Rick Phelps was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s in 2010 at the age of 57. He is a active advocate for dementia awareness and has written at least two books. He started a Facebook group called “Memory People” on which he wrote an interesting post a few days ago. In his message he expressed his frustration with people who can’t remember that he can’t remember. He says this happens even among his own family members.
He makes an interesting point. Caregivers often get frustrated when their loved ones don’t remember what we just told them. Just this morning I read another Facebook post from a caregiver that was pulling her hair out because her mother keeps asking to go somewhere. When she asks where she wants to go, her mother says, “I don’t know.” The caregiver herself didn’t seem recognize the problem is a direct result of her mother’s Alzheimer’s. I heard about another caregiver who wrote down a set of instructions for his wife who had dementia. That can be helpful for someone who can remember there is a written set of instructions and where it is located, but that’s asking a lot of someone with dementia. That is especially true as the disease progresses.
I like to think that I am more sensitive to this issue than many caregivers, but I, too, recognize that I sometimes (often?) say, “But I just told you.” I suspect that most caregivers know it doesn’t make sense to say things like that, but it can be hard to avoid.
It makes me think about my graduate school days in social psychology. During my doctoral program, I was influenced by an advisor who was a vocal exponent of behavioral conditioning. While I have drifted away from that somewhat, I do believe much of our behavior is a function of conditioning. Of course, it is far more complex than what happens in laboratory experiments with pigeons, but I believe we develop many behaviors that are so routine that they can be difficult for us to change. The best illustration I think of is the way we respond when the power goes out. We do silly things like turning on a light switch or the TV only to realize they need power too. We can all think about our own habits that are so hard to change.
So it is when caring for someone with dementia. It calls on us to rethink everything. To make it even more difficult, people with dementia generally appear to be quite normal in most ways until very late in the disease. That fact alone leads us to treat them normally as well.
But all of this is an effort to explain what some would call caregiver “mistakes.” Even though it is hard, caregiving calls on us to change as our loved ones change. One of those changes is how we communicate. Kate is more sensitive now. I have to be very careful what I say and my whole demeanor. The first thing I do when I walk into the bedroom to wake her is to get a sense of her mood. I try to respond in a way that is most helpful. I have found that what I say and the tone of my voice can greatly influence how she responds. She doesn’t want to be pushed. She is not ready for me to be too jovial though she often responds to a gentler expression of humor. She is a little slow to get up. That requires that I try to get in sync with her and not the other way around. When I get it right, it is easier for me to get her up, dressed, and ready for the day and, to top it off, in a good humor.
I feel I have learned a lot since Kate’s diagnosis, but different things are required at every stage of the disease. That means I am always adapting and admit that I have been far from perfect. Kate is good about letting me know when I fail to do the right things. I appreciate that. When I rush her, she frequently says, “Stop. You’re going too fast. Just give me one thing at a time.” I also benefit from her own sensitivity about what she says to me. For example, yesterday morning I started to help her put her slacks on. She stopped me and said, “I can do that myself.” I said, “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have acted so quickly. I wanted to be helpful.” She said, apologetically, “I know you meant well.” Working together like this is a good reason we have been able to get along as well as we have.
I continue to believe Kate and I have been fortunate, and I am cautious about passing along advice to other caregivers except at a general level. What I have done is tailored very specifically to Kate’s personality, her symptoms, and the nature of our relationship. I believe other caregivers should examine their own situations and respond in ways that address their particular, and often, unique situations.
In some ways, I think this last stage that Kate is entering is most critical because she is so sensitive. I try to retain my focus on keeping her happy and safe. I find that when I do that, everything else seems to fall in place. So far, that seems to be working.
I have often said that Kate responds with much greater sensitivity to noises, especially sudden ones, hot or cold temperatures, and music. That has increased significantly in recent months and now reached a point when I have to be more careful with what I do or say. She can be easily disturbed.
Of course, there are many things that are completely beyond my control. Yesterday, our server at lunch came to our table to fill our glasses with water. Kate said, “Oh, is that for me?” The server, who is one of our regulars, teased her and said, “This is for him.” Kate was crushed, and tears filled her eyes. I jumped right in and told her the server was teasing her. It took her a moment, but she recovered without any problem.
After we had ordered, Kate asked what she was having. I said, “The trout.” She said, “What is that?” I said, “It is a fish.” The moment I said, “fish,” she looked disturbed and tried to say she was bothered by the idea of eating an animal. (She just couldn’t put the words together.) This is something that has started recently. We have had these conversations before, and she is usually able to talk about it without any emotion. With that in mind, I said that it does bother us when we think about the animals we kill for food, but I was glad that we don’t eat dogs or horses the way they do in some places. I should have known that was the wrong thing to say. She responded with tears and required a little comforting on my part to calm her.
We were seated at a table across from the bar, and a little later, the bar tender tossed something into an aluminum tub. It wasn’t a really loud crash, but it was audible throughout the seating area. Kate gasped very loudly. The bar tender apologized. There were three women seated at the table just two feet away from us. I am sure they were far more startled by Kate’s reaction than to the noise that caused it. Then Kate called to the one man who was seated at the bar. When she got his attention, she apologized profusely to him. It reminded me of the way she apologizes to me after she says something to me that she thinks is out of line.
I have also mentioned her being frightened when she doesn’t know where I am. She is particularly sensitive about that now. Even at home she can be frightened when I am in another room.
Last night, we went to Casa Bella for opera night. The program was dedicated to a 95-year-old man who died suddenly last week. Kate and I had sat with him and his wife for the past six years. The emcee had only said a few words before Kate was whimpering, and she didn’t even remember that the man being honored was the man with whom we always sit. This response is becoming typical anytime she hears about someone’s dying.
Kate has always been tender-hearted, and now her emotional responses to many things are going well beyond what I have observed before. Like other aspects of her behavior, this has not presented a problem so far. I hope it will remain that way.
Kate woke up at 8:00 in a good humor and appeared to recognize me. At least she greeted me with a smile. As we entered the bathroom, she said, “Excuse me, I don’t remember your name.” She asked just the way she would have done with a casual acquaintance. I said, “My name is Richard, and I am your husband.” When I said, “husband,” she looked surprised and doubtful. When this happens, I shift gears. I said, “Let’s say we’re good friends. How’s that?” She said, “Yes, you’re a good friend.”
While on the toilet, she asked my name at least two or three other times and again as she started to brush her teeth.
Her usual pattern would have been to return to bed, but she was ready to get dressed. I was happy about that. I had arranged for the sitter to come at 11:30 instead of 1:00 because I had a United Way meeting at noon. Her being up early provided enough time to get her a muffin at Panera, pass a little time there, and easily get back home before the sitter’s arrival. As it turned out, we got home forty-five minutes before the sitter.
While at Panera, she said, “Do you have a girl friend?” I hesitated a moment and then said, “I would say that you are my girl friend.” With tears in her eyes, she said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.” She went on to say, “When we get older, I think you will be somebody like (struggling for the right word) a bank president or something.” I thanked her and said, “We are fortunate to have found each other.” That prompted her to begin a conversation (almost a soliloquy) about other people who haven’t been as fortunate as we have been. I was mostly a facilitator. This conversation lasted about fifteen minutes before she was ready to go home.
I didn’t say anything about the sitter’s coming until the doorbell rang. I explained to Kate that I was going to a meeting and that she and Mary were going to have lunch together. She gave me a dirty look and asked why I couldn’t go with them, but she didn’t look insecure. “Irritated” would be a better description.
This was the longest I have left her, almost five rather than four hours. That made me wonder what she might be like when I got home. As it turned out, she and Mary were seated on the sofa looking at her mother’s family photo book. She didn’t even look up when I walked in the room. I was glad to see that. It encourages me to see her sharing moments like this with Mary. I feel that is an important bond. Mary has been with us for over two years while the Monday sitter has changed several times. I would hate to lose her.
After Mary left, Kate and I picked up the same photo book. We didn’t get far. She was tired and wanted to rest before going to dinner. At dinner, she expressed her desire to get to bed early multiple times. Instead, she became occupied with her iPad until 8:00 when I suggested she might go to bed. She was ready. When I joined her about 9:45, she was still awake. I’m not sure when she went to sleep. I know that I dosed off and woke a little later, and she was still awake.
I don’t know whether Kate remembered my name or our relationship the balance of the day. I know that she acted as though she did and didn’t ask my name again. It was a relaxing day, another day in which we enjoyed being together. I am happy to say that.
After Kate’s insecurity yesterday morning, I wondered what the rest of the day would be like. I’m happy to say that it was a very relaxing and peaceful day. I didn’t get her up until almost 11:15. Like the day before, she got up and dressed rather quickly. She was in a good mood and didn’t show any signs of confusion except for not knowing where the bathroom is located.
As we walked along the sidewalk outside the restaurant where we ate lunch, we passed a group of women who were having lunch after their weekly game of tennis. We see the almost every week and don’t know their names, but we always speak briefly when we are either going in or leaving. Kate was especially friendly. I don’t recall what Kate said, but it was something that I suspect made them wonder a little about her. I thought about giving them one of my Alzheimer’s cards but didn’t. I may do that another time.
When our server brought our drinks, Kate gave her a nice greeting and asked her name. She has done this the past couple of times she has served us. She not only asked but tried to repeat it but mispronounced it. The she asked the server to spell it. I informed the server about Kate’s diagnosis long ago or she might have wondered about her. As it was, I think she felt the way I did and appreciated the fact that Kate was interested in trying to learn her name.
We spent a quiet afternoon in our family room at home. Kate wanted to rest as soon as we walked in. Unlike most days, she went to sleep. I’m not sure how long, but she must have slept at least an hour. I sat across from her looking through a couple of catalogs and checking email. Periodically, I was out of the room briefly while I tended to washing clothes and watering plants.
Kate woke up and started looking at the back yard. From her position on the sofa she can see the tall trees behind our house. As usual, she remarked on how beautiful they are. In most ways, she was very relaxed and seemed perfectly normal. Then she pointed to the back yard and said, “I used to walk all around this place when I was a child.”
As I have noted many times before, she also busied herself by pulling strands of her hair starting at the scalp and moving to the ends when the hair falls from her fingers. She has acquired what I see as a more problematic habit recently. She deliberately puts saliva on her fingers and wipes it on her forehead and, sometimes, her arms. She takes both of these habits very seriously and often wants my attention to watch what she is doing. She believes both of these habits do something good. I’ve never understood what.
Later as I was coming inside after watering plants, she looked at me and said, “You and I went to school together.” I said, “Yes, we did. Do you know the name of the school?” She said, “Let me think.” When she couldn’t guess, I said, “TCU.” She said, “That’s right.” As far as I could tell this was the first time during the day that it was obvious she didn’t remember who I was. Of course, she slips in and out between knowing and not knowing very quickly. She can mention her mother’s name in one moment and ask her name in the next.
She had brief scare late in the afternoon when she came out of our bathroom. I had left momentarily to take a few things to the washer. I heard her say, “Hey” a couple of times before I got to her. She was greatly relieved to see me. Since she has become so dependent on me to tell her what to do or where to go, she is often afraid when she doesn’t know where I am.
It was also a day when, most of the time, she didn’t recognize that she was in our house. That happens regularly in the morning and did yesterday. Throughout the day and into the evening, she said things that indicated she thought she was some place other than home. Interestingly, sometimes she wanted to “get out of here.” Other times she commented on what a nice place it was. As we left for lunch, she said, “I feel really sad leaving here.” I told her we would be coming back after lunch. She felt better. Later as we left for dinner, we had a rerun of the same experience.
All in all, it was a nice day despite her confusion. My own assessment of how things are going continues to depend on how she responds to that confusion. I am able to accept the decline in her memory and the confusion she experiences so long as she is happy. Much of the reading I have done on the topic of caregiving emphasizes the importance of accepting the person for whom you care as she is and focusing on making life as fulfilling as it can be. That makes life better for everyone. I believe it.
Yesterday was another of those days when I noticed more signs of Kate’s decline. She was especially dependent and cooperative in getting up and dressing. She was so cooperative that she was dressed and ready for the sitter in half the time or less. That turned out to be good because it enabled us to make a quick trip to Applebee’s for a gift card that the sitter uses to pay for Kate’s meal each Monday.
It was also a morning when she didn’t recognize me as her husband. She didn’t act surprised when I told her. She also didn’t remember her family. As we left the bedroom, I gave her the usual tour of the family photos in the hallway. We also looked at a few other pictures in the family room. As we went to the car, she became teary and thanked me for helping her. She tried to say more, but the words wouldn’t come to her. She suggested that I could say them better. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like, “You want me to know how much you appreciate my help.” She nodded. She started to cry, and we stood a moment in the garage hugging each other. These moments are not unusual. They are times when our hugs communicate our strong feelings for each other, but I always wonder what else they might say. I know that on my part they say, “I know our time is running out. I want you to know that I love you and will care for you all the way.” Is she thinking about the seriousness of her own condition? That she is worried? That she is losing her ability to express her feelings? That she is afraid of the future? I just don’t know.
When Cindy arrived, I told Kate that the two of them would be going to lunch and that I was going to Rotary. She didn’t look uneasy about that, but she did say, “Why can’t we go to lunch together?” Then she gave me a look that suggested she thought I was deserting her. I walked over and gave her a hug and said, “I love you.” She said, “I love you too.”
After getting home, we spent a few minutes looking at one of her photo books. It wasn’t long, however, before she said she was tired and wanted to rest. I left the sofa to her and took a seat in a chair across from her. I put on an album of Barbra Streisand favorites. In a little while, I heard her whimpering. I told her that if I had known the music would make her sad, I would have played something else. She said, “No, I like it.” She wanted me to come back to the sofa and sit with her. We sat there enjoying the music for another fifteen minutes until it was time for dinner.
Today is starting the same way. While working on this post at 8:00 this morning, I saw that she was sitting up in bed. I went back to her. She seemed to recognize me, but nothing was said to make me sure. I know that she was quite comfortable with me. I said, “I bet you wanted to go to the bathroom.” She said, “Where is it?” I said, “I’ll show you.” I helped her up. She didn’t try to assert her independence. She extended her hands for me to assist her. She continued to hold my hand on the way to the bathroom. She said, “You know, I am sure glad you’re here.” I told her I was glad too.
When she finished washing her hands (arms and face) and brushing her teeth, she looked around for a towel but didn’t see it. I took it from the towel rack beside her and handed it to her. She said, “I’m glad I have you. You always seem to know what to do and what to say.” Then she said, “What do I do now?” I told her it was still early and that she could go back to bed. She asked me to show her where to go and asked me to take her hand.
After she had gotten into bed, I told her I would be in the kitchen and to call me if she needed anything else. She appeared to be uneasy about that and asked where the kitchen was. I asked if she would like me to stay with her. She said she would, so I went to the kitchen and brought my laptop. When I got back, she said, “It means a lot to me that you’re here.” I said, “I think we were meant to be together.” She said, “Me, too.” She followed that with, “What’s your name?” I told her, and then she asked her name. A few minutes later, she asked my name again and where we were.
It could be another day of insecurity, but based on previous experience, she could be quite different when she finally gets up. I am getting a better appreciation of what I have heard from other caregivers about the difficulty predicting what comes next.
I am glad to report that I was able to get Kate up with sufficient time to arrive at Maggiano’s fifteen minutes before our noon reservation. I want to say in passing that Kate did not want to get up but was in a cooperative mood and got up with a little urging. After going to the bathroom and starting to get dressed, she wanted to lie down again. She seemed quite tired, and I gave her a few minutes to relax.
Before arriving at the restaurant, I decided to use the valet. Previously, we have found parking easily at that time of day, but it is getting to be more trouble for Kate to walk. In the past, I tried to give her this opportunity to walk because she needed it. At this stage, my priority has shifted. Now I am influenced more by Kate’s convenience than her need for exercise. That worked well yesterday, and I will use it next time we are there.
Our meal went well. We had an appealing server, and the manager whom we have met on previous occasions dropped by our table to speak. Ellen’s memory care facility is located about forty minutes from there. I suggested that it would be good for both of us to use the restroom before leaving. As we arrived at the door of the women’s room, a lady was coming out and told me no one else was in there. I walked in with Kate and took her to the stall. Then I went to the men’s room and returned to wait for her just outside the door. In a couple of minutes, a woman came out and asked if my wife was inside. I told her she was. She told me it sounded like she may have been having some trouble and that no one else was in there. I went in to check on her. She was still in the stall. She said she was all right and was just coming out. She wasn’t sure how to open the door that she had locked with the latch. I was able to poke my finger between the door and the side of the stall. That enabled me to show and tell her how to lift the latch. That went smoothly.
She came out and I was about to walk out when she said, “Don’t leave me.” She looked a little panicked as though I were forsaking her. I remained with her and helped her dry her hands and arms. This may seem like a little thing, but when she washes her hands or brushes her teeth, she almost always washes her arms and, sometimes, her face. In the process she can get pretty wet.
We finished up and left the restroom before anyone else came in. Then we made our way to see Ellen. She was sleeping in her wheelchair in front of a football game on TV along with several other residents. She awoke quickly and was glad to see us.
The visit went well, but it was different that those in the past. During the past year and a half her speech has declined significantly. We could understand very little of what she said. We only picked up snatches here and there. Once in a while, she would say something in a short complete sentence. Then we wouldn’t understand anything that followed.
Ellen may have recognized the problem as well. I know she wanted to move around more than in the past. Previously, we have stayed either in her room or one of the other public spaces. This time we started out in the activities room. It wasn’t too long before she wanted to go to the main open area between five or six resident rooms on one side and an equal number on the other. From there we went back to her room. Then she wanted to go around the entire interior of the facility that consists of two other “neighborhoods” identical in design to the one in which she lives. She is wheelchair bound, and this may be her way of “walking around” the way other residents in memory care walk “around and around.” We ended up at the table where she eats her meals. It was about forty-five minutes before dinner, but she wasn’t the only resident who had taken a seat early.
Just before we left, another resident in a walker stopped by and told us she was having a bad day. She mentioned several things that had happened to her that day including losing her purse. I doubt if any of these things happened, but Kate and I sympathized with her. She seemed to appreciate that and said so when we left. We had another conversation with a resident as we entered. We had seen her on a few of our previous visits.
We were there almost two hours and around a lot of other residents as well. Sometimes I am concerned about how Kate is responding to being in a memory care facility. She could easily qualify to be in memory herself. Does she ever think about this? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen the slightest indication that she sees herself like any of the residents. Does she even understand that all the residents she sees have some form of dementia? Again, I think not. I doubt that she has a grasp of what dementia is. She knows she has problems, but I believe she still sees herself as normal. When Kate was at an earlier stage, I avoided taking her with me to visit friends in memory care. Now I don’t think she processes much about the nature of the facility itself or the residents who live there.
Despite the restroom incident, the day had gone well. Nothing happened that would make me think we should stop coming to see Ellen. I say that even though Kate can’t remember who Ellen is before we get there. While we are there, she seems to sense the connection. That, and the fact, that Ellen clearly remembers us is enough for me to continue our visits though I know we are approaching the end.
I am writing this morning in our hotel room in Nashville. We came up yesterday afternoon to visit with our friend, Ellen, who had a stroke four years ago while visiting her daughter who lives here. Ellen has never returned to Knoxville and is now in memory care. She and Kate were best friends at the time of the stroke.
We cut out international travel in 2015. We made what I believe is our last trip to our children’s homes (Memphis and Lubbock) for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. But we have continued day trips to Nashville and have recently made them overnight trips. That has been much easier because it is so difficult to get away early in the morning. I consider it a nice treat as well. Sometimes we meet other friends who live in the area on Saturday afternoon. We have a nice dinner and get to bed at a decent hour that night. Then we visit Ellen right after lunch on Sunday afternoon. We usually stay with her an hour or two and get back home in time for dinner.
Each time we make a trip, I reflect on how travel is going and wonder how long we will be able to keep it up. So far, I have been optimistic about continuing. With the changes that Kate is making, I am becoming more doubtful. I’m not sure at all, but I have the impression that other couples in our situation don’t generally continue to travel as long as we have. Travel can be very disorienting and disturbing to the person with dementia. In addition, the logistics place a greater demand on caregivers. It’s enough to get ready for one person. Packing for two is a greater challenge. When one person has dementia, the issues double.
Yesterday we had lunch in Knoxville before leaving. Each of us went to the restroom at the restaurant. As always, I walked Kate to the door of the ladies’ room. I opened the door and looked around to see if anyone else was in there and to identify the stall that Kate should use. I pointed it out to her, but that wasn’t enough. I had to walk her to the stall and direct her to the toilet. Then I stood outside the door in case she might need me. When she didn’t come out in what I thought was a reasonable length of time, I opened the door. She got a look of relief when she saw me. She couldn’t explain to me what had happened. My guess is that she didn’t see the door to exit the restroom and didn’t know where I was. This would not have been the first time this has happened. Usually, however, she calls for me. She might have done that this time, but I probably opened the door earlier than I have done on other occasions. What I do know is that it was a frightening experience for her. It was a little thing and forgotten quickly, but in that moment, she was really scared. It reminds me of being in a house of mirrors when I was a child. I was frightened. It seems to me that Kate, without a memory or the rational ability to deal with the situation, would be even more frightened. It was another reminder of what a security blanket I am to her. She generally doesn’t know what to do in a situation, but she counts on my knowing for her.
The drive to Nashville was an easy one. We relaxed at the hotel about an hour before going to dinner. We had a pleasant dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Kate was up at 5:00 this morning to go to the bathroom. We were back in bed by 5:30, but I don’t think either one of us was asleep again before 6:00 or shortly thereafter. I got up at 7:00, dressed, ordered and ate breakfast in the room, and checked email. I have lunch reservations at noon but hope that I will be able to get Kate up early enough to get there by 11:30. That would allow a more leisurely lunch before our visit with Ellen.
As I think about it, I don’t believe overnight trips like this are any more stressful for Kate than being at home. Yesterday’s incident in the restroom was in Knoxville before the trip. That is an issue that will have increasing implications whether we are home or on the road. I also find that she is confused about where she is when we are in a hotel, but that, too, is something that regularly happens when we are home. If we were to discontinue our trips, it would probably relate to the extra challenges for me. I don’t believe we are there just yet, but we may be getting closer. In the meantime, I am also trying to be more sensitive to how she feels when we travel. If I sense that she experiences anything more discomforting than being at home, that will be a clear indication that it is time to stop.
It began with yesterday’s “Surprising Conversation.” The rest of the day was filled with strange incidents. I’m sure I would have noticed more if I had been home during the afternoon instead of the sitter.
The first thing I noticed happened as we were walking in the door at Applebee’s for lunch. Kate said she wasn’t sure she would be able to eat anything. That remark and the expression of concern on her face made me think that she might be sick. She walked very hesitantly into the restaurant and took an unusual amount of time to walk up the two steps to the booths where we always sit. She seemed very confused. I asked her if she felt all right. She told me she didn’t feel “all right,” but she wasn’t sick.
She could never explain the problem very well, but it turned out that she thought two people that she and I know were out to get her. When the hostess put the flatware wrapped in a napkin on the table, I unfolded the napkin, placed the knife and fork at her place, and handed the napkin to her. She refused to take it. It seemed she thought “they” had contaminated it in some way. Later when the food arrived, she picked through everything and put some of them on the table beside her. She shredded some of the chicken and said, “See that. They got this too.” She put it on the table as well. It took her a long time to finish her meal, and she didn’t eat all of it. That is unusual, especially recently. I suppose it was her belief about contamination.
Before the sitter arrived, Kate went to the bathroom. Since that is the bathroom that the sitter usually uses, I checked to see if any clean-up was required. I discovered that she had taken one of three artificial tulips out of an arrangement on the counter, torn off the leaves and all the petals of the flower itself. She left them in the sink where it appeared she had washed them.
When Mary arrived, Kate was picking up two ceramic containers that used to have small cacti in them. She filled them with water and started looking for a place to put them. She and Mary had gone outside to find a place as I was preparing to leave. I left, so I don’t know what happened after that. When I got home, I found them in the laundry room sink.
After Mary left, I sat down on the sofa beside Kate. She said, “Is my mother still upstairs?” (We have a single-story house.) I told her that her mother wasn’t here. She said, “Well, where is he?” I said, “Who do you mean?” She said, “You know.” I never figured out who “he” was.
We went to dinner at our regular pizza place. While we waited for the pizza, she diligently tried to tear her paper napkin into multiple sections. She carefully attempted to make each tear a straight line. As you can imagine, doing that with a paper napkin is almost an impossibility, but she gave it her best effort.
As for eating her pizza, she ate almost every bite of it. I know that doesn’t seem strange, but she has never liked pizza crust or crust on any bread. (She also has a distaste for the peel of fruit like apples, grapes, or tomatoes.) All our servers know that when she eats bread, she eats from the center out to the crust. Recently, I have noticed that she has been eating much closer to the pizza crust. Last night, however, she ate everything. She only left specks on her plate.
As we were preparing for bed, she started looking through the drawers in her bedside table. She also picked up a coaster on top and asked what it was. I explained it to her, but she didn’t understand. When I got out of the shower she had 8-10 things from the drawer spread out on the bed. She was trying to figure out how to use them with the coaster. She wanted me to look to see if she was doing it the right way.
Before calling it a day, she said something about having a big day “tomorrow” and would be leaving early for church. A few minutes later, she asked me what time she should leave. I told her 10:30 would be fine. She said that was later than she wanted and would probably leave by 9:30. I feel sure she was living in a “flashback” to the years she was our church librarian. She gave that up in 2009 because she was beginning to have trouble doing the work the way she knew it should be done. That was a year and a half before her diagnosis.
What I have reported above is just what comes to mind as I write this post. She made other comments throughout the day that indicated she was experiencing delusions or hallucinations. Like so many things, I don’t know how to explain what she was experiencing. I do know that these symptoms are not unusual for people with dementia. For that reason, I don’t feel any sense of alarm. She has had periodic experiences for several years, but this was the first time so many different things have occurred over the course of a one day. I take it as a further sign of her overall decline.
What is in store for today? I am eager to see.
Kate woke up at 4:30 and again at 5:30 this morning. In both instances, she tapped my arm and softly said, “Hey.” One of those times (I can’t remember which) she said, “Is the party over? Are they still here?” I explained that we were the only ones in the house but didn’t say much more as I didn’t want to encourage an extended conversation at that time. At 5:50, I decided to get up. She was still awake. I told her I was going to get dressed and then get breakfast.
I was just about to take my omelet out of the pan a few minutes before 6:30 when I heard her voice from the video cam. She said, “Hey.” Before I could take the pan off the stove, she called again. When I got to her, she had a big smile on her face and looked wide awake. I asked what I could do for her, and she asked me to sit on the side of the bed. I did. She acted like I was an old friend she hadn’t seen in a while. She asked what I had been doing. I told her I was just fixing my breakfast. Then I answered her in the way that I might have responded to a friend who had asked the same question. I told her about my daily routine minus the caregiving and blogging parts. I mentioned things like exercising at the Y and meeting friends for coffee. When I said something about my involvement with United Way. She said, “What’s that?” I told her about some of the United Way programs. That sparked a conversation that lasted forty-five minutes before I went back to the kitchen to fix another omelet.
The conversation shifted from my telling her what I did to my being the facilitator. She was very talkative. As usual, she was quite repetitive. The major themes were the many needs of people, the ways in which we can help, and the fact that both the giver and receiver benefit. Despite the repetition and stumbling on specific words and phrasing of what she wanted to say, she was remarkably coherent. She talked about the benefits that organizations can play in managing programs like homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I brought up the role that churches can also play in such programs. She also mentioned how individuals could make a difference doing things like preparing food for a family experiencing illness or just inviting someone to lunch.
I was fascinated by hearing what she had to say, but I was also thinking about my breakfast. I was hungry, and she seemed so wide awake that we could go on a long time. I told her I was feeling the need for a little breakfast. She suggested I go ahead. We talked briefly about what a nice conversation we had had. I asked what she wanted to do. She said she thought she would rest a while longer. It’s been a little over an hour. She is still in bed. I’m not sure what to expect next. This is a day for the sitter. I hope she will get up without my having to wake her. That always makes getting up a little easier.