Saturday, September 20, 2014

You'd Think He'd Learn

On Thursday mornings at the church, there's a social gathering for senior citizens. This is an inclusive bunch, as "senior citizen" is defined as "anyone age 50 or over." Bet you didn't know you were a "senior citizen," did you?

First there's food, then there's a brief devotional, and then there's the real reason everyone is there: Chicken Foot Dominoes! And conversation. The room in which the group meets has no carpeting or sound baffling to absorb the noise, so it can be hard to hear what the person across the table is saying, especially for those with hearing issues. And it can be hard to concentrate, especially for those with memory issues.

Chicken Foot is an important part of Harry's weekly schedule. He enjoys the game and almost always comes out victorious. At least, he thinks he does. But sometimes the noisy atmosphere makes it hard for him to keep track of whose turn it is, or whether or not he's had an opportunity to put his tile down, or whether he's been passed over. And when he's frustrated or confused, he can be abrupt and impatient. It's sometimes hard for others to understand that this isn't anger or aggression. It's fear and confusion. The best way to handle that is with patience and kindness.

A fearful and confused person is not going to react well to irritated reminders of how to play the game, rolling eyeballs, requests to calm down, or other assorted reactions that can unfortunately be expected when others don't understand how difficult it is for him and how much he needs this social interaction. His memory and executive ability might not be what they once were (absolutely brilliant), but he is still smart. He might not remember what it was that made him feel bad around a person, but he'll remember the feeling and associate it with that person.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you have the opportunity to either put gasoline on the fire of confusion or defuse the bomb of frustration, please choose to defuse the bomb. Measure your words, be careful of your tone of voice, and try a little gentleness. It'll go a long way towards getting a calm and relaxed result.

"But I talked to him about it three times," someone said to me. "You'd think he'd learn!"

Well, actually, no. My point exactly. But thanks for understanding...and, thankfully, most of these wonderful seniors are kind, patient, and very (very) understanding. To them, I send heartfelt thanks!

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare." - Proverbs 15:1

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Visit with the Neurologist

At the end of July, we had our regular visit with our neurologist. She is fabulous, very interested in my husband's case, and is on staff at UC Davis Medical School. Her specialty is Alzheimer's, I may have mentioned already. I appreciate her and trust her.

This appointment was weird, though. The questions she was asking me are, I'm sure, routine, but I wasn't comfortable answering them right in front of my husband. I did the best I could, but it just wasn't possible to be really direct or entirely honest or even to think of specific examples of incidents or behavior with him sitting right there!

He was his usual joking and funny self and seemed to be trying to make the best of the situation, but he was visibly upset and defensive about the line of questioning. Who could blame him? What must it be like to be confused, to know you don't remember things, to be asked questions about things other people think you should remember, but you don't? It must be so frustrating. It must feel as though a trap is being set for you, and you must be careful to step around it.

Doctor:  "Have you done anything out of the ordinary lately?"
Me:  "We went to a couple of concerts. Do you remember those?"
Him:  "What concerts?"
Me:  "There were two. One was on your birthday, and one was with your brother. The James Taylor one and the Led Zeppelin one?"

Oh, yes! And his face lit up as he talked about how good the concerts were and how much fun we had. Either he was remembering them very well, or else he was pulling in other memories, or else he was doing a very good job of covering up. And you know what? It's hard to tell.

Doctor:  "I haven't seen you for a while. Didn't you take a cruise last year?"
Him:  "A cruise?"
Me:  "Remember our cruise last year to the Caribbean?"
Him:  "Who did we go with?"
Me:  "It was my class reunion."
Him:  "Oh, ya. I was stationed in Puerto Rico when I was in the Navy, you know."

And, he had fallen through the cracks. An appointment should have been scheduled several months before, but the information had apparently not been entered into the computer properly. The reminder postcard was not sent out; the appointment was not made. It's the first time that's happened, so I plan to start a spreadsheet for appointments. While I'm at it, I'll start a spreadsheet for medications. Might as well, right?

"Significant Decline"

My husband had an appointment with a neuropsychologist this morning to do the new round of cognitive testing requested by the neurologist at our last appointment. After a brief consultation, I left him in the doctor's care while the tests were administered, a two-hour process.

I had a relaxed cup of coffee in the cafeteria and returned to the waiting area. I read a murder mystery. I enjoyed chatting with other folks about travel, adding a couple of spots to my mental bucket list. And I waited for my husband to be returned to me.

Instead, I was surprised to see the doctor. By himself. He asked if I could step into the conference room for a moment before we rejoined my husband. Ominous? You bet.

"Well," he began, "I think it's fairly obvious that there's been a significant decline." He waited a moment for that to sink in. He continued, "I'd like to ask you about a few things..." And he asked some leading questions that I can't really remember right now, because I'm in a daze. The file is lost in my mental filing cabinet. Something about appropriate behavior and reactions and confusion and so on.

Significant decline. "Significant" and "decline" are not words you are prepared to hear together. "Mild" and "decline," okay. "Significant" and "improvement," okay. But not "significant decline." Granted, though he's been tested by UC Davis for the anonymous studies in which he's participating (read about that here), it's been five years since he's been tested officially for his doctor's file. Five years of slow, gradual decline that apparently adds up significantly.

Next Tuesday, we'll be meeting with the neuropsychologist again to get our test results. I think I already know they won't be what I'd hoped for. Sometimes, it's easy to say, "God is good all the time." But sometimes, I have to remind myself.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It Isn't All Bad

Around our house, it was never a given that a compliment of any kind would be forthcoming, and a meal was assumed to be tasty if it was eaten:

"How do I look?"
"You'll do."

"Did you enjoy your meal?"
"I ate it, didn't I?"

In retrospect, I recognize that this was teasing. It had to be, because my food is absolutely amazing, and I'm gorgeous! Well, the food is edible, anyway.

So, the awkwardness or shyness or whatever it was that was keeping my husband from saying nice things is going away. Not all personality changes brought on by this horrible disease are negative. At least, not yet.

And so, in addition to telling me he thinks I'm beautiful, he's also telling me he loves my cooking:

"Did you enjoy your meal?"
"Yes, I did. It was delicious! Really, really good. Thank you."

Wow. Even "thank you." He might not remember what he just ate, exactly, but he seems to have figured out how to answer the question.