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

Chapter Seventeen

Believe it or not, there were those Belle came into contact with that did not believe Belle had any issue at all or if she did have an issue, it wasn’t as bad as we stated.  Sometimes it was the look on the face of a waiter, or the way the receptionist at the ophthalmologist’s office directed her questions, that clearly displayed that the individual saw no reason why the neatly dressed, white haired lady with us needed us to answer for her.     One of the widowed ladies from her Sunday school class made it quite clear to us that Belle was just fine and the problem was us.  Belle was such a good pretender that she could fake it with us as well and it would only be later, after we compared what she had said to both of us separately, did we realize we’d been taken in by the façade she maintained.  Her answers to questions were often quick and confident and if we did not delve into the subject further, completely believable.  Additionally, two other factors assisted Belle with her ability to hide her lack of recall from others.  The first factor is that Belle was very good at asking or answering questions vaguely and often the listener filled in the blanks in the conversation or made assumptions, later thinking she had said what they thought they heard.  Secondly, I’ve found that many people ask questions without really wanting to know the answer or they assume they know the answer.   If they really don’t want to know the answer, they aren’t listening to the response, and if they think they know the answer, they recall what they thought the answer was versus want was actually answered.  All three scenarios can be attributed to people not really listening.

I thought her ability to ‘fake it’ was excellent and would watch as she smoothly pulled off her vagueness with others.  When we would eat out, Belle would thoughtfully study the menu and then ask me what I was planning on ordering.   When it came time for her to order, she would say “I’ll have what she is having” and gesture to me.  This trick worked for while, even though I am one of those, take this off, substitute that and don’t let the food touch, kind of person.  The trick began to fail when she would make an innocent mistake or two, as one time she stated she would have what I was having before I ordered.  As time passed, we began to realize she did not understand or could not read the menu.  So, once this was clear to us, when eating out, we would order for her, knowing what she liked and that she was ever conscious of her weight.  I recall getting more than one strange look from a waiter when they would ask Belle if she was ready to order and Scott or I would answer for her.

I recall one circumstance especially that seemed to explain to me why others thought she was just fine.  A close family friend dropped by to visit one evening.  We all chatted for awhile and the conversation jumped from here to there.  As I walked with him out to his car after his visit, he stated he was glad to see how well she was doing, that she had known who he was instantly and even asked about his wife, who had been having some health difficulties.  He drove away happy and sure that Belle was still fine.  In reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.  When he had arrived that evening, I had glanced outside and had recognized the visitor.  Belle had answered the door, beamed a bright smile and said “well hi!” with great enthusiasm.  During the course of his visit, she told him she hadn’t seen him in while and asked how his family was.  He rattled on and she listened raptly, laughing here and there.  Later, after he left and I returned to the house, she asked me who I had been speaking to in the yard.   Not only did she not know who he was, she did not recall the visit that had just taken place.  Because this sort of thing had happened before, I always listened for specifics in her conversation, partly to see if she would recall a person or event without putting her under the spot light by asking her.  In this case, during her conversation with this visitor, none of her questions were specific to him and neither his name nor his wife’s name had been spoken by Belle.   She had greeted him with good cheer and “well hi!” so he assumed she knew him.  Because he had not seen her ‘in awhile’, which was true, she hadn’t, he assumed she recalled their last meeting and it had indeed ‘been awhile’.  Because she asked about his ‘family’ with concern, he assumed she was asking about his wife’s recent health difficulties.  He assumed, based on her facial expressions and voice tone, that she was fine, when in reality, she had not recalled him at all that day.  This friend even reported to other family members how well she had been doing.  As I’ve stated earlier, Belle was almost always in good cheer, and this fact combined with the fact that everyone that knew her wanted her to be okay went a long way to making them believe she was doing “just fine”.

The Sunday school widow friend mentioned earlier, who picked Belle up for Sunday school each Sunday and had let us know in no uncertain terms that Belle did not have any recall or function issues, finally realized that Belle was not ‘just fine’ when Belle related a story about a recent trip she had been on to Wyoming, when in fact the friend knew Belle had not been on a trip.  Belle’s story was long and rich with details.  The friend had even asked Belle questions for clarification of time frames and circumstances to make sure she had not misunderstood what Belle was telling her.  As the friend later related it to Scott, she was astonished and shocked to realize there was indeed a problem.  As time progressed, each person in Belle’s life could relate a story that confirmed for them or created the realization that Belle was declining in her recall and other abilities.