Tag Archives: mild cognitive impairment

The Thorn Among The Roses

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Our fourth annual “Camp Mountain Creek” gathering of the cousins ended this morning. For the last eight days Ralph put up with three female adults (me, our niece and her friend) and four teen and preteen girls (our niece’s daughters and our granddaughter). Enough to wear out any man.

I have watched with fascination the evolution of the relationships among the girls as they mature. There used to be spats and hurt feelings that had to be soothed. This year they simply enjoyed one another. While there were shifting match ups there was no ganging up. The kids have created traditions they cling to (killer charades, skinny dipping, endless junk food) and have amassed stories they can tell and retell (scary moments, funny moments, angry moments, and serious moments like discussing racism and violence in America in light of the recent shootings). There were lots of tears when the cousins said goodbye.

I have also watched how their interactions with Ralph have changed. Four years ago he was at the center of things: taking them fishing, scaring them with ghost stories, driving them to Dairy Queen, and disciplining them on occasion.

Three years ago, they thought it was hilarious when he got a little lost on the way to McDonalds. Two years ago, they begged him to play Scattergories but he wouldn’t. Last year they couldn’t get him to tell his ghost stories.

This year we managed to get him to come with us for one meal out. He didn’t swim, despite temperatures in the nineties. He didn’t play games. He didn’t tell stories.

Mostly he enjoyed the girls’ presence at a remove. While he was not disturbed by the altered routine, the messy house, the noise, he did not go out of his way to be part of the activities. He kept up his daily routine—sleeping late, sitting on the porch, disappearing for an hour or two into his “office”, taking his afternoon nap followed by more time on the porch, dinner, and bed.

Sometimes he rallied. After enough teasing, he changed from jeans into shorts and sat with everyone by the pool one afternoon. Last night eating pizza at our last dinner together, he was as funny and engaged as ever.

The girls still adore him but they are old enough now to understand and want to discuss. I had to explain his diagnosis and what Alzheimer’s entails. The younger ones asked the older ones what he used to be like. The older ones talked about being “sad” over the changes they have noticed. They are all incredibly patient with him.

At first I was upset that they were so aware of Ralph’s diminishing self. But a friend pointed out that they were experiencing the life cycle first hand. She’s right. These girls will never forget their carefree weeks together on the farm, and sharing not only the joyful but also the bittersweet will make those memories all the more powerful. I wish I could be around to hear them reminisce about their “Uncle Ralph” and “Oppa” when they get together thirty years from now, as I have no doubt they will.

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RALPH MY HERO– THANKS TO ALZHEIMER’S

HERO

 

I have been carping a bit lately about the tensions, anxiety and frustrations of being an Alzheimer’s spouse/caregiver.

But today I want to crow about the upside.

Today Ralph is my HERO.

A specific moment of heroism: At the crack of dawn this morning, my walking buddy and her husband came by to go blackberry picking out at our big stand of blackberries in a field that’s a good long walk from the house. Ralph was still asleep. Although he had reluctantly come out to pick a few days earlier, I let him sleep in this time. My friends and I picked a couple of baskets worth of berries before the prickles got to us, not to mention the heat (85 degrees by 8:30).

As we were about to head in, I realized I didn’t have my new prescription sunglasses and couldn’t remember if I had worn them out to the field. We looked around the bush but didn’t find them. I prayed they were at home.

They weren’t. I looked all over the house, in my car, all the usual places. No glasses. By now Ralph was up and dressed. He willingly drove me to the field. And then he actually got out of the car and looked with me.

We walked carefully around the bush, but I saw nothing and was about to give up when Ralph asked, “Are these your glasses?”

YES.

I hugged him. And then I hugged him again when we got home. I cannot tell you how elated I was that he found them. Elated out of all proportion (although new glasses would have been expensive). And of course he basked in my elation and appreciation.

The reasons Ralph’s finding my glasses was so pleasing:

  1. He actually offered to drive me and he willingly got into the heat and looked with me. And he was so good-natured about it.
  2. This is the pattern of his behavior now:  If I ask him to bring me a cup of coffee or clear the dishes or bring in the groceries, he does it with a smile.          If I ask him to wait, he is patient in a way he never used to be…sit in the car while I run an errand, no problem; wait for a late dinner while I finish up in my office, no problem.    If I want to watch a TV program he let me turn the station; if I turn on the radio before he’s ready to wake up, he doesn’t mind; if I watch TV after he’s gone to sleep he doesn’t mind.
  3. He never loses his temper. Our grandkids/nieces tell me he is the nicest grandfather/uncle they have: affectionate and funny.
  4. In other words, he is kind of a sweetheart.

Note to myself: Remember this moment and these feelings later….

Ralph’s Good Memory Mood Lets the Good Times Roll

 

IMG_0154.JPG                                           (rainbow at our farm one recent evening)

Anger, resentment, frustration, impatience, worry, guilt—wow, I have really sounded like an unhappy person lately.

But spring has arrived, the sky is clear, and so far the mosquitoes are staying away.

Also, Ralph is in a good mood.

Which means that he is in a good memory mood. Which means he is relatively relaxed. And when he’s relaxed, his memory lapses don’t escalate. And I have more patience. So the cycle turns positive instead of negative.

It helps that our son is visiting for two weeks—an unheard of treat although since Ralph’s diagnosis he has really stepped up to the plate in terms of making time to spend with Ralph. Last weekend we threw a dinner party with my son’s friends and ours in attendance. Guess who was the life of the party? (“Ralph is so smart and funny,” one of our newer friends said to me the next day.) And I had a good time too.

In a couple of days our sixteen-year-old grandson is arriving for one of his understandably infrequent visits from his home with our former daughter-in-law in Namibia. S’s father, Ralph’s son from his first marriage who now lives in California but talks to Ralph on the phone at least four days a week now, wants S. to have some quality time with his grandfather while he still can.

Everybody will be here to attend the art show Ralph’s art class is having on Saturday. Ralph is the only male in the class. I suspect he’ll be feeling the love on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, we’re having a picnic for S’s extended family—Ralph’s first wife with her husband, kids and grandkids as well as S’s mother’s sister’s growing family. It sounds complicated, lots of blended families.

But the thing is, there will be lots of kids here. Kids love Ralph and he’s great with them. He’ll have a ball.

As for me, it is interesting, because my reactions have become oddly less complicated. If anything, I am surprised how little I mind doing all the organizing legwork.

In the early days of our relationship, I used to resent Ralph’s charisma, his skill and desire to socialize. I wanted him to pay me the attention he paid everyone else, and I often felt like an uncomfortable afterthought among his friends.

Now that our life together has reduced down to a narrow, often lonely routine,  I get more attention from Ralph than I need or want (although I do sometimes get jealous of the dogs I suppose). So it is a gift to see Ralph caught up in the whirl of social interaction with others for a change, to see him following and actively participating in conversations.

While the others laugh at his jokes, I can relax and enjoy Ralph himself in ways I forgot, if I ever recognized, were possible.

Let the good times roll.

Another Perspective: The Caregiv-ee

 

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I am sharing this comment in response to my post about not being a particularly nurturing personality for a caregiver because it touched me deeply.

“Anonymous” bridges the divide between caregivers and caregiv-ees (a wonderful term that solves some of the linguistic difficulties presented by dementia, Alzheimer’s, patient, sufferer, etc.) because he articulates feelings we (at least Ralph and I) often have trouble expressing in daily life.

And he has a wonderful spirit that deserves to be heard…

 

“Hey Alice. It’s been some months since I’ve posted a comment, but I read all of your posts, all of the comments. I’m like Ralph – diagnosed with MCI about 7 months ago. I’m not the caregiver, I’m the care give-ee, which is why I don’t post very often. But to you and to all of you caregivers (including my wonderful wife, who may or may not know that I post here), I say – you are doing a difficult job very well! Don’t analyze too much, don’t beat yourself up. I’m still early in progressing into AD, if I am progressing at all. I’m still hoping that I’m one of the lucky ones with a MCI diagnosis who will be re-tested and found to return to “normal” cognitive performance for my age. I feel like I don’t have a problem (Ralph’s denial?) but my wife occasionally lets slip that she sees stuff suggesting that I am progressing. Anyway, my wife is very patient, either overlooking my MCI or just my “normal” age related memory issues. I am grateful for that. I’m sure your significant others, wherever they are on the spectrum (at least up until full-blown AD), are also grateful that you are hanging in there. I don’t expect my wife to be perfect in dealing with me. I don’t expect that she won’t be short with me when she tells me for the 3rd time that we’re going somewhere next weekend. Maybe it’s naive, but I bet most of the spouses you are caring for (at least until they progress to AD) feel the same. So you are the heroes. So just do the best that you can, which is good enough, and pat yourself on the back and feel good about yourselves.”

Driving and Alzheimer’s

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Memo to myself when I look back in years hence:

So six months ago our PA Stephanie asked Ralph how much driving he did alone. And he told her: the convenience store five minutes down the road; the Spanish grocery ten minutes away where our handyman likes Ralph to drive him to cash his checks; and Ralph’s therapist in Atlanta.

Since his diagnosis that weekly trip to the therapist has been Ralph’s big expression of independence and competence. He has his route down pat. He stops at the post office and checks to check our box; he takes a load of garbage to the dumpster at our old office; he picks up lunch at Burger King; he visits his therapist; he drives home.

Stephanie took notes, then warned us both to keep an eye on Ralph’s driving. Not so much his skill set but his sense of direction. She explained that a new detour can really be confusing for a driver with cognitive impairment and that the anxiety can made the driver too confused to find his way back on track.

When she suggested I start driving him to Atlanta, at least occasionally to make sure it was safe, Ralph and I immediately took umbrage…Ralph because driving is part of his sense of his identity as a competent man, me because I didn’t look forward to giving up a whole day every week to drive him back and forth. But the next week I made some excuse to ride with him into town—he was not about to accept that I needed to drive him—to make sure I was not just being selfish. As I reported to Stephanie on our next visit, Ralph seemed fine. In fact, he seemed to be a better driver, more cautious and careful.

Jump ahead to this past weekend. We drove together to the small Florida fishing town where Ralph was meeting his long-time fishing buddy.

Although I wasn’t comfortable enough with him driving five and half hours that I didn’t come along, I was pretty comfortable with him as driver since Ralph knows the way like the back of his hand. So on the way down I was happily drinking my coffee and relaxing beside him as passenger. Then I looked down to read a text, and when I looked up I realized Ralph had missed the turn. A major turn from one big highway to the next. A well marked turn that is hard to miss. We went an exit or two and turned around. I was a little tense and probably showed it more than I should have. Ralph was more than a little tense, but as I told him repeatedly in the next few hours, these things happen.

We got to Florida. Ralph calmed down and actually enjoyed himself more than either of us expected, thanks to a fishing buddy who is amazingly understanding about Ralph’s conversational loops.

Today we drove home. Ralph insisted that he wanted to drive. I was in the passenger but on alert when my phone rang. I looked down to find it, and when I looked up Ralph had missed the turn we needed to take. The turn he has taken hundreds of times. I stayed calmer this time, brushed the mistake off, said we didn’t need to turn back, that this way might actually be a short cut. But he was truly rattled. For the rest of the trip we had to discuss road numbers and I had to reassure him we were on the correct road.

Twice in four days may be a sign. Next week, I am driving with Ralph to Atlanta.

A Sunday Snapshot

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It is important to remember today. Not because anything particular happened, but because nothing particular happened.

We woke and drank coffee. Then while I worked in my office, Ralph read. For a while he had stopped reading, and I assumed books, like movies, had become too hard for him to follow. But I seem to have been wrong. Today he picked up Leonardo’s Brain, by Leonard Shlain, about Da Vinci’s genius–not exactly a light romp or what I would suggest to a reader who has trouble remembering a joke by the time he hears the punch line. Ralph is finding the book “fascinating”.

We had lunch and he read some more while I walked with a friend. Now he has gone for a “walk” with the dogs—they walk while he drives beside them in the truck. Soon we’ll have dinner and watch Sunday television.

So, a normal Sunday. Except Ralph’s conversation is sharper today, his attention more focused.

I know better than to believe that Ralph is suddenly “ getting better.” But it feels important to appreciate this moment of respite: A reason to rejoice that while the thread/threat of memory loss has woven itself into the fabric of our lives, it has not yet pulled the warp and woof askew.

18 Months Post Diagnosis of MCI–Where Are We in Memoryland?

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I just realized that I began blogging about Ralph and me in April of 2014. Is that only a year and a half ago? It feels much longer, as if Ralph and I have gone through years and years of changes in the last 18 months. At the same time it feels as if the two of us are stuck and not moving forward at all.

FEELS is the operative word. Feelings are subject. Feelings can’t be trusted.

A lot of things happened—deaths, weddings, children moving away, friendships evolving, business crises. The accumulation of events big and small that form our lives. But how much as really changed in terms of Ralph and me. Have we moved deeper into Memoryland.

To gain perspective I went back to my first post to compare and contrast the salient points:

RALPH’S DIAGNOSIS:

Then: He “does not yet have the disease called Alzheimer’s. He has the CONDITION called MCI.”

Now: Still true as of his last test results at the Emory Memory Center

WHAT HE REMEMBERS:

Then: Impersonal facts like those on Jeopardy, His Meds, His Daily Routine, How to Drive

Now: He watches Jeopardy but not so much. He still retains facts, but not quite as many. He still can take his meds from his weekly box. His daily routine looks about the same on the surface although his actual day has shrunk. It is hard for him to get moving before 10 am or stay up past 8 pm. And he does a lot more sitting

WHAT HE FORGETS:

Then: Who people are. Conversations. Memories, especially bad memories…

Now: Fewer conversations are retained. More people and also facts seem lost. Old memories too.

WHO HE IS:

Then: “Sweeter than he used to be; less aggressive; more patient; less easily bored (because he doesn’t remember the twenty minutes of waiting for the doctor once it’s over); more in the moment.

But also less ambitious; less energetic; less adventurous; more passive; more dependent…Passionate about his farm and his dog…able to fix anything with his hands…a voracious reader.”

Now: Here is where the changes start. His personality is if anything even sweeter, even less aggressive. He no longer has an interest in analyzing numbers, facts and human nature. He may still be able to fix things with his hands but he doesn’t have much interest. Changing a light bulb becomes a major occasion, not because he can’t but because “it is so much trouble.” There has been a shift. A subtle withdrawal from the world we share that cannot be measured by memory tests.

OUR RELATIONSHIP:

Then: Eighteen months ago, I wrote, “although I’ve been warned there’s no telling how long before MCI begins chipping more deeply into his identity, Ralph is still himself in the most important ways.”

Now: I don’t know if I can honestly make that statement today. According to tests and my own comparison, Ralph is still functioning adequately with my support, but I have more trouble recognizing the man I married. There is a vacancy, a growing disconnect, that I sense but can’t measure.

Perhaps the greater change is not in Ralph at all, but in me. The relief I felt at first when we finally received a clear diagnosis for Ralph’s cognitive changes has shifted to something between acceptance and resignation. The support he requires weighs heavier.

We get along well on a day-to-day basis We still laugh together, usually in the mornings when he is sharpest, but we have less and less serious conversation either about the world around us or about ourselves. Sometimes, in a burst of ebullience, he’ll declare how much he loves me. And I love him, but the love is different and not exactly ebullient.

18 months ago I was a spouse learning with my husband to deal with his cognitive condition. Now I am not sure how to describe our relationship. I often feel more parental than wifely. But saying so feels (that word FEEL again) inaccurate and unfair. Because whatever we have become to each other and whatever we are becoming together and individually changes every day.