Adventias: Picking my battles…

Robin and Sarah lunching
Robin and Sarah at lunch at Belmont

Our Gran’mom has been taking an anti-dementia drug for three months. Aricept is definitely allowing her to function better, but I can’t say that she’s functioning well:

  • she brings dishes upstairs from the communal dining room, unaware that she has her own dishes inside her cupboard;
  • she wraps breakfast bacon in paper napkins each morning and stows it in her clutch with her glasses to carry it upstairs for her cat, and forgets to take it out and give it to him; and
  • she cut her own hair, unaware that she could go upstairs to the in-house hair-dresser, or have me drive her to a local salon.

Over time, she’s developing new preferences and new ways to do things. One of the challenges of loving someone with dementia is discerning which behaviors are merely new and distracting and which warrant intervention.

Counter-top kitty

Case in point: for as long as I can remember, Sarah insisted that cats belong on the floor. First CiRT, then Una Mas, and then Zachary were each taught to stay off of the table and off the kitchen counters. If one of them transgressed, there was something in the genteelly stern way she said quietly, “CiRT, please get off of the table,” that led them to jump down.

With dementia, Sarah is becoming ever more lenient with her cat. At first she began allowing Zachary on the counters. Later, if I would help shoo him down, she scolded me for being insensitive to her cat. She tells me now that it’s convenient to scritch his ears if he’s up at counter level. Most recently, she has begun feeding him on the counter on purpose.

This shouldn’t be a big deal. Bill and I routinely have our cat on the counter, so this shouldn’t trouble me. And yet, my first impulse is to draw a line in the sand and ‘help’ her enforce her lifelong rule. But she plainly perceives this as bossy meddling, rather than help.

I guess this change bothers me precisely because it’s counter to Healthy Sarah’s life-long rule. It highlights how she’s changed. I’m probably also being rigid. But no real harm is done, and fighting over it isn’t good for either of us. I obviously need to let it go.

Zachary on the counter
Zachary on the counter nosing bacon of indeterminate age

Clandestine bacon

In contrast, the bacon-hoarding behavior I described above is more concerning. When I lunched with Sarah Saturday, I noticed that her clutch was stuffed with paper napkins again. I pulled them out and revealed that each was in fact a little bundle of breakfast bacon, eight days worth in all.

Sarah intends to take this bacon upstairs and present it to Zachary as a loving and generous (if really unhealthy) cat treat. She succeeds occasionally, too. But more often, she forgets, and white paper napkins in her clutch don’t look like bacon.

When I told her I was going to dispose of her bacon stash, because it was unrefrigerated and might make Zachary sick, she got very, very angry with me. She insisted that I couldn’t possibly know the status of the bacon because I’m not there everyday. She snatched the bundle away from me and told me I should mind my own business.

Realistically, bacon that’s both cured and cooked is probably fine at room temperature for a few days, and cats have strong stomachs. But given that I found another stash of indetermiate age in the cupboard, and given that she’d be crushed if anything happened to Zachary, I decided to work with Belmont staff to redirect her process despite her protests.

Elevated dishes

The same visit when I made Sarah so angry over the bacon, I delighted her by resolving a mystery. Three visits ago, she asked me if I knew where her Pyrex cat dishes were, and I didn’t. Two visits ago, I searched through all of her cabinets and drawers, but with no luck. I assumed that she’d put them somewhere and they’d turn up eventually. I couldn’t imagine anyone stealing these dishes.

On Saturday, after the bacon episode, she asked me again where her Pyrex dishes are. When I said again that I didn’t know because I wasn’t here when they got put away, she said angrily, “You know so much about everything else that goes on when you’re not here that you should have no trouble finding them.” Nice.

To appease her, I looked again. This time, I pulled a chair over so I could look *on top* of the kicthenette cabinets. Sure enough, I found not only the three missing Pyrex bowls, but also six other dishes, each with a few crumbs of cat food left in them.

dishes from the cabinet top
I found nine dishes on top of Sarah’s cabinets


When I asked her how on earth these dishes all got up there, she professed to have no idea, but observed that Zachary often jumps up there. I can imagine her logic: if Zachary is going to spend time on the cabinets, then he needs food up there, too. When I asked if it was possible that she placed food up there and forgot the dishes, she said:

“No, because I can’t see them when I stand on the counter.”

(I’m sorry… when you do what?!? Note to self: if Belmont ever calls to say that our Gran fell and broke her neck, I’ll remember that it was likely self-inflicted.)

I’m betting that she put the food dishes up there and forgot them once they were out of sight. Hypothetically, she may have cajoled one of her PALs into putting them up there. Either way, they’ve been up there for months and she’s delighted that I found them.

The last time we really argued — December 2008 — the unhappy memory stuck with her off and on for a year, occasionally popping up and leading her not to call me “because Robin isn’t talking to me right now.” I’m more than a little worried that the same thing may happen again. It’s important to me to avoid creating a negative episode that might color our whole relationship.

But on this day, perhaps with the help of the Aricept, Sarah was contrite. Before I departed, she apologized for “being so obdurate.” (Great word!) And she called me twice later that same evening to apologize for losing her temper. So right now, this battle is behind us. As for the next few weeks, we’ll see.

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