish. I noticed others who had entered and come out. I went to the door and pushed it open enough to see Kate was standing at a sink washing her hands. A woman and her daughter were at the sink beside her. I closed the door assuming she would be out shortly. The mother and daughter came out, but Kate didn’t. I went back to the door. This time I knocked and slowly opened it. Kate was walking to the door. I don’t know what happened, but she apparently didn’t remember where the door was. She thanked me and showed no sign that anything had happened. It reminded me of times when I have lost and found her. She was very calm.

When we got to our table, I showed her where she had been sitting. That seems a simple thing, but she never knows where to sit. She often doesn’t understand when I show her. As she started to sit down, she said, “Where is my husband?” I said, “Right here.” She looked at me and realized she hadn’t known I was the one ushering her from the bathroom to her seat.

After dinner, I was leading her to the exit when I got too far ahead. I looked back. She was about fifteen feet behind and looking for me. I walked back and led her out. She looked at me and said, “Where is my husband?” I looked at her, and she realized again that I was the one holding hand to the car.

In both of these instances, I was struck by two things. First, was the fact that she said “my husband.” She is far from completely forgetting that. It is simiar with my name. She still occasionally calls me Richard when she needs something. Most of the time she just says, “Hey.” (That reminds me that the sitter told me that on Friday, Kate asked, “Where is my daddy?”) Second, these were clear instances of a problem with her sight that relates to her Alzheimer’s and not to her cataract. We know that she can now see out of both eyes. When she misses things, it can’t be a problem with vision.

I sense that we are going through another transition when she wakes up. I’ve previously noted that she is often confused, but the past few days she has seemed more confused than usual. She hasn’t remembered my name or relationship. It is not unusual for her not to know that she is at home, but that has been more puzzling to her when I tell her. It’s like she is in a deeper fog than usual.

I am settling into telling her I am her husband if she asks about our relationship, but I am not intending to dispute her if she thinks I am her daddy. I just don’t want to create any unnecessary problems for her. She is still alert enough to recognize that she should know she is in her own house and that I am her husband. Sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly what to say.

A Rocky Start, But a Grand Finish

When I went in to wake Kate yesterday, I wasn’t sure what kind of day it would be. She opened her eyes as I approached the bed and gave me a very warm smile. It looked like a time when she knew me. I said good morning and told her I loved her. Then I said, “I hate to get you up. You look so comfortable.” Her face turned to sadness, and she said, “This isn’t easy.” I didn’t know what she meant and asked what was wrong. She hesitated and said, “It’s hard to put in words.” I encouraged her to help me understand. Then I said, “I want to help you.” She said, “What can you do?” I said, “I can be your friend and comfort you.” She said, “I like that,” but she didn’t say anything more. I let it go. I suggested she get up and take a shower. She accepted the suggestion and seemed all right for the balance of the day.

She periodically has these moments of worry or anxiety. When she says things like “This isn’t easy,” I can only wonder if she is talking about her Alzheimer’s. It always sounds like it, but I can’t be sure. I am confident that she no longer knows she has the disease; however, I know she recognizes her memory is gone. She sometimes expresses concern about it. More frequently, she says, “Don’t tell me more. I won’t remember it.” Sometimes she stops working her puzzles when she knows she is not thinking clearly. She says she is tired. Yesterday she had a similar experience with her “Big Sister” album. She can only process so much information. These moments are the hardest ones for me.

I am often amazed at how quickly she can forget. At lunch, she said, “What is your full name?” I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” She said it and then tried to say it again and couldn’t. She asked me to say it again slowly. After I did, she said, “Now let me say it.” She said it twice, took a slight pause and said, “What is it again?” She had forgotten again in a split second. It’s like turning a light switch on and off.

I don’t know if she knew me as her husband earlier that morning, but I know she did when we returned home after getting haircuts. She wanted something to drink. I told her we had apple juice and water. She eagerly said, “Can I have apple juice?” I told her she could and added, “I only let my best girl friends have apple juice.” She quickly said, “I better be your only girlfriend. We’re married you know.” A quick response like this is not uncommon. I was playing a CD of A Chorus Line. I know that she enjoys the music, but I was surprised at her laughter at the lyrics of one of the songs. Apart from that I had no sense of her listening to the lyrics. I thought it was just the music she paid attention to. There are also moments when she does something that I don’t like. She will say, “I know that bothers you.” Then I say something like, “No, that’s just fine.” She follows that with “I know you’re just trying to be nice.” She is still insightful.

The highlight of the day for both of us was our weekly dinner at Bonefish Grill. As the host was showing us to our table, we passed someone I hadn’t seen in several years. He and my dad were good friends who met in a seniors’ writing class. Dad was 26 years his senior and he (like many others) took an interest in the fact that Dad seemed so much younger than his years. He introduced us to his lady friend and told us that she was moving from New York City to live with him. We chatted a few minutes. Then they invited us to join them. We accepted their invitation and had an interesting time catching up and learning about his new friend. They had been college sweethearts at the University of Illinois in the late 50s and early 60s. They had lost touch since college, and each had married other people. Their spouses had died, and he looked her up and found her. That was several months ago. Kate and I have traveled to New York quite a few times. That and the warmth of the couple enabled her to feel comfortable in participating in the conversation. We had a great evening together and talked about our getting together again when she makes her move in March. At one point while the two women were talking, I had an opportunity to ask my friend if I had told him about Kate’s Alzheimer’s. He said I had and told me that his friend is facing the same thing. It’s just one more reminder of how common this disease is. I plan to stay in touch with him.

It was a week ago yesterday that Kate had her cataract surgery. It is clearer to me that she is able to see more easily now. Her vision is far from perfect, but now I am reasonably sure it is the Alzheimer’s and not her actual vision that is the problem. Yesterday she picked up her “Big Sister” album. The cover photo had caught her as eye as she walked by it in the family room. She thought the picture of her brother was our son, but that is definitely related to her Alzheimer’s. As she leafed through the pages, she tried to read the text. In the past, she has just looked at the pictures. I feel good about our going ahead with her surgery. I am sure it will continue to have a payoff even as she declines further. Our son and his family are coming for a visit during their spring break. Her improved vision should enhance her experience with them. It is difficult enough to have lost memory, but to lose her ability to see could have made a major difference in her quality of life.

Relieving Confusion

Kate seems to be entering a new state of confusion. For months, I have noted that she sometimes forgets I am her husband. In the past few days she has more frequently asked if I am her daddy. I believe this represents a further step along the way to totally forgetting who I am.

It also requires me to think more carefully about telling her who I am. I believe when she asks, she really wants me to tell her the truth. I’m not going to correct her if she calls me “Daddy.” On the other hand, I will continue telling her the truth when she asks unless or until I see any harmful effects. Even though she is usually surprised to find out that we are married, she hasn’t seemed especially disturbed. Yesterday morning she even reacted positively. When I told her I was her husband, she had a funny look on her face. I asked if that bothered her. She said, “No, I like that. You’re a nice guy.” I intend to watch carefully for any change and make adjustments accordingly.

So far I have been encouraged by my ability to lead her out of confusion. This morning’s events are a good example. I didn’t see or hear her when she got up at 7:30 to go to the bathroom, but I heard her say, “Hey.” I found her in a hallway where she had just come out of the bathroom. She asked me what she should do. I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Except for her reliance on me to tell her what to do, she seemed much more alert than usual. It looked like it would be easy to have her take a shower and get dressed. The fact that it was so much earlier than she usually gets up made me think she should rest a little longer. I suggested she do so. When I pulled the covers over her, she said, “What do you want me to do now?” It didn’t sound like she was ready to go back to sleep. I decided to get her up for a shower.

She got up right away and wanted to know where to shower. I walked her to the bathroom. In keeping with her previous line of questions, she wanted me to tell her each step to take.

After her shower, she went back to bed and fell asleep. I got her up shortly after 11:00 so that she would be ready by the time the sitter arrived at noon. Since she was waking up from a sleep, I wasn’t surprised that she was just as confused as she had been earlier. I went to the family room and brought back the “Big Sister Album” Ken had made for her last spring. She took one look at the cover picture of her and her brother. She smiled and commented on the smiles of the two children. She loves that picture. She asked if that was a picture of her. I told her it was. She wanted to know who the boy was. I told her it was her brother Ken. Then I suggested we go to the family room, and I would show her pictures of her mother and father. She liked that.

As we looked through the pictures, she seemed to gain a better sense of who she is. She still had trouble remembering the people in the pictures, but she recognized some of them. As she did the last time we looked through it, she recognized her grandmother, calling her Nana. In contrast, she repeatedly asked me her parents’ names.

This experience and others like it have made think once again about rational and intuitive abilities. Looking at the pictures didn’t help her identify the people (rational ability); however, it did eliminate her confused feeling (intuitive ability). She seemed to have a sense of connection to her family that was calming. She is especially sensitive to the smiles in all the pictures. As we move from picture to picture she says things like, “Oh, look she’s smiling,” “She’s not smiling,” or “Look at his smile.” The smiles have a real impact on her and bring smiles to her face.

My original intent was to let the sitter take Kate to lunch, but I didn’t have Rotary and decided to go with them. That gave me an opportunity get a little better acquainted with her since this was her second time. I had the same good feeling about her that I had last week. Kate did as well. Before leaving, I put in a DVD of Fiddler on the Roof for them. When I returned they were watching.

Kate was tired and wanted to rest a while. When she got up, she wanted to know what she could do. I told her she could work puzzles on her iPad. She didn’t know what an iPad was. She forgot the name of the iPad quite a while ago and often doesn’t know what it does when she sees it. I got the iPad and gave it to her. She sat down and asked me where we were. I told her we were in Knoxville. She said, “Good. I thought we were in New York.” I said, “I thought you loved New York.” She said, “I do, but I like it here. We come here a lot.”

An hour later we left for dinner. Friends we met at Casa Bella had invited us to dinner at an Italian restaurant near their home. We’ve gotten together several other times and enjoyed being with them. We had a good meal and pleasant conversation. As usual, Kate handled herself quite well.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for her to follow conversations. A number of times she stopped one of us to explain something she missed or didn’t understand. I think the problem occurs with the shift of conversation from one person to the next. It’s just too fast for her.

I’ve noticed other things like that. Increasingly, she wants me to simplify things I tell her. It’s confusing to say, “Here are your clothes. Put on your top and pants.” When I do that she says, “Tell me one thing at a time.” When looking at photos, I might say, “Look at this picture of your daddy.” It takes her a while to locate her father even if my finger is on the picture. It’s as though she sees a vast array of stimuli and doesn’t know where to look.

From the time the sitter arrived until we went to bed, Kate didn’t show any unusual signs of confusion. I don’t mean that she didn’t experience any confusion. For example, she never knows where she is and usually doesn’t know my name or hers. What I mean is that she didn’t show any signs of being disturbed by her memory problems. I didn’t specifically ask, but I think she knew I was her husband. I know that sometime during the late afternoon or at dinner she mentioned our two children. Her day was highlighted by her “Big Sister Album” and having dinner with friends. It was a good day.

Valentine’s Day

Kate’s celebration of Valentine’s Day started late in the afternoon on Wednesday when a high school student and neighbor of ours delivered a dozen red roses to her. The young lady had called me several weeks ago to let me know she was selling roses as part of a fund-raiser at her school. When she arrived at our door, I invited her in to give them to Kate. I realized the likelihood that Kate would think the roses were from the girl but didn’t tell her otherwise. She responded with enthusiasm and appreciation for her thoughtfulness and gave her a big hug. After she left, Kate selected a spot in the family room where she put them. Yesterday morning she had long forgotten the girl and the flowers but she saw the roses on the table. I told her they were from me. I got the same enthusiastic response and hug, and she got to celebrate the same present twice.

She lived the whole day without recognizing that it was Valentine’s Day except in the moments when someone would mention it, but it was a day filled with nice moments. At lunch, our server took time to show us a picture of his three-year-old daughter dressed up for Valentine’s Day. He is from Romania where they celebrate “Name Day.” He explained that his daughter’s name is Valentina so Valentine’s Day is really special for her and her parents. Kate loves children and was delighted seeing his daughter’s photo. She wouldn’t remember, but we met the mother and daughter one other time when we had lunch there. As we were leaving, we walked by a table where two grandparents were celebrating the day with their new grandbaby. Kate had to stop and comment on her and how beautiful she was. We had a brief but pleasant conversation with them and then left for home.

At 2:00, Kate had a massage. I still don’t detect any sign that she thinks having a massage is special, but it seems to me that she must derive some immediate pleasure from it. There is always some turnover in the staff, but she has only had to change massage therapists once. We come often enough that the rest of the staff knows her and watches out for her. When I first started taking her, the staff let her walk out. When I arrived, I couldn’t find her. Then I saw her walking along the store fronts in the shopping center where the spa is located. After that I have made sure that all the staff is aware of her Alzheimer’s. I also take my laptop or iPad and walk a few doors down to Whole Foods where I wait. Then I go back about five minutes before she is ready. We’ve had no problems since.

We hadn’t been home long before a church friend stopped by to visit Kate. When Kate served as the volunteer church librarian, the two of them went out to lunch regularly. Her husband had Lewy Body Dementia, and she has been good about checking in on Kate since he died a few years ago. They visited for over an hour without a break in the conversation. I was in the kitchen and couldn’t hear what they were saying except when Kate called me in one time to help her answer a question and also when her friend was leaving. I heard enough to know that she was handling herself well. She can’t recall specific facts, but she can express her thoughts about education and children and many other things. This reminds me that even at times when she doesn’t know my name or that I am her husband, she does remember my personality. She regularly surprises me with the accuracy of her perceptions of me.

Last night we went to a Valentine’s dinner at Casa Bella. They didn’t have music this time, but we were seated at a table for four with the 94-year-old couple with whom we always sit on music nights. On those nights we have six or eight people at our table. That makes for a different kind of experience than last night. Larger numbers of people create more difficulty for Kate. Sitting with this couple we like so much was a real treat. They are both in remarkably good shape. He is the oldest living Hall of Fame basketball player at UT. I’ve always been impressed with his memory and learned last night he has a photographic memory.

We had a pleasant conversation throughout the dinner. Even Kate got into the act. The couple is aware of her Alzheimer’s. Even if they hadn’t been, they would have suspected something. A number of times she was unable to follow the conversation and asked questions that she should have known from what had been said previously. She also got wound up talking about her school experience. This is one of those occasions she didn’t stick to her feelings but communicated what she was reporting as fact. She reported things I knew didn’t happen or that she could not have remembered. She also interrupted the man several times to continue talking after he had started talking about something else. They are very understanding and no harm was done. It was a nice way to end Valentine’s day. I hope we’ll be able to enjoy their company for much longer. Since they are 94, and Kate is already in the late stages of her Alzheimer’s, the end may come sooner than I want. Like everything else, we will continue to enjoy these moments as we experience them and be grateful.