Tag Archives: Energy and Alzheimer’s

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


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.

Energy–His, Mine, Ours

It’s a little after noon on Sunday afternoon. Ralph is in the bedroom “resting.” He woke up at eight and we drank coffee until nine so his morning was not exactly demanding. But we are scheduled to meet friends at the movies at 2.

Resting at length in preparation for any out-of-the-ordinary activity has become the norm. He rests all morning the day he takes his art class. He rests most of the day before we go out for dinner. He does not attach his need to conserve his energy to his cognitive issues—well, he doesn’t attach any of his behavior to his cognitive issues, but I think the resting has  to do with controlling his anxiety more than a physical need.

And if it works, great. I certainly don’t fault him for needing to rest for whatever reason. But I am also aware that his need for rest affects my own in ways I don’t like exploring too carefully. Am I as energetic as I could be or am I using his lack of energy as an excuse to be less vigorous in my pursuits as well? When he goes to sleep at eight, I often stay up alone for hours wasting my time on bad television or online robot bridge, telling myself my brain is too taxed to read—it’s not. If I don’t work on revising my novel when he is resting, I tell myself I can’t concentrate because he is in the next room. It is so easy to follow his time line and energy line, to drop down a notch or two on the activity scale. It is a dangerous slope.

Partners in a long marriage either grow together or apart. Given our particular marriage’s ups and downs, it’s a pleasant surprise that Ralph’s Early Alzheimer’s has brought us together in many ways. But I need to be careful. His cognitive failings dominate much of our marriage; I need to be sure not to use him now to let things that matter slide, to avoid the sometimes difficult choice to live my life to its fullest.