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

Chapter Six

As the months passed, the issue that seemed to give Belle the most difficulty was time. She was losing the ability to keep track of the time of day, the day of the week, or appointments she had set. Since we had been assured this was normal aging and we had no need to worry about increasing difficulties, we developed creative ways to assist her with keeping track of time so she would not miss an appointment or deadline. A special wall clock was purchased with a date and day display. This type of display was common in a watch, but not in a wall clock, and in the days before the internet, hard to locate. We posted calendars with notes regarding appointments, deadlines and debt due dates. Scott’s calendar mirrored hers, so if an appointment was set for her, he could call and remind her of it an hour or two before she needed to leave. Soon after Jim’s passing, Belle had asked Scott to be her Power of Attorney, and he used this document to add his name as a contact for her accounts with the electric company, the telephone company, the insurance company and any other regular debts with scheduled payments. Belle was paying her own bills, for the most part, and Scott was, from time to time, checking to verify payment.

For unknown reasons, Belle’s worry of forgetting to pay an amount due seemed to focus on her safe deposit box. Her box was located at a branch of my employer, so I assured her I could monitor it for her. On numerous occasions, she voiced concern that she would forget to pay the rent and her valuables stored inside would be lost. Although we assured her Scott and I would no allow this to happen, on more than one occasion Belle called me at work, to request I verify she had paid her box rent and I would assure her that all was fine. Belle’s checking account also resided at my place of employment. On several occasions, she voiced concern that she might be able to be talked out of money and this was something she knew she could not afford. So I assured her I would keep on eye on her account and the box rent and I did. I could monitor the account balance and report to her anything I thought looked amiss. I received approval to place a comment on her account which told the front line staff to call me if anyone came in person to conduct a transaction on her account or attempt to access her safe deposit box. At least once a month, Belle would bring up her concern, seemingly as a new concern, and I would reassure her I was on top of it. She said this made her feel safe that I could ‘look out for her’.

As the year passed, we tried additional time tricks. Belle began a medication regime that needed a morning and evening dose. We purchased an alarm clock/radio with more than one alarm time setting and set the alarms to go off once in mid morning and once in mid evening. I wrote out instructions that included why the alarm was going off, how to turn the alarm off and that the alarm meant she needed to take her medications and attached them to the top of the alarm clock. By this point in time, we were already dividing up her medication for her during our regular Sunday evening visit into a case with days of the week stamped on it. In addition to the alarm clock reminder, Scott began calling her every morning around 9 a.m. This call accomplished several things. In addition to verifying she was okay, he would remind her to take her various medications, and if any appointments were scheduled for that day, he reminded her of them. These creative solutions, for the most part worked. Belle continued to live on her own, with some invisible and not so invisible assistance.

Despite all our efforts, Belle’s inability to track time would get past us and create an embarrassing but harmless situation. While no harm was done, she would often be upset by the circumstance. On more than one occasion she appeared at the beauty shop for a hair appointment hours early. On at least two occasions, she was more than a day early for her appointment. Since we shared a hairdresser, Louise would call and let me know of Belle’s arrival. Depending on how upset Belle appeared, Louise would put Belle on the phone so I could assure her, even though Louise had reassured her already, that the appointment wasn’t until the next day or next week and that being early was better than being late. Once calmed down, Belle would say she was just crazy, laugh and head back home. I am sure she had this type of issue occur more than we knew about and that we only found out about some of the instances.

Every year on the third Sunday in May, Jim’s family had a family reunion in East Texas. Attendance at these reunions was highly encouraged and family from all around the country made a special effort to attend. Since Jim’s passing, Belle had traveled with us to the reunion. In May of 1996, Larry planned to attend the reunion but Emma had other obligations and would not be able to attend with him. So Larry planned to fly to out, stay with Belle for a day or two and drive with her to the reunion. Scott, the boys and I would drive over on our own later on. Larry and Scott coordinated Larry’s arrival and Scott assisted Belle with placement of the appropriate reminder note on the calendar, as Larry would be arriving during the work day and Belle would be picking him up at the airport.

On the second Tuesday of May, Scott called Belle as was his habit around 9 a.m. The conversation was normal, with the standard medication intake and other reminders, until Scott asked her what she had planned for the day. This was a standard question that normally received the standard generic answer along the lines of ‘sorting papers’, etc. This time however, Belle stated she was picking Larry up at the airport. Scott told her Larry wasn’t due to arrive until the following week, but Belle was insistent that it was that day and she was ready to go. Scott checked his calendar to ensure he had it correct and then once again told her it was the following week. He asked her which phone she was using and she let him know it was the kitchen phone. Her appointment calendar was posted in another connected room, which could not be reached with the kitchen phone cord. He told her the date, asked her to put down the phone and go look at her calendar. He stated the date again, and told her if she looked at the calendar she would see that next Tuesday’s date was when Larry needed to be picked up at the airport.

When Scott told me about this event, he stated he heard the phone be placed lightly on the counter with a slight click. Through the phone receiver he heard the movement of shoes across the vinyl floor, the rustling of paper, and the sound of shoes on a vinyl floor returning to the phone. As Belle picked up receiver back up, Scott heard a big sigh and then Belle said in an exasperated voice “but I already have my lipstick on.” Convinced that a trip to the airport was not part of her obligation that day, the situation resolved with Scott and Belle laughing about her being crazy and a discussion about what she would do with all her free time that day. Scott laughs now when telling this story to others and in the years that have passed since then, we use Belle’s excuse as an explanation for many things. It symbolizes how badly we want something to be right and how easy it is to get something wrong. If you’ve taken the time to put on your lipstick, you aren’t the problem.

Due to this and other similar events, we began to withhold appointment or event information from Belle until an hour or two before it was to occur. If she was aware of the event too early, she could no longer track how long until she needed to prepare for it, and would fret, believing she had missed it or would be late for it. She was always early, and would pack for a trip weeks early or dress for an appointment days early. So we would only tell her of an event an hour or two before it was to occur to prevent stress for her. She was more likely to have a bad day if she was worried or stressed.