Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I couldn't find you!

Jim loves to keep our yard in perfect shape. He mows with our garden tractor on a regular basis, cutting it high so that the grass stays nice and green. I've mentioned in past posts that for some of the outdoor work I have needed to get involved. It has given me a new appreciation for all that he has done over the years to keep our property looking so nice.

We had some new plantings placed recently (long story for perhaps another post; I definitely did not want additional flowers/bushes to have to take care of). The new plantings need frequent watering. Given the drought like conditions, we've been watering almost daily for the last couple of weeks. We're going to back off to every other day. I really need to be out there helping, as he is not able to keep track of what has been watered. Yesterday when I said "don't forget to water the third hydrangea plant", he insisted he already had and then said incredulously "are you saying you don't believe me?" Fortunately I was able to suggest we both check the soil around the plant, and this convinced him it needed to be watered.

Yesterday I headed outside to wash windows along the back side of our house. Jim was headed into the shower, but helped me to get set up with step stool, squeegee etc.  He offered to help, but honestly, sometimes it is just easier for me to do it myself. The compulsion to get everything perfect can drive me crazy. It ends up being quicker and easier to just do it myself.

I was on the next to the last window and I heard his voice calling out to me "Carole! Carole!". He was just rounding the corner from the front of the house. He said "I couldn't find you!!!" I reminded him that he had help to set me up to wash the outside windows, and that I had been outside ever since then. (I felt the need to tell him this so he wouldn't think that I had gone outside without telling him first.)

Jim: "But I couldn't find you! I didn't know where you were! I looked all over. I even looked in your purse!" (???)

Me: "I'm so sorry you couldn't find me. But the good news is that the windows are done and they look great."

Jim: "I just didn't know what to do."

He was OK and calmed down pretty quickly.  Just another reminder to me that the short term memory is not great. When I remind him of things he has forgotten, he'll say something like "oh, yeah", but I'm never certain if he actually remembers, or if he is just going along with what I say.

He has an old style flip phone that he has used for several years. He keeps it in his car all the time. He rarely uses it. We have a land line that I'd love to get rid of, but the land line is what he is accustomed to. We received notice that his old flip phone would no longer work after 12/31. It was a 2G, so we needed to get him a new phone. To make matters worse, because his phone had not been used in 3 months, they deactivated his account and gave his number away!

 We went to Walmart and a very helpful sales person assisted us in finding another flip phone that will work just fine. It is pretty similar to his old one,  which was VERY important in terms of transitioning to this new phone. One problem: it has a button on the side that activates the camera (which he would never use). The positioning of this button makes it easy to accidentally turn on the camera. Once the camera is on, you have to hit the END button to turn the camera off. He will likely never remember that, and I fear it may be a source of frustration for him. I've googled to see if you can deactivate the camera, but so far no luck. We'll see. We've got 2 weeks to return it if we're not happy with it.

We've got my mom's birthday bash this weekend. I'm playing it smart. Lot's of prepared food. Very little food preparation on my part. Costco's chicken alfredo pasta, mac and cheese, spiral ham, cooked turkey breast from Costco that I just have to slice, tossed salad, Japanese cole slaw (that I will make - delicious!), Wegmans loaded potato salad, Wegmans birthday cake, ice cream, and Costco's wonderful chocolate chip cookies. No one will go hungry :-)

Every day I am thankful that I retired when I did. My posts, of course, highlight my observations of Jim's changes. I don't often mention all the fun, happy and silly times that we still have. There are plenty of those times too! And many more to come, I am sure.

It means a lot to me to be able to write these words, and to have such caring compassionate readers who stop by to listen to my story. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mathematical Calculations

This is a picture I took last week after a heavy overnight thunderstorm. You can see the morning sun peeking through the trees. We've had an unusually  hot and dry summer, so any rain is so appreciated. 

This is the weekend we had planned to travel to Philadelphia for a wedding. It was not to be. Jim is not feeling well. It's complicated, and hard even for me to describe. This is one of those times where his difficulty with word finding becomes especially significant. Based on my observations and on what I can gather from his efforts to describe what he is feeling, I think part of the problem may be some dehydration. The extreme heat we have had, along with his compulsion to keep the yard perfect have likely led to the perfect storm of some heat exhaustion and not enough fluids. 

We've discussed how many glasses of water he should drink a day. But tracking it is the kicker. There now is a pad and pencil with a chart to check off each glass he drinks. However he could drink a glass of water, be looking at the chart, and still not remember (process?) that he needs to make a check mark! So, I'm on high alert, at least for a few more days, to try to keep track of how much he is drinking. The good news is that he has a new awareness of the need to drink more, so I'm hoping after a few days this will become more routine for him and actually counting/recording will no longer be necessary.

If he is not back to baseline by Monday, he is in agreement to go see his doctor. And he has agreed and wants(!) me to go with him. Meanwhile, we'll focus on more fluids and more rest. 

This morning we were discussing the ages of our niece and her husband. Here's how the conversation went.

Jim: "He's quite a bit older than she is."

  (Looking back, at this point I should have just nodded my head and said "uh-huh". I mean, what is the point? Who cares? But I was not running this through my usual high alert caregiver filter.)

Me: "Well, it's actually a 2 year difference; she is 24 and he is 26"

Jim: "No! It's 10 years difference!"

Me: "Well, she is 24 and he is 26.  26 minus 24 is 2, so it is a 2 year difference."

Jim: "No, no, no! That is a 10 year difference!"

Me: Thinking he just needs to visualize this I write on a piece of paper :   26

Jim:" 4 plus 6 is 10! It is a 10 year difference!"

At this point I realize that I have done exactly what I should not have done. Every time I think I am getting good at just going with the flow, my exacting personality manages to rear its ugly head. 

When Jim was doing his graduate work I'll never forget when he came home and told me he had just registered for the most advanced statistics course that the university offered. He excelled academically.  He always had an intellectual curiosity that spanned a lot of different topics. He was a voracious reader. He still buys books for his Kindle, but I notice that he seldom finishes any of the books that he starts. I'm guessing that he is having trouble processing and understanding all of what he is reading. And he is likely having trouble remembering what he has just read. 

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that he has NO idea that is is cognitively impaired. From what I have read, that is a common finding in dementia. Some people know and are very aware, but many do not. I suppose that it is a gift to him, to not be aware of his loss. I can only imagine how devastating it would be for him to discover what is happening to his brain. 

We always have a birthday party at our house in September for my mom. Almost everyone is able to come, which means about 30 -35 family members. When I think of last year's party, it makes me realize how much Jim has changed since last year. We'll see people that we only see once or twice a year, so it will be interesting to see if others notice.

So, with my caregiver filter back in place, the rest of the day is going well. I think we'll head out for some ice cream; that certainly counts as fluids :-) Hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer day. Thanks for stopping by. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

"That Was a Close Call"

Jim and I are headed to Philadelphia next weekend for a wedding. We are very fond of this dear young couple and are looking forward to this very special event. Previously I wrote about our experience of buying a new suit for Jim. He planned on wearing a white shirt that he had purchased a couple of years ago. It fit well and was still in style.

Today he discovered a discoloration near the collar. My vision is perfect, but I honestly could not see what he was talking about. But once he is convinced, it is very difficult to get him going in a different direction. And, the supposed discoloration was on the inside of the collar, not at all visible while wearing. It suddenly took on an urgency that is almost impossible for me to describe. He wanted to go immediately to the men's store (where we bought the suit) to get a new shirt. "I have to do it right now because there are only a couple of days left!" It was 3:30 in the afternoon, pouring rain, and I was in the middle of a project. I suggested that we wait until tomorrow morning to go, and reminded him that the wedding was a week away. Didn't work. He was so worked up, so anxious, it was hard to watch. "You don't expect me to sleep on this, do you???"

So, off we go. I managed to get into my car before he could even think about driving. He certainly was in no shape to drive, given his anxiety level. We successfully purchased a very nice new white shirt. On the way home he was visibly more relaxed. The rain was off and on, but suddenly started to pour torrential rains. Fortunately we were close to the highway exit and could meander at slower speeds safely to get home. As we exited the highway he said "Boy, that was a close call!" I thought he was talking about the rain. When I replied something about the heavy rain, he said "No! I mean it was a close call about the shirt! I didn't know what I was going to do!"

His world has gotten smaller. I see that more and more, as he ascribes intense meaning and emotion to what I would consider the minutia of life. This is the only explanation I can think of to explain the anxiety he experiences when something doesn't go quite right in his life.

Fortunately these anxious moments are not often. I'm learning how to help him through these times when they do happen. Basically it means being willing to go with the flow, not challenge, offer reassurance, and essentially be supportive.

We have some wonderful neighbors. We especially enjoy the young family who live next door to us. The other day I ran into Molly (the mom). She asked me if Jim was OK. She said that she and her husband had noticed some changes.....It was so sweet, her expression of caring and concern. I told her that Jim was having some problems with his memory, but I also let her know that he did not acknowledge any memory deficits. She said all the right things. And, said to let them know if there was anything they could do, or if we needed any help. How lucky we are to have such a wonderful family living right next door to us!

Jim and I have always enjoyed following politics together. One of our proud possessions is a photograph of Jim and Hillary. The picture was taken at a political event when she was doing her "listening tour" while running for NY state senator in 1999. Prior to my retirement, we had talked about traveling to the different states during the presidential primaries to be a part of the process and to witness firsthand history in the making. That kind of travel is not feasible with Jim's health changes, but we sure do enjoy following all the political news. Thank goodness for the internet news sources. Jim has had problems retaining some of the details of the political stories. But by checking his news feed frequently throughout the day it helps him recall with better clarity. We still love to talk about politics and commiserate about the latest news. (Seems like there is a big breaking story every day!)

Well, once again, thank you dear readers for listening to me. When I sit down to type, the words just flow. And I feel like I am talking out loud to each and every one of you. For that I am grateful.

Friday, August 5, 2016

There's a Stranger in Our House

Well, he's not really a stranger, but sometimes it feels that way.

It's been a while since I posted. My goal was to write at least weekly. Sometimes I'm not sure what to write, and sometimes I hesitate to write because I don't want everything to sound so negative. Jim and I have plenty of good times together. He is still in the early stages. From what I have read, some spouses do not recognize any cognitive changes until the person is well along in the decline. I certainly noticed very early on several years ago.

We definitely have had some frustrating moments. But looking at the totality, it really is nothing compared to what many caregivers go through. I expect to fine tune my coping skills as the disease progresses. I could be described as a planner. I like to know what to expect, and I appreciate opportunities to prepare for the future. This journey will definitely take me to places I've never been, and I hope I am prepared.

We were all set for an afternoon cruise around one of the local lakes. We live near a resort town that is fun to visit. It sits on a beautiful lake. Last week we talked about booking one of the touring boats around the lake. I suggested the one hour tour in mid-afternoon, as opposed to a dinner or lunch cruise. I figured the shorter time span would be easier for him. He was just as excited as I was, and definitely looking forward to it. Tonight he surprised me by saying that he has "no interest" in doing it. "It sounds boring."

Probably one of my biggest challenges is finding things to do that will keep him happy. It is not unusual for him to wake up and say "what are we doing today?" It's a big change for me. I have my own life of course. When I first retired, he was perfectly capable of finding things to do to entertain himself. Myself, I enjoy time with my friends and lots of physical activity. Jim used to enjoy working out at the gym. I finally cancelled his membership a couple of months ago. It has been a long time since he went to the gym, over a year at least. I certainly tried, including asking him to join me at the gym. He is always "too tired" or "too busy" (doing what???).

We used to go for long hikes together. Now, it is a slow shuffle for 2 miles at the most, and then he is tired. That may sound like a long distance for some people, but we used to go on very long strenuous hikes and enjoyed every minute. There is no physiological reason for this change in his energy level. Reading about dementia it appears that fatigue is common. I have not been able to figure out why. Is the brain on overdrive trying to fill in the missing pieces? Does this then tire out the person? I just don't know the answer to this question.

I miss the old Jim. The new Jim is a different man. Still looks the same, but acts and speaks so differently sometimes.

Yesterday I spent the day with my elderly mom. She needs a lot of help and relies on me for grocery shopping, banking, general errands etc. I am so glad that I am able to help her at this time in her life. I got home late afternoon and Jim was visibly upset (at me) that "there is no food in the refrigerator". What he really meant was that he could not find anything that appealed to him to eat for lunch while I was gone. It also means he did not look far enough in the fridge to find some of his favorite foods.

It's hard for me to not get defensive when he says things like this. We worked through this unsettling episode, but it's like a scar tissue that seems to be building with each hurtful comment. Even though I know it's the disease process, it is hard not to take it personally. I do so much for him, and I sometimes feel that I am not appreciated. But deep down I know that is not the case. He truly loves and appreciates me, it is just that darn disease process has changed him into someone I do not always recognize.

I have a very close friend whom I trust, and have been able to share with her what is going on with Jim. What a relief. Her emotional support has been nothing short of phenomenal. She listens carefully and always has something empathic to say to me. I cherish her friendship. We had lunch together last week and then went shopping. What a wonderful time we had! Lots of laughter, and lots of talking. It's one of those special friendships where we are mutually supportive of each other and truly enjoy each others' company.

It feels good to put into words what is in my heart and mind. Thanks for stopping by.