But I Already Have My Lipstick On:  Our story of dealing with Alzheimers

Chapter Four

Belle’s relocation to her new home now placed her much closer to us and allowed Scott and/or I to drop by on the way home from work to check on her.  Both of us worked full time in positions of responsibility in our companies, were raising our two sons, attending high school basketball games and maintaining our home and yard along with other family activities.  Now we also began regular maintenance of Belle’s yard and home.  We also began a routine of including her more intimately in the activities of our family and ‘updating’ other family on her status.

We began to arrange things in her life to make the loss of her spouse, transition of her move and her occasional forgetfulness easier for her. We obtained a phone with large speed dial buttons and programmed in our phone numbers.  I created a phone number listing with her new phone number  and address (which she had difficulty recalling) along with all the contact numbers for family and friends, which I had laminated and posted at various locations around the house for easy review and access. Although we had regularly spent time with Belle, our level of interaction was increased.  Scott felt responsible for his mother’s well being and intended to ensure that her transition to her new home and life without Jim went smoothly.

And it seemed the transition went well. Belle continued to be active in her church, with her Sunday school class and with her women’s group.  She made friends with her new neighbors.  She spent her days ‘sorting papers’ and ‘going through things’. We were very glad she was active, and taking the time to get things in order, because there were many things that needed sorting (and disposal).  The move had been so fast that we had not had enough time to review things and clean out unneeded paperwork or belongings.    Overall, the move seemed to agree with Belle and we released a big sigh of relief.  Everything was going to be okay. We explained away any inconsistencies in her behavior at every opportunity.  It’s been a tough year, too much change, and we are over reacting, were our most common excuses.

In July 1995, 11 months after the death of Jim, Scott, our youngest son Deacon (aged 12), Belle and I vacationed together.  Larry, the second oldest brother, lived in Wyoming and he and his wife Emma traveled each year to the Snake River south of Jackson Hole, where friends and family gathered to go white water river rafting over the 4th of July week.  We decided to join the festivities and invited Belle to go with us.  Although we visited with Belle frequently and Scott had daily verbal contact with Belle, and we had traveled together on short trips back to East Texas for family reunions, we were unprepared for the frustration of traveling with her on this long distance trip.

During the drive through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming, the repeated reciting of long ago tales and events with different than normal details escalated.   Reminders that we had already heard the story did not prevent the repetition.  Belle developed the uncomfortable habit of reading all bill boards, license plates, road signs, street signs and bumper stickers, often with a lilt of surprise or exclamation in her voice.  She began to interrupt current conversations with comments or observations regarding conversations completed hours before.  Belle had never really been a person that rattled on for the sake of talking nor would she normally, due to her self imposed manners, interrupt conversations of others.  She practiced her ability at conversation and prided herself on being a good, polite conversationalist.  During this trip, however, she seemed to be repeating stories, reading signs out loud, interrupting others and talking in general as if these activities created some level of reassurance for her. The reading of the signs especially seemed to create a feeling of reassurance for her as she said each word or phrase with a surprise or exclamation ending.

When your child does something that is aggravating, you tell him/her to stop it or divert their attention elsewhere. If the activity continues, you might get harsher. It is not really possible to handle an aging parent in this manner and it was not possible for us to handle Belle in any type of harsh manner.  Our attempts to point out that her activities were frustrating or irritating or that quiet time would be great were forgotten almost as soon as mentioned. Our glances at each other to convey our frustrations with the situation increased (and went completed unnoticed by Belle) and we discussed in hush tones out of her earshot, what could be done.  In the end, our son retreated to his tape player with earphones for most of the time spent on the road, while we determined that,  there really wasn’t anything we could do about her behavior.  Although something was wrong, the trip was good for all of us after the last year we’d been through.  We vowed we would survive whatever levels of frustration may occur and have a good vacation.  Along with adopting the grin and bear it theme, Scott and I also developed a personal code to underline our frustration to each other and laugh without cluing in Belle or Deacon.  Scott, in one of many moments of frustration during that rip, created the code by pinching me (hard), looking at me sweetly and declaring in his best voice that I needed to feel his pain.  From that moment on, anytime the frustration grew, we took turns trying to out do the other with a first pinch and laughter would normally ensue. I am sure it saved the vacation.

Once we arrived at the camp site, a no facilities, right there next to the river type place, Belle stayed nights with Larry and Emma in their travel trailer and we stayed nights a short distance away in a small town motel.  This break from each other kept spirits high and frustrations low.  While we spent our days in rafts on the water, Belle stayed on the shore visiting with others in camp. Larry, Emma, and a few others at the camp site, noticed some of the changes in Belle’s behavior.  Although the subject was not dwelt on, questions were posed and comments made by those who did not have daily contact with her and without Belle being present, regarding the inconsistencies in her conversations, how easily she became confused and her short term memory difficulties.   Overall, as with the rest of us, the issues were contributed to the multitude of changes in Belle’s life and the rough past year.

Scott and I kept the code.