- Posted March 19, 2011 by
District of Columbia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
What I Know: Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer’s Slide – Imaginary Friends & Real Encounters (Part 4)
In the first part of this story we talked a little about Peggy before she was stricken with Alzheimer’s. In the second installment we discussed the need for caregiver support and some of our experiences. In the third article we shared our experiences when we reached the point where Peggy became a bit paranoid and combative. This article will discuss the period where she seemed to be having some hallucinations and memories were becoming older.
Something I have failed to mention in the previous articles - these articles are being written as distinct points in Peggy’s slide back towards childhood. The periods seem pretty distinct to us, but there is a great deal of overlap. Behaviors didn’t simple switch on or off on specific days.
The period of hallucinations and old memories could be both upsetting and humorous. As mentioned earlier, Peggy and her husband were estranged for over 30 years. A couple of times a year my father-in-law would visit. So, we had both of them in the same house. On his arrival one time, Peggy marched towards the front door as he was entering our home and we all wondered what she was going to do. Her husband cringed, thinking he might be hit, as she had done in the past during her combative period. Much to our surprise, especially her husbands’, she threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug. She recognized him! She just didn’t remember that they didn’t always get along very well.
There were times when Peggy was calling for her mother or even seemed to be talking to someone who was long gone. A few times we think she may have actually seen someone in the room. She still calls her Angel boy, her Bichon Frise and companion for over 10 years, who passed away over a year ago. With a severely diminished ability to communicate, it was difficult for Peggy to let us know what she was seeing, hearing, and remembering.
One of the things we noticed is that even in the early stages, things like newscasts or violent television programs could be very stressful for Peggy. We started looking for things like old Shirley Temple movies. We focused on things that Peggy would know from childhood memories that wouldn’t be frightening to her. She had enjoyed square dancing so we found internet sites that played square dance music.
The doctors always asked us if she was hallucinating – apparently it is quite common. I believe in most cases they may prescribe medication to help alleviate it or at least help prevent the stress and anxiety that might occur. As mentioned in an earlier article, Peggy did receive medication to help us get past a very troubling story that her brain had created. The most surprising thing to us during that period is that Peggy seemed to remember things that were negative much better than things that were positive. Perhaps the negative items elicited stronger reactions in the brain.
We always tried to find ways to stimulate her. We would take her for walks, take her to the park, take her out to dinner, concerts, parades, etc. We tried to find ways to provide more positive stimulation, bought her books she would enjoy reading, looked at photo albums, bought interactive children toys. We did make more efforts to make her laugh and find enjoyment. Her son would tickle her and dance with her. We all wore silly hats for her birthday. We bundled her up and took her to the ICE show.
In earlier articles I said that many people would pause to talk to Peggy and treat her with kindness. During those encounters, Peggy initiated the contact. As she continued to slide backwards, becoming more childlike, she was less capable of interacting with people. However, on many occasions we found that people in restaurants and other locations would approach us, try to talk to Peggy, and then discuss her situation with us. On a number of occasions, a total stranger would start offering blessings for my wife for providing such loving care for her mother.
If you’ve read the earlier postings on this topic, you know that we had some trying moments with Peggy. Some were simply a little embarrassing. Looking back, I think making the effort to keep getting her out has played a significant role in maintaining her health.
As for the blessings my wife has received from total strangers, she deserves them. The patience and love she has shown in caring for her mother is truly amazing. The decisions she has made for her mother’s care have balanced physical and emotional needs. No institutional care could have come close.
Next we'll discuss some of the things we have done to maintain Peggy’s overall health.