The Zest Deficit– Cognitive Impairment is More Than a Loss of Memory

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I spent last weekend in NYC, visiting my son and old friends, going to restaurants and museums, carrying on lively conversations about politics, art and philosophy. I came home five pounds heavier but energized, reminded that there was a world out there and I was part of it.

I almost added to the above paragraph, “Also guilty” because that has usually been the companion feeling when I enjoy myself without Ralph. But I am not sure I did/do feel guilty. Pre-Alzheimer’s spectrum Ralph would have wanted to share that energy, would have been jealous that I was getting to have experiences without him, would have missed me, would have made me feel guilty. Ralph as the person he is now does not feel as if he’s missing anything when I go out into the world without him. He is thoroughly content to sit in his “office” or in his porch rocker or at the kitchen table as long as his dogs, his cigarettes and either his beer or coffee are nearby. When I walk in the door, he is glad to see me but more interested in returning to his chair or to bed.

Still having been gone a few days having fun, I wanted to offer a nice meal to Ralph last night. I asked if he’d like anything special for dinner. I am a pretty good cook, and Ralph used to have very definite ideas of what he liked to eat and very large appetite. Eating was always one of the bedrocks of our relationship. We shared an enthusiasm for trying out the newest, most cutting edge restaurants in any city we visited. For choosing the most exotic and/or spiciest choices on any menu. And for experimenting at home with made up recipes.

“Whatever is easiest,” Ralph said last night, as he has said every time I’ve asked lately.

No suggestion I made could draw any enthusiasm. So I threw some leftovers together and was done with it.

We woke this morning to a beautiful fall day. Dry but not too dry, a few clouds in the blue sky, a slight wind ruffling branches still full of green leaves, the temperature in the temperate 70s. The perfect day for a walk.

I asked Ralph if he’d like to take one with me.

“Not really.” He wasn’t being mean. He just wasn’t interested.

Ralph used to walk every day. I was the lazy one he had to drag along.

Along with a loss in memory has come what I can only call a loss for the zest Ralph used to take in life’s small pleasures. Yes, witnessing this change makes me sad, but I have to acknowledge that Ralph is not sad. He is content. I am the one who feels discontent. When I throw a slapdash dinner together or skip a walk for lack of a human companion—and I do both with more regularity than I like to admit—I feel that I am letting myself be diminished, or more honestly, am diminishing myself. It scares me how easy I find it to sink into the featherbed of sloth. Am I using Ralph as an excuse or is Ralph’s condition wearing me down? I’m not sure, but the fact is that my new normal is the color gray. (In fact, I actually found myself thinking last night that I wanted to reupholster the living room chair in gray fabric.)

The New York weekend reminded me that highs are still out there to experience. Of course, so are lows. For Ralph, he’s found peace in passivity as his world shrinks. I have to decide whether I let my world shrink too.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll take that walk with Lola the dog now.

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9 thoughts on “The Zest Deficit– Cognitive Impairment is More Than a Loss of Memory

  1. As to so many of your posts, I totally relate, but just want to add: “Don’t let your world shrink”! My husband was diagnosed 2 years ago, but in retrospect this was going on a lot earlier. I am in the process of finding a memory care center. About a year ago, my therapist advised that I need to start preparing, start building my life on my own, doing things like your trip to NYC, meeting friends, doing yoga, upgrading your spaces (garden, house). If I had not started taking her advice, I think the change that is coming for me and him would be much more shocking and difficult.
    As for Alzheimer’s, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything that requires as much constant adjustment. Just when you think you’ve nailed how to live together, something else changes that invalidates your previous solution. I had no idea that the older I got, that changes would increase in velocity, and I’ve learned that if I want to be fulfilled and happy, I must embrace the changes proactively.

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    1. Thanks so much for these comments. I agree wholeheartedly. Most of us associate change and adaptability with youth, but it turns out they are very much part of the aging process, and if we can see them positively–the way we do when we think of them in terms of youth–it may help. I like to believe I am adaptable and now I am being tested. You have caught me on a good day, spent meeting with my accountant and then having lunch and a creative meeting, a day I feel I am being both proactive and fully alive. Not every day is like this but enough are still….

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    1. Thanks for writing and for sending the links, although I admit the caregiver site’s statistics on caregivers, particularly women, was not exactly cheerful reading, lol. Still, I think it is important and will add to my resources for my followers.

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  2. Hi Alice – I notice this same effect – the dulling of the energy, the attention, the tastes and preferences. It sure is a challenge for the partner, to find mutually agreeable entertainment. Our paces are becoming very different. In certain moods, I can appreciate the invitation to slow down, to be more in the present. But in others, it just feels like wading thru glue or mud – unpleasantly fettered.
    Thanks for putting words to all this.

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