I’d dropped in on Lynne three times yesterday on her echo dot and she thought she’d done something wrong because she couldn’t go downstairs to see the concierge. Frustrated, I emailed her assistant director, Wanda (not her real name), to please see if one her people could cheer her up. I gave her some ideas: TV with her favorites on Amazon Prime and Netflix, a foot bath, calling me for a video chat, searching for her daily bag of trail mix attached to a photo of her sons and nieces eating ice cream. I thought she’d remember that photo.
Wanda delivered, and I thanked her for a nice video chat with Lynne last night. She called with help from a caregiver. Lynne sat with feet in the tub basin filled with lavender Epsom’s salts and a big grin on her face. They were laughing. Lynne said it felt decadent. She lifted up her foot in front of the Facebook Portal to show a wet, ruddy, healthy foot. We chatted until she stood up and wandered toward her door to ask for help getting ready for bed. We had a good night.
Wanda responded. “That was me. I had come in and out a couple times. I’m so glad it set your mind at ease. The lavender is a huge hit, this is a great night time ritual for her. We put the crickets ( her favorite) on the sound machine before I tucked her in, she seemed very happy indeed. I will make sure care staff know to make this a part of her nightly routine!”
I appreciated Wanda testing the idea and planning a regular routine. I asked if a caregiver could talk into her echo dot, “ Alexa, Drop in on Dad.” We could talk through the echoes because Lynne fiddles with the Portal during video chats: turns it off, turns sound off, and moves away from the camera. Maybe we’ll get video chats to work better again.
In the meantime I’m grateful we have staff who can give us new routines that make for healthy self-indulgence.
For the last six days Lynne’s memory care unit prohibited face-to-face conversations because one caregiver had Covid-19. All tests since have been negative.
She has been busy and happy with activities. I am happy she’s happy. However, I miss the fun chats we had so I have tried to cheer me up by finding ways to chat with her more often. I’m struggling.
Ten times over the last six days I spontaneously called, hoping she’d gleefully call me back by tapping my face on her Facebook Portal to return my call. After all, she’s told caregivers I’m the greatest dad in the world. She might not believe that anymore because she never returned my calls. Maybe she needs to be reminded to check the Portal. Maybe I could program the Portal to sense Lynne’s presence and say, “Dad called. Tap his face.” One day she sat by her window and I called up to her to chat. She was excited and stood up. She turned away from the window and never returned. I yelled louder, called her Portal, her phone, the concierge. Nothing. Apparently she found something better to do and forgot about me. The last three days I threw a pickleball against her windows. She was busy elsewhere. The Portal and Alexa were supposed to increase chats by eliminating problems with video calls. Calls need to be scheduled a day ahead. Caregivers need to be by her side. They need to locate Lynne. They need to complete more urgent care first, so they often call late. Sometimes they never call. Hoping Lynne would call on her cell more often because she enjoyed lively conversations, I reviewed ways to make conversations more fun. I got my chance on the 4th when a frustrated caregiver called. She tried for half-an-hour to set up a scheduled video chat on the Portal with Lynne’s friend. I couldn’t help her. I used an energetic voice to ask an open ended question, “How was your day?” It worked. Her day was good. She was cheerful. “What’d you do?” Immediately, I knew it was the wrong approach. Alzheimer’s began erasing her short-term memory years ago. “Oh, we had, you know, it’s, .. ah, … we, ..um, the thing, ….. I can’t remember… I can’t remember things, and it scares me.” I agreed it’s scary, and don’t remember anything else except we agreed she’s on a better floor. Her long term memory works. She remembered names of high school friends. Why can’t I remember to share memories from family and friends after years of care for my mother and her? Monday night Lynne and a caregiver called for a video chat. I shared memorable images from an interview with a friend. She remembered most of them and laughed a lot. She said, “I love you, Dad. I’m doing things, you know. Lots of things.” Determined to improve video chats I set up my new Alexa Show in my office and contacted Amazon about how to link it to Lynne’s Alexa dot. Aegis scheduled a time with a caregiver so we linked up at the same time. We did it. A few minutes later, Alexa told me Lynne had dropped in. She was excited. We chatted and then she had to go. She was busy. I’m happy she’s happy. I miss her. I keep busy because I have lots to learn to feel like the greatest dad in the world.
I’ve been exploring with family and staff how to return Lynne’s phone to her for phone conversations. She was using the concierge desk for phone calls which interrupted their work. We needed to solve the problems that led me to take it away, stressing about losing it, keying incorrectly, keeping it charged, answering incorrectly, talking into the microphone, avoid hanging up too early and guarding against fraud. It seemed hopeless. Frankly, I kept it plugged in at my apartment with pink lights racing up and down the cord in spite of self-talk to face facts, save money and get rid of it. I couldn’t flip it into the wastebasket.