Archive for February, 2011

Adventias: Behold the power of pharma

Monday, February 14th, 2011

By the winter of 2009, dementia was really taking a toll on our Gran’mom. If I asked her whether she’d prefer turkey or ham in her sandwich, she’d look at me for a moment, look away for a moment, and then perk up brightly and tell me something about her cat. She called me less and less often, and when she did call, conversations were challenging.

Beginning an anti-dementia drug in March 2010 markedly improved Sarah’s function, albeit not without some hiccups.

In December 2010, I finally got motivated to find Sarah a new neurologist (or, new-rologist) in Houston. Our cousin Sharon is a research coordinator for Methodist Hospital’s Neurological Institute and she secured an appointment for Sarah with the director of their National Alzheimer Center. Dr. R is an experienced and knowledgeable clinician, and despite his impressive responsibilities, he spent almost two hours kindly and patiently learning Sarah’s history and evaluating her cognitive function.

When I told Dr. R about Sarah’s improvement on Aricept, he told us about a second anti-dementia drug called Namenda. He said that it works on a second set of metabolic pathways, and encouraged us to take home a 4-week trial. Sarah started it the next morning.

At first, I didn’t notice any changes as the dose ramped up. But during Sarah’s fifth week on Namenda, things got interesting. First, consider Tuesday:

  • Sarah called and woke me up (she called!) wanting to confirm that I would take her to the podiatrist. She was looking incorrectly at Wednesday (rather than Tuesday) in her calendar book, but she was using her calendar book again.
  • At 10:30 am, Sarah called again (she called!) wanting to know where Sammy and Gracie (her late parents) were. Startled, I asked what she meant. She told me that they’d flown to Jacksonville like they usually do and she’d picked them up at the airport, but now she was at “her office” and she couldn’t find them. (?!?) After I worked up to gently explaining that her parents had been dead for about 40 years, Sarah told me I was scaring the socks off her.
  • Around 4:00 pm, Sarah called again (she called!) wanting to know where my parents were. She told me that they had dropped her off at Belmont just long enough to go up and check on her cat (?!?), but when she came back downstairs, they were gone. After I worked up to gently explaining that my parents hadn’t been to visit her since Christmas, she again told me I was scaring the socks off her. I learned later from Belmont’s concierge that Sarah had actually gone outside several times, approached another family who drove a familiar-looking Honda, and walked as far as the street looking for my parents. Yikes!

Now, consider Wednesday:

  • I collected Sarah and we went to the podiatrist together. She seemed more alert, more observant, and more conversational than I remember her being in ages.
  • The in-house physical therapist told me excitedly that Sarah had just had the best PT session, ever. He said that her coordination was better, she was less distractable, and she stayed focused for a whole hour.
  • After lunch, we talked about making a grocery list. She asserted that she needed soap, and when I asked what kind, she thought for a moment with furrowed brow and then asked, “does Yardley’s make a lavender soap?” She used Yardley’s for decades but I haven’t seen her recall its existence in several years. Startled, I exclaimed, “I’m so delighted with how much sharper you seem this week!” to which she replied, “Me, too!” Turning toward the window she added, “It’s like when you open the blinds and the sun comes back in.”

Goosebumps. I don’t understand all of what happened Tuesday, but I’ll take it if it gets Sarah more Wednesdays.

* * *
I join Sarah for lunch or dinner about once a week, and we usually sit with some of her neighbors. A few are adept conversationalists who face physical challenges, but many face cognitive challenges similar to Sarah’s, and I’m often responsible for facilitating the conversation.

But not last week. For a change, I mostly listened while Sarah and her neighbor Evelyn swapped stories from their younger days. For more than an hour, they wove a fascinating conversation about S&H green stamps, and picking cotton, and what the stove and other amenities were like in their mothers’ kitchens, and more.

Sarah and neighbors at lunch
Sarah at lunch with her neighbors, Rhoda and Evelyn.

I don’t know how the Aricept and Namenda are working or for how long they will help. But seeing Sarah reclaim the ability to engage and reminisce is a gift for which I’m profoundly grateful.

Bob on a hot tin roof

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

After weeks of the coldest winter weather I’ve ever experienced in Houston, today was glorious. Sunny and 65. Fabulous! Bill and I walked to lunch and back and decided to “get something done” outside when we got back.

We have a plastic owl decoy that hangs from the peak of our roof to deter mourning doves from roosting in the eaves and pooping on our cars. Or we did. We took it down for That Damned Hurricane in 2008 and never put it back up. It took a while, but the doves eventually noticed the owl’s absence and came back and have been pooping on the cars ever since. Today was time to fix that.

So Bill got out the ladder and I went up it, as we’ve done plenty of times before. But it rattled me a little. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m older, or out of shape, or just out of practice, but the ladder was wigglier and the roof was smaller than I remember.

I’m not ready to get old and stop being a girl who can climb ladders and do stuff. It’s time to start working out again.

May I please have some Global Warming?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I know, I know, it’s cold everywhere this week, and Houston is no exception. In fact, this is the coldest weather I’ve experienced in the last 11 years in Houston. I’m cold. And it’s not just the weather.

I’ve previously faced 22 degrees in Illinois, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. But in all those of places, I not only had heat but also buildings designed to retain their heat… unlike our drafty Houston bungalow. It’s so cold in our house that Bill is wearing a Hoodie… indoors.

We either need to make a serious investment in weatherstripping and insulation, or I need those greenhouse gases I keep hearing about to get to work!