Change is Ever Present, But Some Things Remain the Same.

Much of my recent posting has focused on the changes occurring in our lives. That is true, but I don’t want to mislead you. Some of the best things are still with us. I can sum it up by saying this. Kate continues to be the same kind, thoughtful person she always was. As a result, the strength of our relationship hasn’t diminished in any way. In fact, I would say it is stronger than ever.

Last week, I watched a video lecture by David Brooks recorded during his visit to Chautauqua in 2018. A section of his talk dealt with love and referenced the following quote from Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love is burned away. And this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches, we found that we were part of one tree and not two.

I think this applies to our relationship as well as most other successful marriages including those of Kate’s and my parents. We had a good marriage before Alzheimer’s, and our roots “grew toward each other.” Now I have discovered that we are “part of one tree and not two.”

There are a number of reasons “Living with Alzheimer’s” has been less stressful for us than for many others. The nature of our relationship has to be one of them, and it has not deteriorated. That could change at any time. Alzheimer’s has changed our lives significantly, but I remain optimistic.

There are many illustrations of the way we have handled the trials accompanied by this disease. Let me mention several that have occurred in the past week.

One night early last week, I had just gotten out of the shower and was about to take a seat in a chair on my side of the bed. This is a relaxing time of the day for me. Kate was sitting up in bed while watching a YouTube video of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. I assumed she was more engaged than usual because she was sitting up. Normally, she is lying down with her eyes closed and listening. Before I could sit down, she motioned to me to join her in bed. It was about 45 minutes before I would normally go to bed, but I got in bed.

It turned out that she was experiencing two conflicting emotions. She was enjoying the music, but it was also a moment when she was disturbed by not knowing “anything.” She wanted my hand and held it firmly as she leaned against me. I felt it was another time when talk was less important than simply being with her. Within 10-15 minutes, her anxiety was gone. We watched the entire concerto, and she wasn’t sleepy. We followed that by watching a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. We were much later getting to sleep than usual but it was another case in which music and the comfort of our relationship solved a problem.

One morning two days later, she woke me around 5:00. She had apparently had a dream in which she had some obligation that morning. She wanted to know what time she had to be there. I told her I didn’t know of anything that she needed to do that morning and that she could relax. For a very brief moment, that satisfied her, but then she asked again, and again, and again. Finally, I suggested that I put on some soft music. I have a variety of music for times like this and turned on the audio. Then I put my arm around her and held her for over thirty minutes. During that time, she relaxed and forgot all about her obligation. She wasn’t asleep but at ease, and I got up for the day.

As she grows increasingly dependent, her desire to be with me seems to increase as well. The past few days she has talked about liking to be with me. On at least one of those occasions, it followed an afternoon with the sitter even though I was in the house most of the time. Before the sitter arrived today, I mentioned that I was going to the grocery store. She told me she didn’t want me to leave. I told her I wouldn’t be gone long and wasn’t going to leave right away but would be in the kitchen taking care of a few things. She accepted that, but the look on her face suggested she didn’t want to.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when she didn’t recognize me as her husband or know my name, but she asked to hold my hand. She said she didn’t really need it, but it made her feel better. She wanted to go home, so we went for a ride in the car. It wasn’t long before she said, “I don’t know how he does it.” She said a few related things, and I asked who she meant. She looked at me and said, “You.” This was far from the first time she has referred to me or herself in the third person. When we returned home, she wanted to tell me something but couldn’t express it. I’ll never know exactly what it was, but I got the impression she wanted to tell me what it feels like not to know anything. I don’t know that I would be able to express it either. I do know that she hasn’t forgotten me as a person whose company she enjoys and on whom she is very dependent.

As an aside, I think she has remembered my name and that I am her husband more often as her dependence has increased. When I got home to relieve the sitter two days ago, the sitter told me Kate had asked about “Richard” off and on the whole time I had been gone. Interestingly, while we were eating lunch today, she asked, “Where is my husband?” several times. We had been talking, but there were moments of silence. She apparently looked at me but did not recognize who I was and felt uneasy. Yes, changes are occurring, but some very important things remain the same. Our relationship, music, her photo books (especially the “Big Sister” album), and The Velveteen Rabbit are among them.

Stunned by a Conversation

You might think that by now nothing Kate does could surprise me, but a conversation she had with her sitter yesterday did just that. A few times Mary has mentioned that Kate has been talkative, but this was the first time I was home to get a better idea. I was stunned, not that she was talkative but that she controlled the conversation so well.

Since Kate normally wants to rest after lunch, I assumed that she might nap after Mary arrived. That proved to be wrong. The two of them began to talk as I went to the kitchen to work on my computer. I could hear their voices but wasn’t able to understand what they were saying.

I watched a video of a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution. When it ended an hour later, they were still talking. Kate was clearly taking the lead. The way she asked her questions wasn’t just like they were two friends in conversation. It reminded me of a sympathetic journalist conducting a conversational interview, giving her own thoughts about the issues they discussed.

Twice I walked close to the doorway to get a better idea of what they were saying. I heard Kate ask her about her husband and their relationship. She also talked about our relationship. Kate raised the issue of values, and that led to an exchange over relationships with other people. At one point, Kate asked her about her church. I have no idea what else they discussed, but the total time they talked was an hour and fifty minutes.

I didn’t listen long. It was still hard to follow everything they were saying, but I was struck by Kate’s command of the conversation. She would ask Mary a question, listen to her answer, ask follow-up questions and then express her own thoughts. Kate and I have had a number of somewhat similar conversations. During those, Kate has done the talking, and I was a facilitator. In addition, much of what she has said to me was based on a delusion. Yesterday’s conversation was back and forth more like two friends having a pleasant conversation rooted in reality rather than a delusion. I suspect a person overhearing it might not have recognized that she has Alzheimer’s and certainly not in the last stage. It took me by surprise. I wish I could have heard more clearly. I know she stumbles over her words when she talks. She must have done that, but I didn’t detect any sign of it.

It made me think about the difference in the relationship that she and I have compared to her and Mary. Our relationship is dominated by my role as a caregiver. She looks to me as the person in charge who has the answers to her questions and knows what to do when she is in doubt. It may seem strange, but I think she sees Mary as more of a friend than a caregiver. I like that.

To use an old expression, to me that makes Mary “worth her weight in gold.” Kate no longer has any close friends. They have either died or moved out of town. We get together with other people (at least until covid came along), but couple relationships can be quite different than getting together with a close friend. It is harder for Kate to play a significant role in group conversation. Part of that is because I am more of talkative than she is and generally take the lead. Along with that, Kate looks to me to do just that because it takes the load off her.

I have seen a number of other situations in which Kate has been able to converse easily with another person. She handles herself well and did that with Mary yesterday. She is not always in the mood to talk. It’s been almost three years since Mary became her Wednesday/Friday sitter. To the best of my knowledge yesterday was one of only a handful of times when that coincided with Mary’s being here, but I hope she will have more conversations like this in the future.

So, What’s Going On?

Some of you may have noticed that yesterday’s post came after a week of silence. That is the longest such period since I launched the blog 2 ½ years ago. Because of my regularity in the past, I know some of you have wondered if everything is all right. I am happy to report that Kate hasn’t had any special problems. In most ways, she has had a good week. She does experience more delusions and hallucinations than she used to, but they haven’t increased in the past seven days.

The real answer is that I have been more occupied than usual. Our children and grandchildren were in town Thursday through Sunday to celebrate my 80th birthday. We had established this date before Covid-19 entered the picture. We did our best to maintain the appropriate physical distance recommendations but were together a lot during that time.

Prior to their visit, I began to make preparations for the move. Mostly, that has involved getting the house ready to be put on the market in December or January. We’ve been in the house 23 years this month, and there are several things that require attention. The biggest is eliminating a leak in the swimming pool. After a year of searching, we found it two weeks ago. I asked that they not begin until after the birthday celebration. They will be here next Tuesday. In addition, I have also been communicating with a number of people about gutter and woodwork repair.

I also felt a need to take action on the preparations for the move itself. I know someone in connection with my work with United Way whose business is helping seniors who are downsizing. She is also helping a few others who are moving into the same building we are. Several times, I had spoken informally with her, but we finally met at our house earlier this week. She can handle almost everything in connection with a move. For us, she will probably focus on the logistics of the move itself.

The first step in getting ready is to identify what we can take with us. I have contacted the person Kate worked with on the interior decoration of our present home. She is going to meet me at the house next Tuesday. In advance of that, I have been carefully reviewing the floor plan of our apartment. That has given me a general idea of what I can take with me. I will work with our decorator to get more specific. Then we well develop a plan to get rid of the rest.

All of these things together with my responsibilities for Kate have just made it more difficult keep up with my regular posts. I hope that won’t continue. Having set things in motion, I will develop a plan that I hope will be carried out gradually. The people I’m working with will play a large role in making the move easier for me. I also hope we won’t move until February or March. I know there will be unforeseen bumps along the way, but I am currently optimistic. As Kate often says, “We’ll see.”

Food Art

6:45 This Morning. The frying pan was ready, and I was about to put in the eggs. I heard Kate say “Hey.” I went to the bedroom, but she didn’t recall saying anything. I told her I was about to have breakfast and to call me if she needed anything. Just as I reached the kitchen, she called again. I went back to her. She didn’t remember calling me. This happened several times. She would say “Hey” or “Hello,” and I would go to her.

The last time, I asked her if she would like breakfast. She said she would. Before getting up,  she didn’t know who I was and was somewhat suspicious of me. When she asked who I was, I told her. That didn’t appear to relieve her, but she didn’t protest when I helped her out of bed and took her to the bathroom. She held my hand all the way, and we went through our normal bathroom routine. Then I helped her dress.

We went to the kitchen where I gave her some juice and a bowl of blueberries while I cooked the scrambled eggs I had intended for myself. Then I cooked another batch for me. She eats very slowly, so I finished long before she did. As it turned out, she never finished. Her aesthetic interest in the meal took precedent over her hunger.

I first noticed that she had poured the blueberries from the bowl to the plate with her eggs. I didn’t think much about that. She often transfers food from one plate or bowl to another. I think I recently commented on her pouring her juice into a bowl with blueberries and strawberries.

She didn’t stop there, however. For the next 30-40 minutes, she arranged and rearranged her food, the locations of the plate, bowl, napkins, as well as her fork and spoon. She very meticulously picked up one or two blueberries at a time and put them in various places on and off her placemat and the table around it. She wasn’t satisfied with moving just the blueberries. She also picked up bits of the scrambled eggs and carefully placed them on the table and on a napkin.

Midway through her creation, I asked if she would like me to take a picture. She did. I thought that would be the end, but she continued to reposition the items. I took two other photos although they did not turn out to be the last arrangement.

When she was finished, I started to pick up the plate with the eggs and blueberries still on it. She stopped me and said, “They will come in with some money and take it.” I didn’t ask her to explain.

We got up from the table and walked into the family room where I picked up The Velveteen Rabbit. I had only read the title before she wanted to rest. I went back to the kitchen and cleaned up the art. Now I am sitting across from her while she sleeps. She really does need the rest.

Off and she has spoken a few sentences as though she might be dreaming and talking with someone. Once or twice, she looked up at the ceiling and appeared to be talking with someone. And, just a moment ago, she asked who I was. Except for a few moments before she got up, she hasn’t seemed disturbed by her confusion. In fact, she has been a little playful with me. After asking who I was, she asked if I was a girl. I told her I was a boy. She asked my name. When I told her, she said, “You’re a girl. Your name is Carol.” Then she chuckled.

Happy Moments and Challenges

I often fear that when I post stories of the more challenging (troublesome? Disturbing?) experiences Kate and I have, you may feel our lives have become gloomy. Similarly, when I post our good ones, I fear that I am failing to convey the trials we face. The truth is that both the good and bad are happening, sometimes in very close proximity. I want you to know about both. Beyond that, I want you to know that our Happy Moments continue to outweigh the more difficult ones.

This morning (See below.) we have had contrasting experiences, and it’s only 9:55. It began when I woke up a couple of minutes past 6:00. As I started to get out of bed, Kate said something to me. She seemed wide awake . . .

The paragraphs above were written about 9:45 Wednesday morning. It is now 2:58 Wednesday afternoon. Since then I have been occupied with Kate, some household chores, and checking email. In a way, the break was fortuitous in helping to make my point about the mixture of experiences we have during the day.

Let me pick up where I left off. She seemed wide awake when I started to get out of bed. More importantly, she seemed perfectly at ease although she did ask me what she should do. I said that it was a couple of minutes past 6:00, and she should probably go back to sleep for a while. That satisfied her, and I went to the bathroom.

Moments later I heard her say, “Hey.” I opened the bathroom door and saw her standing there. She needed to use the bathroom. As is often the case, she was very dependent on me. Since she was up so early and cooperative, I suggested it would be a good time for a shower. She didn’t object.

When we got out, I started to dress her. She wanted to rest before we could finish. That seemed like a good thing as I hadn’t done anything to get myself ready for the day. I left her in the bed while I went to the bathroom, dressed, and fixed breakfast.

I had just put my breakfast on the table when I heard her call. I took my plate of scrambled eggs with me to see what she wanted. She was ready to get up. She was in a good humor, and I had no trouble getting her ready. While helping her, I ate my eggs and gave her a bite. She loved it.  I was glad because that gives me another breakfast alternative for her.

She was in an unusually cheerful mood when we left the bedroom for breakfast. She was excited about the flowers and trees in the back yard. At breakfast, she was very talkative. Everything pleased her. The sun was shining brightly, and she loved looking out the kitchen window at all the “green” in our neighbor’s yard. She raved over the apple juice, blueberries and strawberries, and her eggs. We were off to a great start. I had already thought about writing a more upbeat post, and she was providing all the material I needed.

After breakfast, we went to the family room where I picked up The Velveteen Rabbit, and we sat down to read it. She has never enjoyed it more, but she did look tired when we finished. I asked if she would like to rest. She said she would. That’s when I got my laptop and sat in a chair across from her to write this post.

She didn’t rest long. She began speaking to someone who had apparently appeared in a dream. When she started to get up, I walked over to her. She greeted me warmly as though I were a guest and not her husband. I asked what she wanted to do, and she said she was going “over there” and pointed to the back yard. It is most unusual for her to go out to the patio and back yard. I was pleased.

We spent about fifteen minutes walking around to see all the plants that she admires from inside the house. She was excited to see everything up close. It was another high point of the day.

It was time for lunch when we came back inside. I called in a takeout order from a place nearby. Everything went well until near the time we finished eating. She seemed a little disgruntled and wanted to go home. I was hesitant to do that since the sitter arrived only a few minutes before. I told her we were at home but quickly recognized that wasn’t going to work. I told the sitter I was going to take her home. She remained at the house while we took a 20-minute drive.

Until then, our drives “home” had worked well. That wasn’t so  that day. Before leaving the house and in the car, Kate asked several times if I knew where she lived. Each time, I assured her I did. She seemed quite suspicious. Then as we came within a block of the street where I was to turn for our house, she said, “This doesn’t look right.” She repeated this after I made the turn. When she saw the house, she didn’t believe it was her house. She was hesitant to go in and insisted on my going in first. It seemed to me that she recognized the house as familiar but knew it was not “her” house. Since this was the first time she did not accept “our” house as “her” home, I wonder what will happen next time I try the same thing. (I got to find out yesterday afternoon. It went well.)

When she saw Mary, she didn’t recognize her at all; however, she gave her a warm welcome. I started to go to the kitchen, but she wanted me to stay with her. I sat beside her on the sofa and picked up The Velveteen Rabbit again. She shrugged but listened. She didn’t respond at all the way she usually does and had earlier that morning; nevertheless, I could tell she was following the story. She got tired before I finished and put her head down on the pillow. I finished the book while she rested. I went to the grocery store and back. I was at home the rest of the time the sitter was here.

After Mary left, I decided we needed a boost for the day. I took Kate to Casa Bella for dinner. We had a nice meal and returned home for the night. All was well. It wasn’t our best day, but it had some very good moments. I felt good.

Emotional Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Insecure, Dependent, and Appreciative

The past few days Kate has been unusually insecure, at times almost helpless. It has been evident in both her behavior and expressions of appreciation to me. Most of these signs are not new but the degree of her emotions has seemed more intense than in the past.

Thursday morning, I had an appointment for my labs in advance of a doctor’s appointment  later this week. She was with me the entire time except when I stepped into the restroom to give them a urine sample. When I returned, she was very relieved to see me. As soon as we got in the car, she said, “I feel better when I am with you.”

That afternoon, she had an appointment with her stylist for color and a shampoo. I used to sit in the waiting area up front. In the past year or so, I have taken a seat across from her about 10-12 feet away because she sometimes feels uneasy when she doesn’t see me. That worked fine. This time she wanted me to stay closer to her. Once I stood by her, she wanted to hold my hand and did so until time to move back to another chair for the stylist to finish. After making the move, she wanted to hold my hand again.

I was at home most of the time on Friday while the sitter was here. After almost three hours, she called to me and walked into the kitchen. She had a pitiful look on her face and asked, “When will you be able to be with me?” I told her I had a few other things I wanted to take care of, and it wouldn’t be long. She wanted something to eat. I fixed her a slice of cheese toast and a Diet Dr. Pepper. (Those her know her well may recall that she has never liked the diet version, but that’s another change in the later stages of Alzheimer’s. I buy only diet now.) I finished up what I was doing and let the sitter go early again. This is becoming a frequent thing, and it has never kept me from doing anything I had to do. It makes Kate feel better, and that makes me feel better as well.

During the weekend, she was excessive in expressing her feelings about me. She thanked me for helping her so much and emphasized that she couldn’t live without me. Being appreciative is not something new, but the way she has expressed it recently suggests to me that she has a greater sense of the seriousness of her problems than before. I can’t help thinking that having less stimulation during the pandemic has played a role by giving her more time to focus on what she can’t do rather than simply enjoying what she can.

The Ups and Downs of our Present Life

Looking back at the almost nine and a half years since Kate’s diagnosis, I see how gradual Kate’s changes were during the earlier years. We lived as though she were stable and adapted in various ways to make life easier or safer. For the most part, that meant giving up activities that had been an important part of our lives. I’ve mentioned all of them as they happened. The big ones for Kate involved her giving up her computer, working in the yard, and, finally, the iPad. Both of us gradually became less active in church and community work. We gave up all evening activities except for eating out for dinner, and we do that earlier than before. In 2015, we took our last international trip. In 2017, we made our last trip to Chautauqua, and we made our last trips to see our children in 2018.

Although all of these were significant changes in our lifestyle, they occurred slowly over time. Our world was getting smaller, but our daily routine was comparatively normal. That is no longer the case. The pace of change picked up within the past year, especially the past six months and even more during the pandemic. As a result, it is much harder for me to remember many of the details that I would like to report. That means I report on fewer issues that arise on a daily basis. I suspect that I may do less reporting on what a day is like and focus more on specific incidents I am able to recall. With that in mind, here are several things that have happened in the last few days.

After finishing my shower three nights ago, I walked into the bedroom and noticed that Kate was lying almost perpendicular to the headboard. I spoke to her, and she pointed to a section of the sheet beside the outline of her body. She motioned to me to come closer and said, “I need your help.” She pointed again and said, “Read this.” As you might have guessed, there was nothing there but the bed sheet. I hesitated a moment trying to decide what to say. Before I could ask any questions, she again asked me to read it. I took a moment to look at the sheet and pretended I was reading something.

When I finished, she asked me what it said. For a moment, I was puzzled. That must have been obvious to her since she mentioned something about ways that someone could help. I still wasn’t sure what she wanted. After a little probing I learned that she wanted me to help her with a young man and woman who were apparently new to our area. She wanted me to introduce them to other people and give them information that would be helpful about our area. She wanted us to meet with them and asked for my advice about the time and place of our meeting as well as taking charge of arrangements.

As I gave her my recommendations, I began to wonder how long this conversation would go on. It turned out to be very short. When I mentioned that I was available for lunch the next day, she said that was too soon. I told her I would call him and set up a lunch meeting several days after that. She was agreeable to that and thanked me for helping her. She went on to say it was time for her to get to bed. She said this in a way that made it clear that she did not recognize me as her husband.

For much of the time yesterday, she wasn’t sure who I was. That was true at lunch when I said, “I’m not much of a talker.” She broke into laughter. Obviously, I was not a stranger to her.

After lunch, she rested. Two hours later, she started to get up from the sofa. I asked if she would like for me to read something to her. She was receptive, and I picked up The Velveteen Rabbit. Before reading, I showed her the drawing of the rabbit on the book’s cover. She had some difficulty comprehending what a stuffed rabbit is and wasn’t particularly interested. As I proceeded to read, her interest rose quickly. As on other occasions, she responded audibly to quite a few passages. Each time her emotions were appropriate for what I had read.

When I reached the part where the boy refers to the rabbit as real, she asked if I were real. I told her I was. Without hesitation, she asked how I knew. I told her that was a good philosophical question. I went on to say that I felt I was real because I was able to interact with other people, and they responded as though I am real. She didn’t want to pursue it any further, but I thought it was interesting that she asked both questions.

It also made me think about her interactions with her stuffed bear. She cuddles him and talks with him as though he is real. She does the same thing with other inanimate objects like a pillow in our kitchen. On the other hand, she doesn’t always seem to see her bear as real. Yesterday, she was carrying him in her arms as she started to walk down the steps into our garage. I asked if I could hold him. She said, “No, I don’t think that would look right.” I said, “You don’t think that would look manly.” She responded with an emphatic “No.”

The best part of the day came after we finished the book. I reminded her that she had been a librarian and that she must have enjoyed introducing so many children to books. That led to a conversation that lasted almost an hour, during which she did most of the talking. She told stories about her relationship with her students. At one point, I mentioned that teachers have a big impact on their students. That prompted her to tell me about students who had thanked her for what she had done for them. While there is no way for me to be sure, I don’t believe anything she said actually happened. I am sure she was adlibbing, but she enjoyed talking, and I enjoyed listening. The conversation was especially interesting because it showed such insight regarding students, teachers, and their relationships while the facts seemed to be fictional. To be sure, there is some sadness associated with moments like these. At the same time, the nature of the conversation also seemed quite natural, like those we had before Alzheimer’s. At this point in the disease, conversations like that are a pleasure. I count them as treasures.

Reflections on Reaching 80

Today is my 80th birthday. I used to think that was old. Many people still do. That’s what I thought when Kate’s father celebrated this milestone. That perception continued when our other parents reached the same age and a decade later when Kate’s mother and my dad made it to 90. I joked with Dad that we would celebrate his 100th, but I don’t think I took it seriously until his annual birthday parties in his mid-nineties. He lived with great anticipation as he reached his 3-digit birthday, and died two weeks later.

I don’t mean to suggest that he was like a spring chicken during that last decade, but he remained quite active until experiencing a stroke when he was 96. He had a variety of physical issues to deal with, but mentally he was quite youthful until his death. In many ways, I am like my dad. I realize that is no guarantee that I will live as long as he did, but it does make me think that I might have a shot at it.

I’ve thought a lot about Dad since he died 6 ½ years ago. Not surprisingly, much of that involves his care for my mom who had dementia. Early in the year he turned 80, he brought up the topic of moving from South Florida. He and Mom were not specific about their motivations for moving. They moved there from Tampa in 1936 and had always loved it. As I recall, he (or they) said something about the way life was changing, and they thought it would be nicer to be near their two sons.

It wasn’t until sometime after Kate was diagnosed that I began to wonder when Dad noticed the first signs of Mom’s dementia. Could that have been the primary motivation for moving? That could easily have been the case. It was four years later when the social worker at the office of Mom’s primary care physician informed us of her dementia. By that time, we were sure she had dementia though we hadn’t put a name to it. We were like many people who considered it to be a normal function of aging. Of course, Dad was also having health issues. Perhaps, that was their motivation for leaving Florida.

As it relates to my birthday today, I would say this is a time of life when a variety of things that remind you we don’t live forever. If my memory is correct, it was between 75 and 85 that each of our parents began to have health issues.

I am 80, but I am still in good health. I do have a little arthritis in my fingers, and I have periodic lower back pain. Neither of these has been serious enough for me to take any medication. I am mindful that could change at any time. It was that kind of thinking that led to my making a down payment on an apartment in a local continuing care retirement community a little over a year ago. At the time, a move seemed a long way off. Now, it is only 6-8 months before the building is completed.

The important issue for me is the same as it has been for the past nine years. That is taking care of Kate. She requires much more attention now. That won’t get any better. That means I need to remain healthy. I take comfort in the fact that my dad was in his mid-80s when Mom was diagnosed, 89 when she died. I was 70 when Kate was diagnosed. It’s been over 9 years, and I’m just 80. I’m going to be optimistic that I will be able to continue caring for her in the future, with a little help, of course.

A final thought with respect to my dad and to Kate. Dad led a more challenging life than I have, but he was always an optimist and seemed up to almost every curve ball thrown at him. On occasions like milestone birthdays, he always said, “I’ve had a wonderful life.” I share his thinking.

Kate was up early again this morning. When she was almost finished with her breakfast, I opened a couple of birthday cards and read them to her. She suddenly realized that she hadn’t known it was my birthday and wanted to know what she should do. I said, “You could just say, ‘Happy Birthday, Richard.’” She started to sing “Happy Birthday” but was unsure of the words, so I coached her a bit. When she got to the part where she needed to sing my name, she couldn’t remember it. I filled it in for her, and she repeated it and finished the song. I told her that was a present that made my day, and it did. Like my dad, I, too, have had a wonderful life.

Our Days Are Always Eventful

Kate was up early once again on Friday. This time it was right after I had dressed and was about to get breakfast. She seemed less disoriented than usual. I got her ready with no problem, and we went to the kitchen where we had breakfast together. When we finished, she wanted to “go home.” I took her for a 20-minute drive.

When we returned home, we sat down on the sofa to look at a photo book. We didn’t even open the cover before she wanted to rest. I went to the desk in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before I heard her say something. She was getting up and wanted to go home. We took another ride and were back home before 10:00. She was ready to rest.

I was preparing for a Zoom meeting at 2:00 and was testing my setup in the guest room when I heard her say, “Hello.” When I got to the family room, she was walking in from the kitchen. She was greatly relieved to see me. She also seemed disturbed by something. I tried to comfort her for a few minutes before she told she told me she had done something she regretted. She said it wasn’t a big thing and that other people might think nothing of it, but to her it mattered.

I asked if she could tell me about it. We sat down. She wanted to tell me but said she didn’t know how. As often happens, she wasn’t able to give me a consistent explanation of the problem. I did learn that it was something that had occurred in the past and that it involved the two of us. Once or twice she said she couldn’t even remember what it was. Later on, I asked her if she remembered what she had done, and she said she could. She just didn’t know how to tell me. I assured her that it would not be a problem for me. She said she knew that, and that made it even harder to tell me.

It seemed like a good time to try to divert her attention. Even though it was a little early, I suggested we order a meal and bring it home for lunch. She agreed, and we got in the car again. She was troubled all the way to the restaurant but apparently forgot everything on the way home. She didn’t said another word. I wonder what she thought she had done.