Getting Help to Relive Memories

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With riends at a Lyle Lovet concert

People in late stages of dementia can relive memories wrapped in their five senses and heartwarming emotions. Those are the best times for Lynne and me now. I’d like to learn more ways caregivers can help loved ones relive those memories.
Recently, she was snug in the front seat of my car listening to Neal Diamond music and singing his lyrics as we drove through a rainy night. She looked out the window at parks and restaurants in her Madrona, Leschi and Capital Hill neighborhoods, interrupting her singing to briefly comment on the scenes. On a video chat she listened to me read every word of Sharon Olds’ poem, First Hour. It’s about a newborn’s thoughts. I told her that and when I finished she immediately remembered holding each of her three newborn boys.
I, we caregivers, want ideas to reach deep into more of those memories so we can relive them in restricted, confusing, anxious times.
I have read recommendations about how to assist Lynne’s behaviors when I’m with her. She opened a back door of the car to sit on the lowered seat, but said she couldn’t get her legs in. I guided her into the passenger seat. She quickly tangled her neck in the seatbelt until I clicked it in for her.
I’d like more training on drawing out the deep memories, especially when I can only care for her on a video chat or sitting alone with her, even then unable to touch her without gloves and a shield, let alone hug her. What senses and emotions help draw out pleasant memories? In the car, did feeling snug in her passenger seat relieve her anxiety and let her focus on the scenery? Was it the music? The lyrics? Me by her side? With the poem, did it help to feel secure in her favorite chair? Me introducing the poem by talking about newborns and mothers? Dad’s familiar voice? The flow of the lyrics?
I search for connections to memories by watching, listening, asking and showing her pictures to see what settings, words, images and names excite her senses and emotional experiences. I need help. And I confess I feel pressure because her reservoir of memories is draining away rapidly.
Can I get help from our worlds of virtual reality? Lynne had a fabulous time with friends at a Lyle Lovett concert two years ago. Could she wear virtual reality goggles and earphones to sing and dance with fans and friends at concerts like Madonna? Could she dance in sock hops on reruns of The Dick Clark Show? Could gaming programmers develop videos for people with dementia where they could hug avatars instead of zap them? Could exercise equipment manufacturers mimic virtual scenery while residents exercise on stationary bikes? Could we collect videos from family and friends to rerun in endless loops like TikTok videos? Could we download YouTube videos?
There must be people who could recommend more ways to raise up Lynne’s memories for us to enjoy in the present Covid restrictions — experts for caregivers, architects for room and building designs, owners of assisted living facilities with lively experiences from households or neighborhoods.
Please help.

Maybe It’s Alzheimer’s

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Aegis reviews Lynne’s behavioral symptoms quarterly. Her sleep patterns were disturbed by the switch to standard time and the increase in nighttime. The medical director prescribed medications for longer and more regular sleep.

Lynne repeats herself, called looping, about every 30 seconds when she initiates conversations. She waits outside the care director’s office for her to come back rather than sit with other people. They’ve had another COVID case on her floor, so she’s in lockdown again.  She often calls me to say it’s difficult.

I said recently, “Well of course it’s hard honey, you have a disease, Alzheimer’s.”

She said, “I do?  Maybe that’s what it is.”  

Now I use short sentences to tell her stories of current events, even the election, or long-term memories of her boys, her mom, her friends. If we meet in Outdoor Living, I’ll bring her a vanilla milkshake from Dick’s Burger’s. She thanks me, listens, comments appropriately, and searches for words to add something. She’s very pleasant most of the time. When her mind wanders after 20 minutes, I ask her if it’s time to go.

She says yes, and adds, “Thanks, Dad.”

Lynne’s Birthday Gift

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Cat, Blue, Jane & Lynne in Denver

Lynne and I wanted to give Aunt Jane a birthday present on her 82nd birthday. She is my sister and Lynne’s cherished Aunt who had the courage to throw off society’s expectations of housewives, and serve the under privileged. She lobbied for compassionate legislation for children with handicaps in Colorado, lived with children in impoverished orphanages in Mexico, counseled Guatemalan refugees who fled the genocides in Guatemala until she returned with them broker peaceful returns to distrusting survivors. Along with those missions, she inspired her entire family to reunite and embrace her independence.
I gave Lynne the phone so she could sing happy birthday to her while I shouted it through the plexiglass in the Aegis Outdoor Living Room. Then Lynne had a private conversation with her.
Jane is a talker. Lynne is a listener. She focused on every word. I heard Lynne’s responses: “Oh, yeah.” I’m not sure.” “Well, I have a lot of friends here.” “It is what it is.” “I can see family.” “I get out and do things.” “I’m never sure.” “They have us do things, you know.”
Suddenly Lynne said, “Oh, no!”
She put her hand over the phone and said to me, “Cat broke her toe.”
Cat is Lynne’s cousin, a nurse. I asked, “Is she still working?”
“Oh yes.”
Finally, she tired and handed the phone back to me.
Jane said, “We had a great conversation. She’s handling it so well, accepting what is.”
And that inspiration was another gift Lynne gave Aunt Jane. And me. And everyone.

Sharing the Love

Video Chats Long term memories

Kris Kristofferson

Lynne called. She was quiet until saying, “She’s nice and I don’t want to commit and not follow through. I feel like I fit in. It took a while.”
I agreed she is nice (I had no idea who she was talking about). “But you always follow through. She helps you walk. You get a good sleep. You eat good food. You ride your bike. You listen to music. You always follow through.”
She agreed and I piled it on. “You always followed through in high school. I was writing from your journals and letters today. You didn’t want us to buy a house on a hill because it was too difficult to walk home from school. We bought the house anyway, and you bought a scooter you hid in your friend’s garage, so you could drive up. You, your friends, and your brother drove all over town. I never knew.”

She laughed. I added another story. “You felt the chemistry brewing with a causal boyfriend after talking with him throughout a ballgame on a date with a different boyfriend, followed by a month of eye contacts, chats in the hallways, teasing from girlfriends. Finally, one day he told you to call him if you wanted to see a ballgame with him and his brother. That was your chance to find out if he was serious. You said, “Call me if you want me to go with you.”
“You knew he didn’t know your number. You waited. You prayed. Finally, he called. You knew, you knew, he would be your first love.”
Lynne smiled. “Yep.”
I piled it on some more. “Your good friend on the yearbook staff told me you were the one who organized work, because she was such a flake you felt you had to keep her on track.”
Lynne laughed but objected. “She was not a flake. She did a lot for us in the yearbook. We worked on copy together.”

We paused. “OK, Dad. I’m ready for bed. I love you.“

She calls and I’m there for her. I can tap into her joy to let laughter flow over us and rinse away fear for a while. I’m learning more intimately about her and loving more deeply as I learn. I’m learning more sympathetically about me and healing more deeply as we share. Being there is a balm for the years I was away.
I am living the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson’s song, Loving Her Was Easier: “Coming close together with a feeling that I’ve never known before in my time. Wiping out the traces of the people and the places I have been. Dreaming is as easy as believing it is never gonna end. Loving her is easier than anything I’ll ever do again.”

Lynne’s Joy on Her Bike Ride

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Lynne’s joyous on her first ride with her stationary bike. You can hear Dad cheering from her Facebook portal and the caregiver urging her on.
Special thanks to the concierge last night after I told her the bike had been assembled for use. She immediately went to the basement immediately and wheeled it up to Lynne’s room while the caregiver covered the concierge desk. Oh, joy!

Deciding to be a Hopeful Caregiver

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Lynne called me to video chat because she was bored. Her caregiver was standing by.

”I’ll be back in a little while to see what you want to watch on TV.”

That was encouraging to know. I suggested we dance to music from her Alexa dot. She liked that idea. Then a resident slowly walked behind Lynne to sort through Lynne’s bedding. Lynne turned around to see her. She said hello and called her by name, “What are you doing here?”

She silently continued browsing. I suggested Lynne help her leave the room. Instead of walking over to guide her out, Lynne walked out of the Portal camera view toward her door. Meanwhile her friend continued sorting through the bedding until she found two books. She lifted them up to eye level with one hand and shuffled away toward the door. I heard no sound. I waited and hung up.

I felt helpless. I couldn’t help her help another resident. I couldn’t help her protect her books. I couldn’t talk with her. I couldn’t help her dance.

I decided to believe in hope. Lynne was no longer bored. And she was helping a resident; and she found her caregiver to help her; and they convinced the bargain hunter to return Lynne’s books; and Lynne could browse through other residents rooms to replace her books; and by this time she was watching her favorite TV show; and we’ll dance another time.

I also decided we need to keep sending her paperbacks because we’re stocking Lynne’s whole floor.

At least I cared for me as her caregiver under Lynne’s COVID-19 quarantine.  

Sharing a Scooter on Video Chat

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This red scooter is identical to Lynne’s yellow scooter.

Lynne and I shared a scooter when she called for our nightly video chat to relieve her sundown syndrome under Covid-19 lockdown. Lynne’s friend, Leslie, sent me a photograph of a red scooter identical to a yellow one Lynne and her high school girl friends rode around Eugene Oregon. I found a way. I printed in color and pointed my cell phone camera to it instead of my face. It filled my screen. It filled Lynne’s Facebook Portal. She laughed as soon as she saw it. “There it is. We rode all over on that.” We chatted about how she didn’t tell us she bought it and hid it in a friend’s garage. I said, “That scares me to look at even now.” Thanks for the memories, Leslie.

A friend sent me a link and said he thinks the scooter is a Honda CT90. Thanks, Chuck.

Playing Hardball to Get Through This

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Lynne called last night at 10 pm, melancholy without tears. “Not sure if I can do this.”“Sure, you can. Your Grammy Helen did it. Once you get through this part, you’ll be happy. Grammy Helen was happy.”
“Yes, she was.”
Pam had phoned me about her video chat with Lynne when her boys joined in. We reminisced about Pam’s plight inhaling wildfire smoke in California. I asked her about the boys. “They’re doing fantastic,” she said.
I told her I caught an overthrown hardball at Miller Park with my bare left hand and tossed it back. The young men on the teams cheered. “You the man.” One ran over with the ball, “Sign this.”
I didn’t have a pen, so I bumped his ball with my fist. I told Lynne, “If I’d had a pen, I could have signed it as Dan Wilson. And the next time I saw him, I’d have to tell him his legend grew at Miller Park.”
She laughed. “He’d have given it to you.”
We paused. She took a deep breath, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Sure you can. Your first job is get some sleep.”
“I can do that.”
She headed for bed in her clothes. “You should turn off the light.”
She looked for it on the blank wall next to her shelves. “Lindy, I think the switch is by the door.”
“Oh yea.” She walked away from the Facebook Portal screen and I saw the bathroom light turn on and off. She walked back to her bed and climbed in.
I called out, “Good night.”
“Good night.”
I called the concierge who promised to have someone help her get some sleep.

As Good As It Gets for Dad

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I interviewed Candy, a friend of Lynne’s about their time together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1996. I am grateful for her memories full of Lynne’s fun and professional skills. I sent her an image of an article about recruiting talent for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published in the Seattle Times on October 17, 1996 Titled, “Want to Work for Gates?” The front page was in a 11 x 17 picture frame with a photograph of recent hires when the foundation was rapidly expanding from an influx of donations. The frame was given to Lynne when she retired from the foundation to work as a special education teacher. The back of the frame was filled with farewells and signatures of her fellow workers.

Candy asked how to contact Lynne for a video chat. Lynne’s phone messages show Candy called later that afternoon at 1:27, 1:28, 1:35 and 1:35. Lynne  missed each of those calls. Candy’s persistent. She called the next day at 3:06 pm and missed  her, and finally connected at 4:02 pm for a 23 minute and 50 second phone call.

Candy sent me this email, which is how I discovered she’d dedicated herself to connect with Lynne while she still remembers:

“I talked to Lynne via video chat today.  It was so great.  She remembered me well and was really present and we reminisced about old times. I’ll call her once a week and told her she can call me at any time.

Once they open on the CV19 restrictions, I’ll do walks with her and go visit.

Thank you, thank you for this re-connection.  In gratitude, Candy.”

As Lynne’s dad, I’m unable to resurrect those intimate stories that still exist in the great majority of Lynne’s long term memory. I’m thrilled she can share good times in normal conversations with friends. I thanked Candy for her persistence I replied, “That’s as good as it gets for me right now. Thanks for letting me know.”

I asked it I could share this and she said, “Happy for you to do so.”