The Downward Spiral

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The administrator at J’s continuing care retirement community left a cheery message, “There is absolutely no emergency, but when you get a chance, please give me a call. I want to shoot something by you.”  Despite the casual tone, I have been on this earth long enough to know it is never good when the CCRC administrator calls. I returned the call.

I was told that J, my 66-year-old wife with Alzheimer’s disease, has been exhibiting some “bizarre” behaviors. She had walked stark naked to an outdoor balcony. She was hiding things in the library. She had snatched medical papers from another resident as he walked down the hall and looked perplexed when he said they were his. The administrator didn’t seem overly concerned. As we talked, it became clear that she was obligated to tell me that J’s primary care doctor had been contacted. The administrator suggested tests to determine whether J had a urinary tract infection.

I emailed back and forth with the primary care physician, and I called her psychiatrist/neurologist. Neither thought any tests were necessary. This is not a UTI. This is J’s path through Alzheimer’s disease.

The report from the CCRC administrator was somewhat consistent with my recent experience.  The last time I saw J, she was not particularly engaged. She didn’t seem to recognize the friend who was with us. She stared across the table at me. This was before Election Day, and she brightened up only at talk of the then-upcoming election.

On Sunday, I took her to brunch for her birthday with our two adult children. She perked up at the offer of a Bloody Mary but otherwise had a fairly flat affect. We went back to our daughter’s apartment for cake.   We had taken an Uber, and J had gone for the front seat. During the ride, she looked back at me and our daughter and looked alarmed. She extended her index finger and mimicked a gun. Was our Uber driver packing a pistol?  When I asked her after we got out of the car, she exclaimed, “No!”

At our daughter’s apartment, she got a little agitated and said, “It died.”  She motioned like a machine gun – rat-a-tat-tat, and again said, “It just died.” “Are you talking about the election?” I asked. She had firmly and enthusiastically supported Hillary Clinton, and I was afraid the results may have depressed her. “No!”  I have no idea how this popped into my head. “Are you talking about your hair dryer?” “Yes!”

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J was so happy to be understood. It must be enormously frustrating for her to have thoughts and not be able to express them. Our daughter exclaimed, “That’s amazing. It was just like charades.”

The afternoon ended well, after I bought J a new hair dryer.  I know that J will continue to change and we will have to adjust. So long as a Bloody Mary or a hair dryer can bring a smile to J’s face, we should be grateful.

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