Return to the Land of Dementia

Truffle:  Confused but ALWAYS CUTE

Confused but ALWAYS CUTE

I have spent a lot of time dealing with dementia in my life. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. My father contracted Binswanger’s disease, another brain disorder that leads to confusion and memory loss.

Most recently, as many readers know because I discussed it in my book Pulling Taffy, my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. She died two years ago.

A month ago I would have told you that I was through with dementia—at least until such time as it might hit my own brain. Unfortunately, I was just plain wrong.

I am now dealing with … doggy dementia!

Recently my 12-year-old cockapoo, Truffle, has become irritable late at night. When the time comes for her to go outside just before bedtime she growls, snaps, and barks aggressively. This behavior is just NOT like my little dog. In general, Truffle acts as sweet and cuddly as the stuffed animal she resembles.

Once Truffle gets back inside after her late-night walk she returns to her normal affectionate self and snuggles all night. Those moments of panic and confusion (on her part), of fear and anxiety (on my part), mar the evenings, however.

So I consulted with her Virginia vet, Terry Donahue, yesterday. Sure enough, Truffle appears to have cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a.k.a. doggy Alzheimer’s disease.

We are trying various strategies to cope with this. Some are (surprise!) expensive. Terry has prescribed anti-anxiety pills and suggested special food and nutritional supplements. These are certainly worth a try. It always amazes me that Truffle’s haircuts cost more than mine. Now her daily food and medicine budget may grow greater than mine as well.

Some remedies are already in the home. I turn on as many lights as I can as the sun goes down each evening to increase Truffle’s feeling of being bathed in light and to decrease the sundowner’s syndrome she seems to be enduring. The apartment now looks as bright in the evenings as it did when I was taking care of my mother. It goes against my Scotch upbringing to use so much electricity—but I have to admit that the brightness cheers even me in dark, cold January.

The greatest gift I can give Truffle, of course, is love. As I did with my mother, I try to be as patient and gentle as I can. It’s not Truffle’s fault that she has no idea who I am or what I’m trying to do with her when I ask her to go out at night.

The world always offers us more lessons to learn. Next time it’s time for me to further my education, I’d prefer to learn about something OTHER than dementia. For now, however, Truffle and I will do the best we can and enjoy life as much as we can.

Straightening Myself Out

Busy kittens can make their companions tired.

I don’t know how many of you out there cry on a regular basis. I’m not a frequent crier—and I think by and large I’m doing pretty well adjusting to being an orphan. Nevertheless, every once in a while I involuntarily turn on the waterworks. They came roaring out at about midnight a couple of nights ago.

A contributing cause for my tear fest was my adorable but sometimes maddening three-and-a-half-month-old kitten, Rhubarb. Like many babies of different species, she can’t manage to sleep through the night.

It doesn’t seem to matter what time we go to bed or how much I play with her in the evening before retiring. After three or four hours of shuteye (occasionally five if I’m really lucky!) she transforms herself from sleepy kitten to attack cat, pouncing on Truffle the Dog and me as we attempt to finish our night’s sleep.

If I lock her out of the room, wails of anguish fill the apartment. If I allow her to stay in the room, the mayhem continues until I’m ready to get up in the morning. At that point Ruby quietly curls up for a nap.

I know she will grow up soon. Meanwhile I’m perennially a bit groggy.

The other night I as was getting ready to go to bed I decide to search for the charger for one of my (too) many electronic devices. I ended up in the kitchen—not the neatest room in the house. As I lifted clean laundry to search underneath I managed to hit one of the wine glasses hanging on the rack above the kitchen counter. The small goblet fell to the ground and shattered into myriad pieces.

The broken glass wasn’t one of my late mother’s best—I’d guess that it dated from the 20th century, not the 19th—but it was graceful and attractive, with a curved cranberry cup and a clear stem. Its set was one of the few for which my mother owned twelve matching glasses. My brother and I now have eleven left.

The remaining glasses still hang in the kitchen. (They aren't this messy looking in real life; it's hard to take photos of glass!)

As I swept up the shards—or most of them; I found another just this morning—I berated myself.

I was a terrible daughter, I thought. I couldn’t take care of my mother’s things. I couldn’t even manage to put away my clean laundry—something that would have appalled her. I started crying, and for a little while, despite the dog and cat’s best efforts, I was inconsolable.

I put on my nightgown and washed my face as I cried. As I dripped down onto the bed with the animals around me, I recalled my mother’s attitude toward tears.

An eminently practical woman, she had absolutely no use for weeping. I decided that if she were looking down at me from heaven, she would more upset by the tears than by the broken glass. I have broken things all my life, and thanks to that practical streak she was pretty much resigned to the breakage.

I looked at the walls around me and noted that the pictures were all crooked. Worse than tears in my mother’s opinion were crooked pictures. She spent a lot of time adjusting them on the walls.

I got up off the bed and gently straightened the paintings. The worst offender, a portrait of me when I was 13 by M.F. Husain, looked a lot better when it wasn’t crooked.

Somehow the act of putting it into alignment it made me feel a little straighter myself. The tears subsided, and I went to sleep … at least until Miss R. decided it was time to start playing.

Lessons learned:

1. Action is better than moping.

2. Be useful rather than tearful. (This is really the same as lesson one–blame my kitten-induced fatigue!–but it sounds more positive.)

3. Put away the laundry as soon as you fold it. (This one is taking me a while to learn. A new pile has formed in the kitchen.)

4. DO NOT start search for things when you are tired. (This one I have taken to heart.)

I look--and feel--better when I'm in alignment.