‘I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.’

Losing car keys doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s disease is lurking, but forgetting what the keys are for might. That’s a simplistic example of the difference between simple forgetfulness, and a more serious problem.

I asked Peter to put some towels into the washer. He went to the laundry room and stood in front of the washer and dryer, muttering. After a few minutes he said, “Which one do you want me to use?”  Since he hasn’t done his own laundry in forty years or more, the question wasn’t too surprising.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing weekly laundry for more than fifty years, but lately I simply forget it until I realize I’m out of underwear! I do know which appliance is the washer, which, the dryer.

Once upon a time I was so organized that my brain was a calendar, neatly compartmented with to-do lists. I never left work without clearing my desk and writing a chronological list of the next day’s projects. When Peter left work, papers were an avalanche waiting to happen. Pens and pencils were strewn like trees in the Midwest after a tornado. Dust bunnies raised families in the crevices of his desk chair.

Now, both his desks look like a military parade: pencils and pens aligned at right angles to the front edge, calendars hung at studied levels — turned to the wrong months however — and stacks of coins in ranks as if on review. His other desk, the one dedicated to model ship building, is arrayed similarly: special brushes and tiny tools in rows, regimented.

My desk looks as if the recycling truck backed up and dumped a load of papers, boxes, sticky notes and Mentos wrappers. Every few weeks I attempt to organize my desktop and files. The mess is viral.

Household chores? While Peter attends to his self-assigned tasks, I seldom even clean the coffee maker anymore. For many years I had a rigid first-Friday-of-the-month routine: run vinegar through the coffeemaker, use baking soda and vinegar in all the drains, and turn the mattress, end-to-end one month, side-to-side the next.

pea_princessBack then, flipping the mattress made us laugh so much we couldn’t lift the thing. Neither of us remembered, one time to next, how to do it, end-to-end or side-to-side, without demolishing the ceiling fan. Last week, I realized we hadn’t turned the mattress in months. I called Peter to help.

We’ve never agreed how to do it. In the past we laughed at our contortions, but this time we barely managed to heft it, much less laugh.

Time was, I vacuumed and dusted obsessively. Now I have Carri who does it for me, and if she’s away, I don’t bother. Peter likes to “Hoover,” as he calls it, but insists on parallel lines across the rugs. He combs their fringed edges with a fork. I wish his hair looked as good.

We’ve reversed habits. His new obsessiveness stems from a need to have control. My escalating lack of organization says I have more chores than I can manage, so I let everything slide. Peter can’t help himself, but I really must revive my routines.

A magic wand might help!

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Quote at top: Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Joy ride.

“It’s the little things,” was another of my husband’s “old granny” sayings. Peter repeated the phrase often as a way to dissect any quarrels we had. We’ve never argued over the big stuff, but his whiskers in the just-cleaned bathroom sink sets me off, and he hates the way I coil up the garden hose.

Nowadays it’s the little things we do that he enjoys, although he doesn’t want to do anything that will mess up his routine. Our horizons have become limited.

Yesterday I forced myself to do errands, really boring stuff — buy dog food, find special batteries, get wood to replace clothesline poles. I figured Peter would want to go with me and, yes, he was ready within minutes. He misses being able to run the errands himself, and I miss that he can’t do them anymore. Even though I would’ve liked to come home after the last stop, I took us to lunch at a restaurant where he’d never been. That threw him for a loop because the menu was unfamiliar, as were the beer choices. I encouraged him to order a burger. Good thing it was excellent, because the beer I suggested was only so-so.

After lunch, I realized we were just around the corner from a car wash, so I whipped in there. Peter’s eyes were like a kid’s at Christmas. I had to laugh. I pulled the moon roof back so we could watch the giant mops swish over us. After his initial, childish delight, his engineering persona took over and he marveled how the washing system was set up. “How’d they do that?” he asked, as he always does of anything that smacks of good engineering.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 10.24.43 AMFor Peter, it was a perfect day out. For me, I’m glad such a little thing made him happy…I still hate to run errands though.

 

There are two types of people in this world, those who would take an Alzheimer’s patient on a joy ride and those who would say it was
a waste of gas.”

Header photo: My sun roof gets washed.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Attention span of a goldfish.

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Ten symptoms of caregiver stress were listed in an Alzheimer’s Association newsletter with this caveat: Alzheimer’s caregivers frequently experience high levels of stress. It can be overwhelming to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but too much stress can be harmful to both of you.

 No kidding!

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In any given day I deal with several of these, and I’m sure other caregivers do the same:

  1. Denial – Early on, I was convinced that if I kept trying to force Peter to remember things, to eat right, to get out more he’d at least maintain his status quo.
  2. Anger – Screams, like geysers ready to erupt, lurk just below the surface of my “looking for laughs” demeanor. 
  3. Social withdrawal – Sometimes it takes too much effort do anything at all, much less be sociable.
  4. Anxiety – I’ve finally done what I should have done sooner: hired more help for Peter and for me. What a difference to have the house cleaned and tidied by a young lady who is energy personified, the garden maintained by a woman who knows first-hand what it’s like to be a caregiver, niggling tasks done by a handyman friend.
  5. Depression – Big mistake to think that I didn’t need anti-depressants. Hindsight and a meltdown proved me wrong.
  6. Exhaustion – I used to keep my house to a certain standard, not the same white-glove-test standard my mother used, but I kept the dust bunnies at bay, food in the fridge, cookie tin filled, laundry done. When I realized it had been weeks since I’d cleaned the bathroom or changed our sheets, I knew I needed more help. (see #4)
  7. Sleeplessness – Guilt wakes me in the wee hours, especially when I’ve crabbed at him for things he can’t help. Peter’s attention span is worse than a goldfish’s and he’ll ask the silliest things over and over. Within a few seconds he forgets I yelled and when I apologize he doesn’t know why.
  8. Irritability – No one has ever called me patient. Lately Peter has started reorganizing the pantry every few days, lining up jars and moving boxes so I can’t find anything. Most wives would be thrilled if their husbands undertook that task, but I’m an angry bumble bee.
  9. Lack of concentration  – I used to be so organized, so tidy, but no more. My personal spaces are in the same sorry state as my mind.
  10. Health problems – Many times I wonder if his dementia has rubbed off on me. Am I losing control too? Is it stress, or am I destined to be a statistic as well?
    I talked to my doctor. He did the basic tests and I passed. “Stress,” he said, “it’s stress. You’re doing fine, but take time for yourself, do what you can to alleviate stress.”

My mother always said, no matter how bad things may seem, there’s always someone who is worse off than you. I’m glad I’m not a goldfish.

 

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Laughter, always the best medicine.

This caregiving business is a series of lessons on the run. I have an “ah ha” moment almost every day.

Take today.

Every morning, I put our prescription meds into two shot glasses — Peter’s on the left of the coffeemaker, mine on the right. He takes an 81 mg aspirin, Losarten for blood pressure, Wellbutrin for mood, Livolo for cholesterol, and Vitamin D3 because dementia patients are thought to be lacking in the D vitamin. Oh, and Namenda, the well advertised medicScreen Shot 2015-08-09 at 5.49.32 PMation thought to slow the effects of dementia-related diseases. How could I forget that one?

After dinner, I dole out Glucophage, the supposed answer to leveling his blood sugar levels since he won’t leave sweets and carbs alone no matter how often the doctor explains nor how often I nag. Just before bed, he takes Donepezil (Aricept), to treat confusion, possibly improve memory, awareness and the ability to function.

How well do these meds, particularly Nameda and Donepezil, perform? I have no idea. I do know that his taking pills from the wrong shot glass was an important lesson-in-waiting for me this morning.

I discovered the mistake when I poured my second cup of coffee. Peter was already watching West Ham beat Arsenal. “You haven’t taken your pills yet, Peter. No, wait! Mine are gone and I never take them until after my coffee!”

He had no idea what I was talking about. So much for awareness.

“Did you take my pills?” I asked, showing him the little empty glass. “Yes, you took mine.” I answered my own question.

“I don’t know…probably,” he said. “What will happen to me?”

“Hm, well, my super prescription vitamin may give you a boost. Maybe you’ll have the energy to mow the grass…” I laughed at my own joke as he made a face that said, “Not bloody likely…I’m watching soccer.”

I didn’t expect that he’d cut the grass, and he didn’t. But, lesson learned, from now on I’ll keep my medications in a secure container in my pocket.

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Ah ha! A beer-on-a-stick might work.

Header photo: Morning glories keep their eyes on Peter.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Is someone here?

My longtime friend Bonnie and her husband Paul visited us for a couple of days last week. They were on their way from Florida to his high school reunion in Ohio.

Bonnie had emailed several times the weeks before. She wanted to make sure it was OK for them to stay with us. “Will it upset Peter?” she wondered. “Please tell us. We understand completely. We could get a hotel room.”

I reassured her that Peter remembered they were coming, though he wasn’t sure he remembered them. They were here two years ago and he’d met them at several of our class reunions, but as he says, he can’t remember what he had for breakfast.

During the days leading up to their visit Peter was extra helpful. We’d had workmen here for a week fixing our sagging carport. Sawdust and grime had drifted into the house, crusting everything. I vacuumed and dusted while Peter scrubbed the bathtub and tidied the flower beds. He mowed the yard almost willingly.

They arrived on time, well, a minute late actually. She texted an hour earlier that their GPS said they’d arrive at 12:11. They rolled in at 12:12. But what’s a minute between old friends?

It was a pleasant, sunny day, so we ate lunch on the terrace. Then Bonnie and I chattered and reminisced the whole afternoon like two women of a certain age who have known each other for all but the first two years of their lives. Paul chimed in now and then because he knew some of the people we talked about, and Peter listened, smiling. We carried on through dinner and sat outside until the lightning bugs’ glow wasn’t bright enough for us to clear the table.

Back inside, Bonnie pulled out the eight millimeter movie film she’d brought along. She had never seen it, but she’d checked beforehand to make sure I still had my dad’s old projector. The film showed her learning to walk and on through Christmases and birthdays to the age of six or seven.

Peter laughed at us laughing with tears in our eyes.

The next morning I was having my second cup of coffee when Peter came downstairs. He looked puzzled. “What’s going on upstairs?” he asked. “Is someone in the bathroom?”

I chuckled. “Well, it’s either Bonnie or Paul,” I said.

He was still confused.

“Bonnie and Paul…they got here yesterday!” No matter how enjoyable the day and evening had been, he could not remember that we had overnight guests.

He slathered his usual two slices of toast with Keillor & Sons orange marmalade, poured coffee into his big green mug, and sat down to read the paper. He reads the paper again every afternoon because he forgets the news he’s read hours earlier. And he truly can’t remember what he has for breakfast, even though he has the same thing day after day after day.

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Gold Coreopsis brightens shady spots, while Black-Eyed Susan vine (at top) seems to glow in the dark.

Header photo: climbing Susans.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Inside out or outside in?

When he’s inside looking out, Nobby presses his nose IMG_0538against the family room window. When he’s outside and wants in, he presses his nose against the same window. The lower panes are always smudged with doggie nose prints.

Friday was brilliantly sunny for a change. I suggested to Peter that he might wash that big window. “What do I use, and how do I do it?” he asked.

I set him up with spray cleaner and cloths and suggested he start in the middle section. Next thing I knew he was washing the kitchen window on the side of the house where a step ladder is required. No doggie slobbers on that window. I nudged him to the back of the house.

A few minutes later I noticed he had the yucky old rag I use to wipe spills off the kitchen floor. Bad enough he was using the grungy cloth, but besides that, he was outside and the spray cleaner was inside.

About then a friend walked in and complimented Peter on the sparkly the window beside the table. I laughed. “He hasn’t done that one yet,” I said.

“I have no idea which ones I’ve done,” Peter said. “I’m just trying to do what I’m told.”

An hour later, the designated windows were shining! I don’t know how he did it, and it’s probably better not to ask. At least he does windows!

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Header photo: Window, cleaner than it was before!

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.