It was January 21, 2011, when Kate received her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Late yesterday Kate had a routine appointment with her gerontologist. As I have done prior to other appointments, I posted an update to Kate’s chart via her doctor’s online portal. That way I am free to explain how Kate is doing without worrying about her feeling talked about or my taking over the visit. It worked especially well this time. The doctor took far less time exploring how she was getting along.
She began by asking questions of Kate. Because my report had mentioned a concern with her vision, she asked Kate to read a sign on the back of the door to the room. She was able to see the first word, “Our,” but not pronounce it. She never got to the rest of the words. The doctor asked about her daily routine. Kate hesitated and then mentioned something completely unrelated to the question and unintelligible to us. I had feared that they were going to go through the usual questions related to the President’s name, date, drawing a clock, etc. but was relieved that the doctor felt she had enough without going further. Kate also mentioned working in the yard, but, of course, that is something she hasn’t done in two or three years.
The doctor was accompanied by a man serving a residency with the practice. She asked Kate if it would be all right if she and I stepped out for a few minutes and let the resident collect some additional information. That was fine with Kate, and we left. While we were out of the room, the doctor gave me the prescription and application for a handicapped sticker for our car. That is something I had requested in my update. She also gave me a sheet with a detailed list of symptoms for the 7-Stage Model of the Progression of Alzheimer’s. She agreed with what I had already estimated, that Kate is at the end of Stage 6 and about to enter the final stage. I looked over the list when we got home. It seems rather clear that is correct. As I said in a previous post about two weeks ago, no one can provide a precise estimate of the length of any of the stages, but it was sobering to receive the information.
I thought back to the time of Kate’s diagnosis 8 ½ years ago. Kate and I both expected to hear that she had dementia. Hearing the doctor say it; however, had a great effect on both of us. That was also true for her current doctor’s confirmation of where she is now. I suspect most people who are around her would never guess that she is this far along. I am personally surprised that she is able to function as well as she does now that she is on the cusp of the final stage of the disease. I am able to see all the signs without any problem, but it seems to me that she couldn’t be at this stage just yet. I was also struck by the specific symptoms of each stage. There are quite a few for Stage 6, but very few for Stage 7. I am copying them below.
- “Frequently lose the ability for recognizable speech although words or phrases may be uttered.” Just beginning for Kate.
- “Need help with eating and toileting, and there is general urinary incontinence.” Just beginning for Kate.
- “Lose the ability to walk without assistance, then the ability to sit without support, smile, and to hold up head; reflexes become abnormal, muscles grow rigid, and swallowing is impaired.”) Just beginning for Kate.
Like so many things, I find myself wishing I knew more precisely how much time we have, but it may be better that I don’t.
Looking back, I am satisfied with the way in which we have approached her diagnosis. Our goal was to make the most of whatever time we had. That goal has served us well. It is my intention to continue the same game plan. I realize that we will reach a point at which we are much more restricted in what we are able to do, but we won’t stop until I find that it is wise to do so. I remember that my dad took my mom with him wherever he went, except Kiwanis, until shortly before her death. I hope that Kate and I will be able to do the same.
This is one of those sad moments, but I want to emphasize that we are still experiencing happy moments and will do so for the foreseeable future. Apart from that, I have accumulated a treasure trove of memories before and since her diagnosis. I never imagined that we could enjoy life so much while living with Alzheimer’s. I am truly grateful.