Saturday, March 20, 2010


Ted's memory has been declining for at least five years now.   It is seldom clear to me what he can remember and what he can't.  It varies from day to day.  It varies by topic.  Song lyrics seem to last longer than many things.  I find that especially puzzling, because I have had a life long inability to remember more than just fragments of song lyrics. Even when I was tasked with teaching my Sunday school class the words to "Away in a Manger",  I had to keep a copy nearby.   Ted remembers multiple verses of songs like "Little Brown Jug", songs that just go on and on.

Lately Ted does not remember who I am.  Nor does he remember where he is.  Each time he awakes from sleep or from a nap,  it goes something like this:

Ted, "Where am I?"
Kent, "Oregon.  Philomath, Oregon".
Ted, "This place looks familiar.  Have I lived here before?"
Kent, "This is Barbara's house. You have visited here often.  Lots and lots of times.  Now you live here."
Ted, "But I have lived here before haven't I?"
Kent, "You have lived here for six days now.  You have your own room."
Ted, "But have I lived here?"
At this point I have tried yes, no, and "just a bit".  No answer seems satisfactory.
Ted, "Whose place is this?".
Kent, "It is Barbara's house.  I am Barbara's husband, Kent".
Ted, "Where is Barbara?'
Kent, "Shopping and taking a walk

The exact sequence varies a bit.  The overall conversation is usually repeated several times before we move on to other matters.  Tonight I intervened by asking Ted if he liked the smell of cornbread.  I even went and got a pan of cornbread to remind him of the smell.  We started talking about the food he ate as a boy.  Soon he was ready to leave his room and come have dinner.

Once Ted starts down memory lane regarding his boyhood, he seems to have total recall.  He can describe his parents' farm in great detail.  He remembers trees, farm animals, his Dad's habits, his Mom's routines, his brothers, their pets, all the nearby neighbors, and much, much more.

In the early years of his dementia,  Ted had similar detailed memories of being a soldier in the Pacific during WWII.  Now he has vivid, emotion laden visions of his time in the army, but the facts are muddled or missing.  He often elaborates with details that sound reasonable, but are made up.  Occasionally when he is deeply involved in speaking of his time in the Pacific, the accounts begin to come into focus.  Details come back.  Other times, no amount of prompting seems to help Ted have a clear picture of his time in the war.

Most of us worry about our memories failing as we grow older.  We forget where we parked our car.  We forget a friend's name.  I find that especially true when I have a lot going on and I am stressed.  The memory loss from Alzheimer's is a whole different thing from those "senior moments".   It is common for Ted to ask the exact same question over and over again in a single half hour.  His eyes may light up when he hears the answer. " Oh yes, that's right.  I remember now."  But five minutes later, it is as if we hadn't spoken of the matter at all.

I see that the repetition will be a challenge for me as the days and weeks pass.  Tiny bits of progress may happen.  Tonight Ted remembered how to get from our dining room to his room and the attached bathroom.
However, there are also bits of regression and loss.  I begin to see that Ted will never remember my name again.  Ted still remembers the four B's:  Bruce, Barry, Brenda, and Barbara.  But even that core memory is slowly fading.

I tell myself that answering Ted's questions are somewhat like rocking my children when they were babies.  I carried them, swayed, and repeated simple phrases over and over again.  At times it was tedious.  Especially if I was tired.  Mostly it was a simple, peaceful time.  I adjusted my expectations on what to expect from a baby.  Now I am adjusting my expectations for Ted.  Repeating myself is just as meaningless and just as meaningful whether I sing "Hush Little Baby" or when I say "This is Barbara's house".  Both are ways of expressing love.  I can never love too much.

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