Tonight at dinner for the first time she carried on a conversation with an apparition that she saw at the dinner table.
I invented a new recipe – Macaroni and cheese with chicken – she liked it. She even raved about it. Then she proceeded to discuss this casserole with a small brown haired girl that she saw at our kitchen table. We have a small kitchen with no external lighting so when I changed the ceiling fixtures a couple years ago I selected a couple of flat square LED fixtures that produce 5000 lumens each. It is bright. There was no child with us. There is very little shadow except directly under the small table we have there. I know the girl had brown hair because I asked. I asked Cheryl not the girl.
Cheryl asked her how she liked it. And then responded, “So, you are not going to answer?” after she had waited for a bit. To Cheryl this girl was very vivid. She did not look at me and recognize the astonishment on my face. For several minutes she quizzed the little girl about the food.
Eventually the little girl left us. I did not ask where.
Cheryl did not invite her for ice cream. We had that for dessert.
Cheryl did not sleep much last night. Her hallucinations are strong when that happens. It has been a very weird day. I tried to keep up with the strange conversation. Some stories are made up out of whole cloth. In “What Rose Forgot”, a novel by Nevada Barr, the writer describes that Rose’s memories fell into her head like rocks from a skip loader or similar analogy. In Cheryl’s case chunks of old career work experience, high school and her early computer system help with the grade school our children were in, sort of commingle in the narrative. A simple “ah huh” or “no kidding” keeps the narrative developing as we drive to somewhere.
In church tonight I noticed that she looked at the same page of the church bulletin all through mass. Somehow I could tell that the words were meaningless to her. It saddened me.
I became Scott at dinner time. I realized that when she asked me where Mavis was. I answered truthfully which confused her.
She has developed a story in her head about us owning a different condo unit and moving to this one recently.
She tells me that the paint job is great.
She wanted me to walk her home. We walked out the rear garage access door around the building and in the front door though the lobby past Jane’s door and in our front door.
She seemed to recognize her place. As we came in she said she wanted to visit Jane. We came into our condo and I helped her with her coat. I hung it in the closet. She wanted to visit Jane.
I helped her over to Jane’s condo and quietly told Jane that Cheryl was unsure of where she lives. Jane is a wonderful friend and recognized that Cheryl was in crisis. Cheryl stayed with her for just a few minutes – maybe twenty. She told Jane she was very tired and needed to rest.
Jane helped her back across the hall and told me that tonight and on previous occasions Cheryl remarked that she was very tired.
When she got in I asked her if she wanted her bedtime pills and she readily agreed. As we sat and watched TV for a bit while the pills took affect she asked me again where Mavis and Zachary were.
Now she is resting in bed about an hour early.
In this case Jane seized the moment and was available to help.
Sometimes friends carpe the diem.
Sadly this seems to be getting worst and I without knowing what to do seem to be doing the only things that can be done.
From the link above:
What you can do first
With any of the neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia, such as Capgras, we always try behavioral and environmental interventions before medications. The following can help family members manage:
Don’t argue with the belief. That just makes the person angrier and more convinced they are right.
Go with the emotion. Acknowledge your loved one’s fear, frustration, and anger.
Change the focus or redirect your loved one. Try to distract them with an activity, music, or a car ride.
Agree to disagree about this belief. Remind them that no matter who you are, you love and care for them and are there for them.
Be creative. In some cases, the caregiver accused of being an impostor may be able to leave the room to get the “real” person, then come back in and no longer be perceived as an impostor.
As much as I want to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear this impostor syndrome thing is scary stuff. And it breaks my heart that God is putting her through this. The saving grace is that she does not remember these episodes.
(Update – Cheryl has reported a burning sensation when she urinates. Perhaps this prompted this particular episode.)
We had an open and frank discussion about me, my death, if it was okay to date, how I died or was no longer here, Capgras Syndrome, how it was that her mom died, and other topics. I explained “impostor syndrome” and that I was not dead. it took a lot for me to not openly cry as I began to understand her terror at not knowing what was going on around her.
We talked about our love for one another. I told her I would never leave her alone or as best I could not let her miss anything important. We talked about memory and how scary it is to not know what is next.
She was anxious about being home but not thinking she was home. In the midst of that our upstairs neighbor, Joe, bought me a couple cans of beer. A couple days ago we were discussing an article in a local magazine about the best microbreweries in the area. He had found some of the stuff that won.
Cheryl added Joe into the discussion about how she and he were working on the same project at the house. We went around and talked about going home and Joe had brought her home last night. I said that when she woke up she was home? Even though when she went to bed last night she was not home? Yes she said.
I explained to her once again that we were home even though she was unsure that we were home. (Another nuance of Parkinson dementia). Capgras can occur with things and places also. In Cheryl’s case it happens with time.
She knew she was home now.
She seemed calmer afterward. It wore her out and she went to bed early and was okay with me helping her to bed.
Carpe Capgras Diem. (but what a miserable fucking disease.) (sorry)
Today I spent an hour or so on the phone talking to my sister, Joyce. She called about 11 o’clock as I was finishing a loaf of bread dough. We talked for a long time as we usually do when she calls me or I call her. We talked about various things and caught up with each other’s activities.
Cheryl could overhear our conversation as I had put the phone on “trucker” (speakerphone) as I finished up my dough activity but eventually I turned off the speakerphone feature because it does not work well with her outside walking and me inside talking loudly.
Eventually we finished our conversation. Cheryl moved by me into her office to do her card thing. I could tell by her body language she was angry about something. I checked in on her. She was sitting in her office so I asked if she wanted the light on. She replied no. I remarked that she seemed angry. She said she was because her cards were all a mess.
Her delusional mind did not have a memory of her sitting at her desk last evening sorting and moving her cards around.
I did not have an answer suitable for her to be okay with so I kept my mouth shut.
Sometimes in the moment seizing nothing is a good idea to maintain namaste.
Tonight as she was going to bed Cheryl asked me some questions because she wanted to understand.
C – There is one thing that I really want to understand. So, I have a question.
Me – Sure. What’s your question?
C – Well I know Jan is in heaven so she doesn’t sleep here. Right?
Me – Yes that is right.
C – Well who sleeps there? she said as she pointed to my side of the bed.
Me – I sleep there.
C – Good. You sleep there?
Me – Yes.
C – Okay. Good night then. I love you.
Me – Goodnight. I love you too. I am going to unload the dishwasher and read for a bit. I’ll be in later.
This exchange left me speechless for a minute. Cheryl often thinks Jan is in bed with her. In the early morning hours she will call out to her. They slept in the same double bed as kids until Cheryl left to go away to high school. Even then they shared a bed in the summers.
When we got married she went from sharing a bed with Janice to sharing a bed with me. I had not slept with anyone when I was a child. I may have shared a room with my sister when we were very small but I do not remember.
Cheryl talks to Jan often. When Jan appears to her she is very real. A few nights ago she wanted to get her on the phone to talk about the upcoming Sunflower Walk/Run.
Tonight she recognized that Jan is in heaven. She has not recognized that for some time.
A recurring theme in Cheryl’s head is “when are we going home?” I try at first to answer this by saying that’s good because we are already there. This rarely works. Sometimes it merely makes her angry with me.
The conversation is confusing when we reach this point. I can say to her, okay put on some clothes and we will get some lunch and come home. So, how would you find clothes for you in a place where you did not live? This is the first confusion but she accepts the fact that she has all her clothes here without accepting the truth of “home”. Even I am confused.
Later today, she is dressing now, we will go find some lunch somewhere and come home again.
Physical therapy is on the schedule for later this afternoon. Hopefully she will be tired after this activity.
Cheryl was going through a bit of confusion as I put dinner on the table. She kept getting up to look for her deceased sister Janice. (She called her Janice instead of “Jan.”) Eventually she was satisfied that Jan was not here to eat with us. She became interested in food and ate what I had cooked. (Chicken, noodles, green beans and broccoli)
I had put some music on the radio to play quietly while we were eating. Jimmy Buffet and “Margaritaville” came on when we were finished with the meal. I asked her if she wanted to dance. She said yes. We did.
For a few minutes we were young at a dance with Jimmy Buffet. Our dancing these days is more of a swaying-in-place but it is fun anyway.
The one who I could tease a little. The person who when I would toss a teasing barb at her would toss it right back and then some. Fifty plus years of marriage let you do that to each other. We had some great times. We had a lot of fun times. We always wish that the kids will have as great a time and Cheryl and I had along the way. We were never rich financially but there was always enough to make it work out. We were and are rich spiritually, socially, romantically and personally. I suppose that is what makes her mental state so disturbing and frustrating to me in this part of our life.
I can go back and forth, staying present and grieving what is lost to us. As I think of these things and reminisce I think of the song, “As Time Goes By.” There is a British TV show of the same name with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. It was one of our favorites. We rarely sit for long enough to watch any TV show. Any plot line makes little sense to her so she loses interest and gets up to go organize her office. It is her form of something called punding which is a useless and senseless activity that many in her situation do.
Cheryl was the one who was super organized. She kept the check book. She paid the bills. She was hawkish about getting and keeping and filing receipts for groceries and gas and any other expenses. She preferred to pay cash for stuff. If you did not have the cash in your hand, you did not buy it. When the kids were small we went to the grocery once a month and filled the larder. When it was gone you had to wait for it to come around again. There were some exceptions of course for milk and eggs and bread but generally you had to wait. The kids learned to be frugal. They were allowed to pick their own special things for school lunch and they learned how to make it last. Even when the children moved out to have their own lives we still shopped mostly once a month.
Cheryl knew how to use a screwdriver and still does but somethings that were second nature to her are now befuddling. How to open and what to do with an email. She once put all the family information into an Access database to print addresses for birthday cards, Christmas cards and anniversary cards. She knew how to drive that simple data system. She was used to putting together other databases and accounting systems for the clients she and others had in their small computer services company. It is hard now for her to wake up Microsoft Word to write a letter these days.
She was the one who did most of the household chores. I do that now and I do not mind doing it but she would if she could stand up long enough to do the laundry, make the bed, cook dinner, bake a cake or pie or simply vacuum the carpet.
Both her motor control and mental agility are greatly diminished and she is aware of those diminished abilities and it frustrates her.
She is the one who loved to hike. My favorite memory of this is a ten mile hike we once took in March many years ago. We hiked around a lake in a Kentucky State park. It was an eight mile loop and a two mile hike to the trailhead and back. We surprised some badge earning boy scouts about five miles from no where as we sat for a bit to enjoy the view and soak up the unusually warm March sunshine that day. It is a wonderful memory. We slept well that night.
She wants her old self back too. Who wouldn’t? Her sister passed way in the pandemic. Her sister also had Parkinson’s disease. Jan had other things going on that kept her from surviving the Covid wave in 2020. She still sees and talks to Jan. Tonight she sent her a text message. Tonight she does not understand that Jan will not answer but I might be the one who is wrong about that. Jan might answer. She often does – answer Cheryl when Cheryl talks to her.
Cheryl saw Jan at the table when we sat down for dinner tonight. I have no doubt that Jan was real to her. We discussed it. She decided to send her sister a message.
It is a powerful thing to see how strongly she was certain Jan would answer. It was moving to me. She went into her office to partake in a zoom meeting with some friends. She gave me her phone to hold in case Jan would call back or return her text above. These things sometimes break my heart. I try to keep them inside.
There is still time for new memories. I am sure of that. None of us knows when we are leaving this Earth. The best thing we can do is look for the good things, look for the humor in today’s situation. It is, however, difficult on some days.
An update after I published this about an hour ago. She came back from her Zoom meeting and remarked that she had not been out this late for a while. She wondered aloud how she would get home. I smiled and said that is the magic of Zoom, you are home. I gave her a tour of the condo.
Some days things just seem to go better with pie. If you want to lift your spirits a bit, make a pie. Whatever kind of pie you want, just make one. You can buy a pie of course, and that will settle the need for a sugary delight, but if you want to ignore the world around you for a while, make your own pie. It might turn out ugly but it is yours and it will taste scrumptious.
I have been down on myself for a few days. I think I worry for the folks in Ukraine. I do not know anyone in Ukraine but it is kind of stinky that a short guy with big army and navy can just drive over the fence and poop on the short guy without a big army and a navy with only one boat. That situation just sucks.
This is an ongoing conversation in our house. Cheryl struggles enough with day to day things. She fears for those mothers and children showing up at the Polish border behind the reporters that flew there in order to record the history of the short guy beating up the other short guy. From the news reports it looks as though the partisans are taking root in Ukraine and in Russia they are taking a nap. The world markets are yinging and yanging around and today I paid $4.999 a gallon for 12 or so gallons of gas to fill up my car. It was the first time I have spent more than $50 to fill up a car. That situation just sucks.
Time to make pie and eat it.
This particular recipe guidance is a favorite one. As you can see specific types of apples and the resulting pie has been noted by Cheryl. When she drug me down the cooking road a couple years ago I picked up what we call the “Big Green Cookbook”, so called because it is about two inches thick and has a green cover, to learn how to do pies. This book reads much like my grandmother’s cookbook that is a collection of church ladies’ recipes entitled “Culinary Cullings” from a farming community in Rich Hill, Missouri.
“6 apples” but no reference to general size. “1/2 to 2/3 cup”is the same as writing some but not too much. It makes me smile to read these measurements. (1 recipe plain pastry — but no hint about where to find that.) I have modified and added to the instructions myself. Since it is unspecified I use dark brown sugar with my teaspoon of cinnamon. I also add a couple tablespoons of tapioca. I got this last one from my mother who learned how to make pie from my grandmother. I think I got my bravery to adjust ingredients and try new spices from Mom. She was pretty damn good cook and liked to have a gin and tonic while doing it. Perhaps I will try a gin and tonic with my next pie.
So today is PIE day. A little early actually because the math enabled folks celebrate 3/14 as pi day. But I digress.
For a short time this afternoon I have bumped Cheryl off of her worries and anxiety about world idiots.
After the pie got to the condition shown above I went of to find the big round Tupperware pie saver we have owned since about 1975. Gone. I was worried that Cheryl had put it in a special place so that it would not get messed with by the little girls that live in her head. I put out a text query to the kids and found out I had left it at our son’s house. I probably took a pie there.
Recently I read a book entitled – Dementia Reimagined by Tia Powell MD. It was a disappointment to me personally because I believe that I judged this book by its title. I was hoping for some sort of expert thoughts on how I can deal better with my personable anxiety, emotion and smoldering anger with Cheryl’s disease of Parkinson and her accompanying dementia. I was hoping for; when this comes up, do this. Life is not that easy but my engineer training wants to make it so.
Dr. Powell’s book is a good argument for changing the way government programs, insurance companies and the like perceive and fund help for those with dementia. I know that the funding albeit private or public is screwed up. A few months ago I met with a lawyer to discuss end of life issues especially since I felt certain that Cheryl’s chronic illness would eventually bear a heavy toll on our family finances. He asked why I still lived in Ohio.
All states are different.
No Help There
That does not really help me. These tips on dementia (copied from a website somewhere) do seem to be useful:
Always approach from the front. – or do that as much as you can. When I first read this it was not meaningful to me but I have noticed that Cheryl startles easily. Her startle reflex shows itself at seemingly random moments. If we are traveling somewhere in our car, she will react to other drivers with jerky motions or a surprised little noise from her lips. I used to point that out to her and she reacted with both embarrassment and a little anger. I have learned to ignore these little things but it is hard for me to do.
She no longer drives a car having given up her license several years ago.
I have noticed that she will jump if approach her while working on something in her office which causes her to face away from the doorway so that she does not see me coming. I am not moving quietly when this has occurred but I may be mistaken about that idea. I may be more stealthy than I think myself to be. We are both older. Our hearing may not be as acute as in our youth.
Watch your body language and tone in addition to the words you use. – frustration or surprise at the immediate situation may easily be interpreted as anger. This is the hardest concept for me personally to deal with. I am concerned for Cheryl’s safety and I also hate to clean up messes. I apologize a lot and she apologizes a lot for making a mess even though I tell her that no apology is necessary.
I recognize that I am perceived as angry by her when one of these situations occurred. The aweshit reflex is strong in students and practitioners of engineering. So far I have been able to tone it down to oh-poop but it is a work in process with some small progress. I keep telling myself it is anger with this disease and what it has taken from her. I cannot tell you if there is truth to that statement but I keep repeating it to myself quietly at night when a combination of sun-downers and dreamy illusions and hallucinations creep into her perception of the world.
Sometimes I merely lose it, however. I can be mister cranky pants in the middle of the night.
Smile and wait until they acknowledge your presence before touching them. – Hugs are always welcome but Parkinson’s patients may be unsteady, so be prepared to steady her and accept some weight change. Hugs are always smoother from the front than from the rear. (see startles above)
Regardless of acknowledgment touching, hand holding, hugging are preferable to distance. The combination of Parkinson’s and dementia are frustrating, depressing and scary. Cheryl has expressed this to me often in moments of perfect lucidity. Those moments are still there. Savor them like fine wine or life as it used to be.
Validate their point when they are upset even if they are wrong. – and be aware that it is not important to correct anyone’s perception of things. Never start a response with; you are wrong, dear. … and continuing with the rest of it.
Let’s face the fact that “you are wrong” is a manifestly stupid way to start with no dementia present. Relax and take a deep breath and decide between two things, is it important to correct her perception or do you merely have a need to be right. Try, yes, that could be true… and go from there if concepts are way off and you want to help her find the way back. Or just ignore it, after all, her memory is not very good any more. She will not remember that you are right but she will remember that you angrily corrected her.
Say you are sorry at the first sign of their frustration to keep situations at a minimum. – I say I am sorry a lot because I am sorry that I tread on her heart. This disease is frustrating for us both.
Cheryl sees a nurse practitioner a couple times a year. Maureen is pretty practical when it comes to nuanced care partnering. These are her words;
I get lots of questions on how to deal with dementia. I could give you a list of resources to look up on the internet, workshops to attend, books to buy. All of that takes time which most of us have too little of. A great caregiver website, caregiving.com, offers these 5 tips for dealing with dementia.
PRACTICE PATIENCE – This can be incredibly difficult to do. Try to remember when you were dealing with your children when they were young, especially the toddlers. You probably had more patience then, than now. Remember those days of taking a deep breath before saying something. With practice, it will get easier.
PROMOTE PHYSICAL HEALTH – This is for both the care giver and the care receiver. The care receiver can benefit from practicing chair yoga, dancing, gentle stretching. Since the pandemic there are abundant resources on You Tube which can be helpful for both the care giver and the care receiver. A walk outside in the fresh air can help clear the mind for the care giver and give a person a brief respite.
USE PHYSICAL TOUCH – Touch is a powerful form of communication and connection. It can also be a valuable expression of reassurance particularly to someone living with dementia. All of us need a hug now and again. My own mother would remind me I forgot to kiss her good night!
FIND RESPITE – If you’re focusing most – if not all – of your time, energy, and resources on caring for a loved one with dementia, you may find you cannot sustain doing so over the long-term. With proper self-care, you can relax and recharge, manage caregiver stress, and become a better and more effective caregiver. Consider sitting on the porch and reading a book, a brisk walk, a cup of Starbucks, an ice cream cone, a massage, a warm bath with soothing scents. These things need to be done regularly in order to maintain your own health.
REDUCE WORKING HOURS – If you are still working full time, care giving becomes a second full time job. Consider scheduling a meeting with your human resources manager to propose temporarily working from home, flex-time opportunities, job sharing, and/or even paid leave due to your caregiving demands. You may be pleasantly surprised by the accommodations your employer is willing to make.
Maureen is a wonderful practical person. (I also wish she was not in our life because then there would be no disease of Parkinson or dementia.)