Category Archives: Success!

Independence Day

Papa has been to 23 games at Nationals Stadium so far this year, and numerous games last year.  He loves going to games.  We have a routine how we enter and leave the stadium and stick to it for every game.  Every single game.  Even if Papa suggests we walk a different way we explain why we can’t and stick with our given route.  We have always told him that if he does not see us for any reason to follow the crowd to the gate and make his way to his seat and never to leave the stadium.  If we are separated after a game we rendezvous at  the flag pole in center field and watch Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight broadcast the post-game report until we are all together again.

July 4, 2015
July 4, 2015

On Game days Doug drives Papa into the South East section of DC and drops him off at my office on M Street where I meet him downstairs in the lobby.  Together Papa and I walk over to the stadium while Doug parks the car in a garage on the Washington Navy Yard.  Last year Doug and Papa parked together and came up to my suite on the 8th floor, but this year Papa does not want to walk the block from the Yard or take the extra steps across the lobby to the elevator, or perhaps he does not feel comfortable coming up the elevator by himself, but whatever the reason is we will do whatever works best for him.  Papa knows the security guards in my building and they let him sit in a chair until I arrive and the two of us will then leisurely make our way over to the Ball Park following the same path we always take and wait for Doug in our seats.  Typically we arrive in the stadium well before the rest of the crowd and are able to sit and relax as we watch the visiting team take batting practice.  Papa likes to sit and relax.

Papa enjoys the games and our season tickets have been great because he knows where “his” seat is.  Once he is in the stadium he takes a shortcut behind a clothing vendor over to section 110, flashes his Nat’s Access card to the attendant, walks down to Row S and sits in Seat 5 for the duration of the game.  Other than standing up for the National Anthem, and God Bless America in the 7th inning Papa truly does sit.  I believe that his logic is that he paid for that seat and he is going to use it, but Doug may have another opinion.  Papa quietly roots for our team, and may never understand the excitement of the crowds as they stand and loudly cheer for our team much of the game.  Why does everyone keep jumping up and down?  In his mind he would not stand up if he were home sitting in his brown recliner, why should he make that effort just because he is sitting outside in a blue stadium seat surrounded by 30,000 to 40,000 Nat’s fans.  Standing is a disruption that blocks his view; it is as if someone changed channels on the TV during an exciting moment not allowing him to see what is happening.  Yesterday the first pitch thrown to our leadoff hitter was a home run, batter two hit a double into the deepest part of center field missing the top of the wall by inches, and our third man at the plate hit a two run homer, all against one of baseball’s best pitchers and the reigning World Champions.  What happened?  What is going on?  Papa was already annoyed that the crowds were on their feet so we quickly moved him over one seat so he had a young child sitting on front of him.  He as then happy to be able to remain sitting even if “junior” and the other 40,000 + fans were on their feet.

Some days we bring a picnic meal into the game, some days we stop at a neighborhood market, and some days we enjoy a stadium half-smoke from the infamous Ben’s Chili Bowl.  Papa typically has a PowerBar as his pregame snack, enjoys his meal at the start of the game and by the 7th inning he is generally snacking on popcorn or a curly W pretzel or recently a scoop or two of chocolate gelato.   It is all a routine; it is the same every game.

Papa worked at a Sinclair Station when he was 13.
Papa’s first job was at a Sinclair Station when he was 13 years old.

Exiting the stadium is identical except the crowds are much denser.  We slowly head up the stairway from our seats, which are close to the field, and across to the nearest restroom as Doug jogs ahead to get the car.  Papa and I walk out of the Center Field gate, make a sharp right and head down N Street for a short block to the corner of New Jersey Avenue.  On hot days Papa buys a second ice cream from a local street vendor on this corner who knows us as repeat customers.  We continue along Transportation Walk, the shaded area behind the two Depart of Transportation (DOT) buildings, discussing the old gas pumps, Sinclair was the first gas station I worked at, or the bicycles, I always thought it would be neat to have a three-wheeled bike, or the many other items displayed.  We cut in-between the two DOT facilities across a courtyard to the corner of 3rd and M Street where we wait for the light to change and he imitates the cross walk voice wait, wait, wait, walk light is on across M Street.  Papa always jokes that he wouldn’t mind that job; all they have to do it tell you when to walk.  Once we have crossed the street we wait under the canopy entrance to my building which takes up the entire block until Doug arrives with the car.  Our walk is less than ½ a mile, or if we were counting in steps 1035 for me and approximately 2070 for Papa.

The early morning game on the Fourth of July was no different.  After a big Nat’s win Doug took off to get the car, Papa went into the men’s room where I reminded him that I would be standing in exactly the same place centered between the entrance and the exit of the bathroom, and I waited.  I waited watching the crowd exit the stadium and the grounds crew working on the field.  After 10 minutes I texted Doug to tell him we would be later than usual today.  I continued waiting as I monitored both the entrance and the exit with periodic glances over to the flag pole.  No Papa.  With my mind thinking the worst, I asked a gentleman to see if Papa was still inside and quickly described him:  red t-shirt, white hair, and my height.  Knowing I had probably just described thousands of fans I quickly yelled into the restroom that his name is Wayne as he was walking into the facilities to look for Papa.  Nothing.  After waiting 15 minutes I texted Doug again, who by this time had arrived at our pickup location.  The stadium had almost completely cleared and I asked a second person to check the men’s room.  Nothing.    I was very worried by now and turned towards the deserted flag pole and Papa was still not there.  I was asking for stadium security when Doug called to say he saw Dad making his way between the DOT buildings and waiting at the corner to cross.

The guys waited as I walked to their location and I am sure Doug and Papa had a long discussion as Doug explained how worried I had been standing outside of the men’s room while the stadium completely cleared.  As soon as I got in the car Papa said, I am sorry Sandy; sometimes I don’t listen too well.  I didn’t see you.  I went to the flag pole and then thought you started ahead of me.  I don’t really know what I was thinking.  He felt terrible and could not understand why he had left the stadium.  We could not understand it either.

Memory loss is terrible.  His short term did not remember where I was waiting for him, but his long term memory, due to making the trip so many times, was able to pull the correct route back to my office and our pickup location.  Papa says he was not worried when he didn’t see me, and I hope that is true.  I wish I understood what he was thinking as he walked out of the stadium.  Was he looking for me as he walked up the road?  Did he buy an ice cream?  Did he make the same jokes to himself as he walked by the antique gas pump or did he mimic cross-walk talking?  Papa doesn’t remember.

I will keep reminding Papa that we are always there for him.  Always.  I do not leave Papa alone in a store, I will not leave Papa sitting in a car when he doesn’t want to go on an errand with us, and I would never leave him in a stadium with over 40,000 fans wandering around.  Never.  Thank Heavens he was able to safely find the way, and we were able enjoy the rest of our 4th of July with a barbecue and fireworks.

July 4, 2015
July 4, 2015

A Cup of Joe

Papa has his own schedule during the week; he can sleep in if he chooses, change from pajamas into sweats (otherwise known to him as lounging clothes) and drink his morning coffee while tuning into Walker or Gun Smoke. He is not on anyone’s schedule and can be as fast or as slow as he wants to be. While we may not know the exact time he starts his day, he leaves many signs along the way for us to track his movement around the house. He leaves a crumpled towel on the bathroom counter if he chose to shower that morning. We see a coffee mug in the sink along with a bowl full of water if he prepared the oatmeal we left out for him OR crumbs on both the cutting board and counter by the toaster if he decided he was in the mood for a bagel. We see a green plastic water cup sitting beside the sink with a Tupperware container next to it if he ate the lunch we prepared. If we don’t see an empty container we know he probably made himself a peanut butter sandwich at noon, leaving more crumbs on the counter and a knife in the soaking oatmeal bowl.  I don’t need to dirty a plate; I will just hold my food in my hand. A few times we have not seen any dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter and had to ask him what he ate that day. He smirks and says, I don’t remember, not thinking he left an empty PowerBar wrapper (or two) on top of his banana peel in the trash. He sets the mail on the kitchen table and lets us know as soon as we walk in the door if there is anything addressed to us, expecting us to check it immediately not realizing that most of goes right into the shred bin.   And lastly every day we notice several new drops of coffee that have been splattered on the carpet or walls as he carries his morning cup of Joe downstairs to the family room.

Sundays routines are different, we are up and trying to get out of the house by 9:00 to make it to church on time. It never works; we typically slide into our pew as the congregation is midway through the opening hymn. It does not matter if we wake Papa up at 7:30 or 8:15 he heads down to the kitchen at precisely 8:55 and asks, how do I look? After confirming he looks great, he says, I am not really hungry and grabs a banana knowing we will remind him to eat something with his morning meds. He peels the entire banana and throws the peel in the trash before taking the first bite then lays the open banana on the counter. Papa walks three steps to the left and turns on the Keurig, opens the cabinet above the coffee maker and pulls out both a fresh green plastic cup and a coffee mug and starts violently shaking his small packet of Vietnamese Coffee before tearing it open and pouring it into his the mug. He fills the water cup by the sink and walks back to his banana. I always look at him and smile at this point and he defensively mentions, the water on the refrigerator takes to long, I don’t mind tap. While I think he does this to save from walking across the kitchen, I assure him he can drink whatever water he prefers. He goes on to take another bite of the banana before he pulls out his daily pill container and dumps his morning medications onto the counter next to his banana. He licks his finger and sorts the pills on the counter by size before he starts swallowing them.   By this time it is 9:05 and he is finally ready to push brew on the coffee maker. More often than not Doug is waiting in the car as Papa and I both watch the water fill his mug and then proceed to stir the coffee no less than 20 times (I have counted), he takes a sip and loudly sighs, WHEW! He looks at me and asks, where is Doug? I pull out an insulated travel mug, pour his coffee into it and cheerfully say, “in the car, let’s go!”

This morning was different. Doug ran a neighborhood 5K and not wanting to be late I knew there was a good possibility we would be driving two cars to church today.   Papa asked, where is Doug? and I reminded him Doug was racing and he would drive separately today. Will he meet us at the church? I handed him a new insulated travel mug with his Vietnamese Coffee and assured him that Doug will meet us before communion and we started walking to the car.

I glanced at the stained carpet at the foot of the stairs as we were walking outside and had a brainstorm, the perfect solution to our daily drips of coffee dilemma.   If Papa used one of the insulated travel mugs every day he wouldn’t spill any coffee walking down the stairs! Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner? I smiled to myself thinking this is great; sometimes the answers are so simple and right in front of you the whole time.

Halfway to church I realized Papa had not had a sip of his coffee yet, so I reminded him it was warm and ready. He picked up the new mug, looked at it and twisted it in his hands. He pushed the locked button with his thumb on his chin and attempted to drink from it using the vent hole. I realized my genius idea of having him use a travel mug every morning will only work if he knows how to use the travel mug. Fortunately there was a red light where I could quickly show him that the lock button faces away from him and he can hold it down with your fingers as he drinks out of the larger hole. Papa took a sip. Huh! This is pretty sharp! I never saw anything like this before.

Papa's new cup
Papa’s new cup

Tomorrow we will leave a bowl on the counter with two packets of instant oatmeal in it, along with his white board with a note saying there is either a ham sandwich or tortellini on the second shelf for the refrigerator, but we will also leave a travel coffee mug. And hopefully when I get home from work I will see the empty mug in the sink along with his oatmeal bowl. Now, if we can just find a way for him to use a plate so there are fewer crumbs on all of the counters…..

Merry Christmas!

Papa loves mail, he checks the mailbox daily for any letters and one of the first things we hear when we get home from work is, here is your mail.  He is a bit disappointed in our reaction at times as we glance through a pile of junk mail without showing the same enthusiasm he displayed when he carried it in. I won a prize! No, Dad, that says you are eligible to win a prize, they want you to order something from them. Well that doesn’t make any sense, I never heard of that. Fortunately between Papa’s birthday earlier in the month and Christmas the good mail has overshadowed the junk mail over the past few weeks. Hooray for greeting cards!

Papa is drawn to Hallmark holidays and enjoys picking out a variety of greeting cards for people. This past January Papa and I worked on a large calendar listing each month’s birthdays, anniversaries or other milestones for his close family. After the important dates were filled in on his calendar we went shopping where he ever so carefully picked out cards for his two boys and their wives; nine grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and three anniversaries. It takes time to pick out the right card. Trust me, when Papa says it takes time he means it! He reads and rereads countless cards looking for an absolute match for each relative and then starts over with the next person. Papa will sneer if you make any suggestions, is drawn to cards with cats or dogs on them, and will never buys a card that plays music. Papa even gets annoyed if other shoppers leaf through music cards while he is perusing cards in the same aisle. A card is not supposed to make noise. Whew, why don’t they have chairs in here?   He proudly found 17 perfect cards and boasted that he had not duplicated one. He was exhausted, but it was a day well spent.  Success!

Papa keeps his calendar hanging on the back of his door and monitors the upcoming events. As a birthday or special occasion draws near he typically pulls out one of his greeting cards and places it on the kitchen table for a couple of days as he thinks about how he will sign it. Sometimes he carries the card down to his side table and thinks about it some more as he watches TV. After several days he will more than likely he need a bit of prompting to make sure he finishes up in time to mail his letter.  Yes, I will get to it today, I am thinking… While Papa has every intention of writing a longer note to each person the words often get lost between what he wants to say and the piece of paper so he eventually writes the same thing Papa loves you and asks me to help him with the address.  It is endearing to watch him knowing that just saying Papa loves you truly is special and means the world to each recipient.

Papa is hard at work addressing Birthday Cards
Papa is hard at work addressing Christmas Cards

This is the first year Papa has had to think about Christmas Cards and he was excited to give them to each of his kids and grandkids. We discussed Christmas gifts and he had eagerly picked out a box of cards for his 14 immediate family members long before Thanksgiving with the intention of completing several cards each day and have them all signed before heading to the bank to pick up a crisp bill to enclose in each card. I heard his old standby quite a few times this month Yes, I will get to it today, I am thinking… As I mentioned, Papa loves mail and was not expecting to receive the number of birthday and Holiday cards addressed to him over the past couple of weeks so yesterday he decided he would like to mail Christmas cards to other special people in his life also. Back to Target we went to get another box of Christmas cards.

Somehow the time got away from Papa during all of his “thinking” and today as I was working on addressing our holiday cards Papa wandered upstairs and realized he better get busy too. He quickly pounded out his grandchildren’s cards when he understood he would not have to address the envelopes. As we moved on to his sibling’s cards he smirked and said, I need a secretary. I laughed and told him I’m the closest thing he’s got right now, and we got busy. Papa signed each card and I read off the addresses for him to address the envelopes. With a bit of sighing as we neared the end of his list he mentioned, Christmas is a lot of work, now do you have any stamps to put on these. I could not resist asking, Papa, how much do you think a stamp costs today? They go for $0.25, right?   Ya, if only it were 1988 again…

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!

 

It’s Good to be Home!

Papa might have arrived back at our house in mid September but it took a couple of weeks for him to really come home after his summer vacation. His July vacation turned into an extended two-month stay in California and a quick jaunt to Hawaii vacationing with the West Coast Maroccos’. Traveling can take a lot out of anyone but is extremely difficult for a person with memory loss. Not only does a person experience the anxiety of actual travel, but adjusting into a new environment and then re-acclimating once you arrive home is not easy. Familiarities and routines that may have seemed dull to an outsider are actually a lifeline for people with memory loss. The stability of his day-to-day routines offers a sense of peace, which can be disorienting if broken. He left being an active part of our home life and returned as if he was only here for a temporary visit. In the past month I have realized we may never get back to all of his former routines, but we are constantly working with Papa and reassuring him we will find new ones.

Some things did not change. The day Papa came home he walked directly to his chair, sat down, picked up the remote and said my chair is still good, and I missed my TV. We call Papa’s fancy electric recliner his command center, like his room it is his space entirely and does not change no matter what else is going on. His table that was brought from Arizona is covered with his belongings and we use caution in dusting it to make sure everything is put back in its place. He might offer his seat to another person, but you can sense an anxiety in his voice as he says it. Do you want to sit in my chair really means please sit somewhere else in the room and I will turn on Walker, Texas Ranger for us to watch. That chair is his space, his bubble, his comfort zone. It holds photographs, unread magazines, word search books and his calendar at his fingertips.   He controls the remote and screens every telephone call without stretching more than an arms distance. He is able to sit in that space and make immediate choices that affect both him and everyone else in the room.

Other changes were quickly noticeable. Papa never really said NO before, he has always been game to try new and different experiences and would let us know what he thought afterwards. When he first returned home I was worried with the frequency of the two letter “N” word. He may have mentioned he was tired of walking at times but he never stopped doing things. Now we heard NO, I am old; my feet don’t work right; I can’t walk like I used to. No, I will just wait here. I don’t know if I want to do that or No, I don’t know what I want to eat. Sometimes he would just look at us and shrug his shoulders. I had not realized how much of an issue this really was until he decided to sit in the car instead of going into Costco with Doug his first week back. Costco on a Sunday afternoon is like a playground for Papa, he enjoys the free samples at the end of every aisle or picking up a hotdog or a frozen yogurt on our way out. He did not exercise as much on vacation due to a medical issue, but that has been resolved.  We realized we have to start from scratch to build him up again, to find things he is interested in doing, increase his stamina and encourage him to say YES!  We started slowly walking again, very slowly. But every step he makes is a moment he is up and experiencing life.

I am not sure if Papa had forgotten or if he just didn’t feel comfortable any longer loading his breakfast dishes or bring his dirty clothes to the laundry each morning. He didn’t remember that he used to help me cook dinner every evening or help Doug clean up the kitchen afterwards. His new habit after a meal was to immediately go right back to his chair and ask us when we were going to come sit down with him and watch TV. Where he used to involve himself as the center of our activities he was now worried about getting in the way. But most discouraging for us was noticing he was pausing and waiting for someone to answer for him. We reassured him constantly that indecisiveness is not an option. Papa has a voice and must be an active part in discussions and decisions that affect him. Even if he does not recall each conversation we want him to always be able to freely express his questions, wants and needs and he is never, ever in the way.

I was not prepared for Papa’s slow acclimation back home and was thrilled each time I saw his comfort level expand from his chair to the rest of the house and then to outside activities. We noticed he started feeling more confident after his first ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) breakfast with the guys. Our weekly Costco runs have improved to where in week two Papa went inside and waited by the snack bar but by week three he watched the Smoothie demonstration for 15 minutes and then wandered over to pick up each and every one of the free samples being offered that day. He loves seeing his friends at church on Sunday, especially when Karen brings him cookies. We went to a car show this past weekend and he looked under every hood and ended up walking over two miles without noticing the distance. We have set out a white board to remind him what his options are for breakfast and lunch or if there is something he can do during the day to keep busy. Last night after running a few errands and then sitting at our neighbors little league game he mentioned I think I want to let my hair grow for a while and It is good to be home. No longer feeling like he is on vacation he has started acting like he lives here again. Yes Papa, we are happy you are home too!

 

Bobbles

One day last week we were on our way to the stadium to watch our Nats get another Curly W, and realized that sometimes just getting to our seats in the ballpark is half of our adventure.

We often hear Papa say I never heard of that, even if it is something we have already done or discussed many times before. Occasionally there are the random things that stick with him after his first or second experience. These are what he likes, the types of things he wants more of. He remembers when his breakfasts or potlucks are scheduled; they involve both food and friends. He knows Karen brings him cookies, which he sets next to his chair and keeps for himself.   He cannot recall that Daryl, the kids and I took him to Chase field in Phoenix last summer which is home to the Arizona Diamondback and Papa’s previous allegiance, but because we visit Nationals Stadium frequently he has no problem remembering aspects of our ball park. He now realizes that he needs a new ticket to each ballgame we attend, and he knows the way from the parking garage to where we sit. He loves eating his way through 9 innings, and because he has now been to several games with promotional give-away he believes that he will get to go home with a goodie of some sort after each game he attends. These giveaways are something he can hold on to and are much better than the temporary tattoos he finds in the bottom of his bag of Cracker Jacks. We received a Jordan Zimmermann Bobble head last month. What’s a bobble? It’s called a bobble head; it is a figure with a big head that kind of shakes, people collect them. Papa has moved from I never heard of a bobble head to wanting the entire team.

Friday night was Wilson Ramos bobble head night. Papa needed one and wanted to make sure we all walked out of the park with an obligatory bobble head also. There were 25,000 given out at the game and because we typically arrive early the likelihood we would be going home with one was pretty high.   But then life hit and we realized we were becoming the underdog in those easy odds. We had a late start, we hit Friday night DC traffic, and we had a slow walk with Papa from parking garage to the gate, and it was a beautiful Friday evening with almost 35,000 fans attending the game. Knowing we had cut it pretty close Karen and I walked ahead to try and get a couple of the sought after Ramos bobble heads.

We walked in through the centerfield gate only to find empty tables and discarded boxes. My heart sunk as I realized Papa was going to be sad if he doesn’t get his bobble! Knowing Doug and Papa were still outside I texted them and suggested they go to another gate hoping that they would have better luck. Meanwhile we were directed to the next entrance to see if they had any remaining collectables. We weaved our way through the current of fans to the left field gate, they told us to move on to the 3rd base gate. We arrived at the 3rd base gate with a line of people and a couple fans received our prize but the rest were advised to go to the home plate gate. Karen and I had one between us and figured we didn’t need any more so went to find our seats.

Doug and Papa were still outside the park looking for an entrance still carrying the collectables and did not know we had found one for him. They were headed to the right field gate and were advised there were none left and to work their way towards the home plate gate. Doug started walking toward the first base gate and Papa with his ticket in hand said I gotta pee! At that moment Papa deciding that finding a restroom was more important than Wilson Ramos, he turned around to walk up the stairs to the right field gate by himself. Doug called me and said he has already disappeared in the mass of people. Papa was gone. We decided that he was in the park already and because he has been to weekly games he hopefully knows the general vicinity of where we sit. We had faith he would hold onto his ticket and keep asking until he found his seat (and us). We were obviously concerned, but less worried than when we couldn’t find him in our own quiet neighborhood. There were after all thousands of people he could ask for assistance. This would be a good test for him before he gets ready to fly to CA next month.

Doug ended up walking around the stadium to the home plate entrance and was given two bobble heads after explaining his gate to gate adventure. As he turned around to make his way to our seats he saw Papa in front of him with a big smile and a small box containing our Nat’s catcher. Papa had stopped for his business and as he made his way around the inside corridor of the rest of the stadium he passed the home plate entrance and sought out a bobble head with his ticket. Success! Doug and Papa were reunited again and as they made their way down the aisle to our seats, Papa was beaming and proudly handed me his Wilson Ramos bobble head box to put into my bag.   I am hungry, who wants a hot dog? The quest for bobbles was over; it was time for food and baseball!

During the 3rd inning Papa got up and started talking to a couple people on the other side of the aisle. They chatted for a couple of minutes, smiled and shook hands before Papa returned to his seat. We asked him what that was about. That guy left for a while and just got back to his seat. I wanted him to know that while he was gone I was watching the bobble head he left under his seat to make sure no one took it. I would have stopped them; those bobbles are hard to come by. It is easiest for Papa to see and pay attention to what is right in front of him, and that lonely bobble head under an empty chair was standing in-between him and the game. As we were focused on a great game, Papa was bobble-sitting and we didn’t even know it.

During the 8th inning Papa’s new friend and his female companion from across the aisle stopped by on their way out of the park. He shook Papa’s hand again and said it was nice to know that someone had his back while he had stepped away. He handed Papa a Ramos box and agreed they are hard to come by, they had one and wanted Papa to have their other bobble head. What a smile! Not only did the Nats win, Papa was thrilled that he had scored an extra bobble!

We learned several lessons on this outing.

  1. Make sure Papa always uses the restroom before we leave the house.
  2. Leave earlier to get to games; you never know when you will hit DC traffic. I can’t imagine how crowded the stadium will be for the Jason Werth’s gnome promotional giveaway.
  3. Never seat Papa on the aisle; while he makes friends with his neighbors, it is much too convenient for him to purchase food from the vendors. Thank goodness he doesn’t drink beer!

80 Going on 8

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and as Papa wished me Happy Mother’s Day he said, I know you are not my mother, but sometimes I feel like you are. I smiled, hugged him and agreed. He is just a big kid and it is at times like this I am reminded that like we are definitely Raising Papa.

Papa might be eighty but inside is an eight year old boy who does not like to shower and he will do or say anything to get out of bathing. Doug and I will probably never understand this and Papa will probably never change, but together we will keep trying to make sure he is always clean. Papa is a man that can spend 20 minutes combing his hair, ask repeatedly how do I look? but never want to put a foot in the tub to rinse off. Doug and I realize this is who Papa is; we take a deep breath, smile at his excuses, and then politely insist that he needs to bathe.

I’m not dirty. I don’t see any dirt. Papa was a mechanic and used to come home from work full of grease and grime, he attributes dirt to work and this is how he knew he needed a shower. Papa is visual; if you don’t come home dirty you have not been working. If your hands are not blackened, you are clean. If you are not soiled, no shower is necessary. It is that simple.

The last time I showered I got water in my ear and I think that is what is causing this allergy. A couple months ago he mentioned to his doctor that he had a wax problem in my good ear. Papa’s good ear wears his hearing aid and the suggestion from the audiologist was to make sure he showered and water and shampoo gently splashing in his ear would help to keep it clean, just make sure his ear was dry before he put his hearing aid back in. We are not sure if Papa tried to hold his ear under the water for an extended period of time but he is pretty insistent that when he had a slight cough just as the pollen count was rising this spring that it was caused by water in his ear and not all of our new spring blooms.

I am too old to sweat or I don’t have any germs. Papa, age has nothing to do with it. I can point out the beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead as we walk, but he seems to think this is just the sun in my eyes.  And of course when I bring it up later he has forgotten. All I can do is endearingly pull out everybody’s favorite Christopher Robin quote, call him a silly old bear, and tell him it would be a good idea to freshen up.

But my favorite is when he fakes taking a shower.  We have noticed that on several occasions he has gotten dressed very quickly, happily skips downstairs, and says with a grin I showered this morning. Papa doesn’t move that fast and we knew there was no way he could shower so quickly, so recently I decided to monitor the time I heard the water running in the bathroom. Without a doubt the 43 seconds that the water was turned on wasn’t long enough to warm up, let alone have him step into the shower and get wet, so this time we decided to lightheartedly call him on it. Dad, the shower wasn’t on very long, are you sure you remembered to get in. With a startled look he mentioned the shower was on, you can go check. Yes, it was on, but not very long. I am quick. What did you time me? Smiling, I show him my phone and say as a matter of fact I did. Knowing he has been found out he looks at me with big eyes, and slowly mentions but my towel is wet. This Sunday he came down with a smile and unwaveringly said I really did shower today. Yes Papa, today you did.  I feel pretty good. Success!

Papa uses mouthwash, a lot of mouthwash. He keeps a large bottle of Listerine next to the sink, and a spare bottle under the sink just to make sure he never runs out. He loves to swish his mouth with the blue stuff, and I would not be exaggerating to say he actually practices swishing every chance he gets. He swishes while sipping his orange juice in the morning, while drinking water throughout the day or even as he drinks his milk at the dinner table. I am not a fan of perpetual swishing but Papa is a swisher and thinks this provides suitable oral hygiene. So, sadly the act of actually brushing his teeth is another thing that we have to constantly stay on top of. I brushed them this morning, why would I do that again at night? I am clean. In the past 5 months Papa has spent more time in a dentist chair that he has over the past ten years. My teeth don’t hurt, what is the big deal? While he cannot comprehend how oral hygiene can be related to any other health issues, he does understand we want him to make sure he keeps what teeth he has and that he needs his teeth to eat. Although we can’t say we know exactly what is going on in his mind, we can probably very accurately state that just about every thought is in some way surrounded around food. We have provided him with an electric toothbrush to use in the evenings hoping that this new toy will help with keep his pearly whites sparkling. Now trying to convince him he doesn’t need to bring a 1.5 Liter bottle of mouthwash for a weekend trip is another story…

We have also noticed that there are times Papa has selective forgetfulness. Monday: I walked today. Great, where did you go? How many steps did you take? Did Christina walk with you? Oh, I forgot my counter. I guess he forgot Christina too, she wasn’t aware of him walking.  Tuesday: I walked the big loop today. Awesome, did you remember your counter? I put it in my pocket after I got home. Wednesday: I walked to the corner today; I had my counter, it was about 200 steps. I didn’t ask which corner, but at 200 steps it was probably the corner of our yard. It is a good thing we walk with him in the afternoons.

Every Saturday we tell him to strip his bed so the linens can be washed. Every week? I never heard of people washing their sheets every week.   We know that is not true, Nana washed and ironed their sheets for every seven days for almost 60 years but it is senseless for us to remind him of that. Typically Papa forgets and makes his bed right away so he doesn’t have to take his sheets off or help put them back on later in the day.   What he is really hoping is that we will overlook it and not “make” him change his sheets. Papa helped change his linens this past Saturday and on Sunday morning as he were getting ready for church Doug mentioned to hold off on making his bed until later so he was not rushed. Our eight-year old Papa heard hold off on making the bed and disregarded the rest of the comment. Doug told me not too. Had Doug asked him to strip the sheets that bed would have been made in record time!

The term Grandfather Clause originated in the late 1800’s and states that the law does not apply to certain people because of conditions that existed before the law was passed. This term loosely fits our circumstances, sort of. Sure our household habits are not law, and Papa’s preexisting condition is memory loss, but he is of course a grandfather who should not be held accountable for what he doesn’t understand. Papa really is just a big loveable 80 year old kid and fortunately for him we must grandfather him in to some of our new rules.   He is exempt from trying to appreciate and remember our way of life. We will continue to follow him and load his gently used cup which he would leave sitting on the kitchen counter forever into the dishwasher every night even after we have remind it is a good idea to wash it daily, sometimes just replacing it with a clean cup of the same color without him noticing.   We check his room when he is not around to remove clothes from his closet that he has worn and rehung or make sure he puts his dirty socks into the laundry after each use. We took him shopping for some spiffy new sweats and explained that it is probably not appropriate to wear his pajamas or relaxing clothes to hang out on the porch or walk around the block while he is home during the day, and then put his relaxing clothes in a less convenient place so he is not tempted to wear them indefinitely.

Last night as we were sitting and relaxing Papa said that he wants the three of us to get away for the weekend to unwind. I am not saying we have to go far, we can stay in this state, but it would be nice to get away for a few days. Trying to find out exactly what he had in mind we asked him what he wanted to do, what he was interested in. I like to go to McDonalds. That pretty much sums it up for our big eight year old. We all have tickets for a Nat’s game on Friday evening, but I will look for a local day trip we can take on Saturday so we can all get away and unwind.  And if our trip includes walking we can probably bribe him with a stop at McDonalds on the way home.

Marocco Mayhem

Always up for a bit of family competition we have competed against each other in the Marocco Mayhem – NCAA March Madness bracket for the past couple of years.  This year Papa joined us with his picks and the stakes were even bigger than just competing for family fun.  Like millions of others we took our time choosing the right teams we were certain one of us was bound to have the perfect bracket and win Warren Buffet’s $1,000,000,000.00.

Our family bracket is a small sample of most office or friendly bracket pools.  Some people in our family follow college basketball; they watch games and closely follow stats for the entire season.  They are aware of which players are hot for the tournament and who is currently fighting an injury.  They follow the coaches to know who has carried their team to the end in the past.  They know who plays well together and who buckles under pressure and who fights as the underdog.   They are able to make a fairly educated guess of how the tournament will play out.  I am not in this group….

Then we have the middle group.  They follow some games and see a few sports highlights on the evening news.  They know a handful of teams well enough to carry on a conversation and are even able to throw a few players or coaches’ names around.  They have allegiances to their alma maters, but don’t necessarily follow the complete lineup of this year’s top 64.  They want to know the teams, but really don’t have the time and/or energy to commit to “know all about it”.  So, they are able to make a somewhat informed guess as they fill in their brackets.  I wish I were in this group…

We also have the guessers.  People like me.  I admit it; I look at two teams, look at their ranks, and flat-out guess.   Team A sounds better than team B, or I like orange over blue or that is a fun city, or I know someone who went to school there.  Sure us guessers might recall a bit of a conversation, (especially when it is repeated numerous times by others who think we are not listening) such as Virginia has a great team this year, that has not happened since Ralph Sampson in the early eighties or it is a great year for the Big 10 (or 12 or 14…) this year, but none of that plays a part in our picks.  For me it really is just a guess.

We explained the bracket to Papa and we had every intention of sitting at the computer with him while he made his picks.  His main concern was who do I pay, how much is it, and what do we win?  Time got the best of us and before we knew what happened it was 12:55 on March 20th, and we had five minutes to get Papa’s picks in.   He had just left an appointment and was in the car with Doug so we put him on speakerphone while I ran through the bracket asking him his picks.  I would name two teams and Papa would give me his winner.  Unfazed that time was not on his side I kept trying to speed things along but Papa would not be rushed.   He took his time asking me to repeat some of the match-ups and meticulously exaggerating each name in his response back to me adding extra syllables.    Flo-ree-a-da.  Con-nect-tic-cut.  Syr-cues.  Oh-ka-la-ho-ma.  Virginia. Michigan State. Michigan.  You already said Michigan, why are there two Michigans?  To speed things up I said Tiara’s school and the other Michigan.  Where is Baylor? Lou-S-ville.  Chrig-ton, never heard of them.  Christina’s school plays Tiara’s school that is a hard one to choose…  I still am amazed at how we went through an entire bracket in 5 minutes.

Every year there is a fairy tale story during March Madness, an upset or underdog who fights his way to the final games.   Papa chose well, he was the big upset in our league, our Cinderella.  The time was slowly ticking down, Papa had already lost his size 11.5EEE glass leather slipper as he was running away from the ball another appointment, and he took the league as the top winner.  He may not have won a billion dollars, but he beat the people who follow college basketball, the people who want to follow college basketball and he also beat the rest of us.  Success!

Marocco Mayhem 2014
Marocco Mayhem 2014

Endnote:  Why does March Madness end in April?  Maybe a better name would be Spring Psychosis.

Fitbit

Walking is great for people with memory loss to help improve cognitive functions.  Several of the neurologists we have seen have advised us to work on getting Papa started on a light exercise and walking program to help slow his memory decline.  In addition to his various puzzles and other thought activities, they have explained that walking or other forms of physical exercise will help to improve brain health by increasing the blood flow and transporting more oxygen to the brain.  Consistent exercise should help form new neuron connections and hopefully slow the brain from any further atrophy.  Although Papa talks as if it were a short time ago, it has been over twenty years since he would walk for hours on the streets of Sun City as he tried to stay fit.  Since that time he now shuffles as he walks; his steps are shorter, his pace is slower, and his balance is not what it used to be.  This type of gait change is very common in people suffering from memory loss, and some studies even suggest this is one of the first noticeable changes for a person developing dementia.

Recently Papa said he wants to get back into it, and reminding him of the travel and outdoor activities he will be doing this summer visiting relatives is a wonderful incentive for him to get started.   Now that the spring has arrived and the snow has melted (sort of) we are taking regular walks together each afternoon in addition to his short jaunts to the corner as he waits for us to arrive home each afternoon.  During these outings we make sure he has a clear path and warn him in advance of steps or large cracks in the sidewalk, or anything else he could possibly trip over.  I conveniently switch from his left to his right as we walk after noticing that even a large slope in the sidewalk can cause him to veer towards that side.  Each time we walk around the block we hear the same comments: This is quite a hill, I am already winded.   Don’t worry Papa; it is all downhill from here!  That house has a lot of toys they must have a bunch of kids.  Yes, he is an Army Chaplain and his family will be getting ready to move this summer.  What kind of tree is that?  That is a Magnolia tree, wait until you see it flower, it is beautiful.   That house is taller than the rest; I would not want to walk up those front stairs.  Me either!!

I wanted Papa to be able to help set his own goals and monitor his fitness progress, so we purchased a Fitbit for him.  This activity tracker is small enough to fit into his pocket and will keep track of how many steps he takes on a given day.  While it actually monitors more than that, we have turned off the other features on his device to keep it simple.  I can show him his online status to see if he is meeting his goals, but he also able to monitor his own progress and   frequently pulls his Fitbit out of his pocket to check his count.  Papa definitely wants to make sure he is getting credit for each step that he takes!  What we need to work on however is for him to realize it is ok to exceed his set goal.  The challenge for Papa seems to be to try and hit his daily step count exactly and not waste any extra steps after his target number has been reached.  Other than getting a mental workout trying to count how many steps he will need at the end of the day before he puts on his relaxing clothes, there is no prize to hit the goal number exactly.

Each walk does not need to be an excursion out of Papa’s comfort zone; we have measured the mileage around our block and local area so Papa has a sense of distance.  We have conveniently driven to the bank with him and walked home to increase his walks and continue to familiarize him with our neighborhood.  Last week on a sunny day he managed to walk both directions to the bank and back for a total of two miles with a brief stop for a Slurpee on the way home.  Success!  Fortunately there is a bench on the route so Doug and Papa could relax for a few moments.   I am not in a hurry, why would I want to drink and walk at the same time? I never heard of anyone doing that before.  So they sat and watched the cars drive by as he finished his drink.  Leave it to Papa, he has also found, and used, the one port-a-potty on their one-mile route home.   I worry what we will do once that has been removed….  Papa was very proud of himself for walking to the bank and back, but did mention he is not in a hurry to do that every time he has to cash a check.

End note:  Please let me know if you have a Fitbit and want to friend Papa to see his progress.

Anxiety

Papa has an appointment with his neurologist this morning.  Since moving to Virginia he has been to an internist, an audiologist and the dentist, but he has not yet seen his new neurologist.  We have been trying to space his various doctor appointments because he seems to get a bit nervous about going, he worries about not only how he is getting to a new office, but also what he is going to say to the doctor, if they will take his insurance, or when he will have to return to see them.  We have assured him that one of us will always be with him for his appointments; we will work out all of the scheduling and finances, help him to talk to the staff, and make sure he puts all future visits onto his calendar hanging on the back of his door, but he still feels a bit uneasy getting used to new places and different doctors.

We have had company for the past two weeks.  It was wonderful to have a house full of people, big dinners around the table, and spending our evenings sitting around just talking or playing games and, of course, holding my granddaughter.  This was a big contrast compared to the quiet routines we have set with Papa over the past few months.  I noticed that after the first week of our visitors he was much quieter than usual; he was just trying to follow the conversations vice trying to join in.  I realized that many of the conversations we had held prior to our guests arriving revolved around him in the past or our day to day activities whereas adding more people into our table talks the discussions would often quickly jump from one topic to another and they were frequently future based or open ended items which can be confusing.  It must have been like following a ping pong match, turning and looking at each person as they were talking only to then turn as the next person responded, it was hard for him to keep up.  During the times he was quiet I noticed he would tap his foot, drum his hands on the table, or run his fingers over a small comb in his pocket, and I would use these habits as my cue to quietly direct the conversation over to him for a moment.  We had heard all of these sounds over the years; he would often make them with Nana when the conversations became overwhelming just to change the topic.  She would say in an exasperated voice Wayne and he would act as if he had not done anything.   I can only imagine that he still hears her voice and misses her reprimands during any overwhelming moments as well.

We did not realize the amount of anxiety Papa felt about today’s doctor visit until we woke up this morning and realized he had been quietly sitting up all night.  I quickly asked him what he was up thinking about before I left for work: I thought you had to leave by 5:30 – It is ok, I am taking my time today.  I hope the kids made it home safely – They are still driving, they stopped overnight and will be home today, we will call them this evening and make sure they are safe and sound.  I have a great family, you can’t say my grandkids don’t have a good home – Yes, we do have a great family, we are all very blessed.  Is Doug going with me today? – Yes, Doug will be with you today when you go meet the new doctor.  I am almost out of my dizzy medicine – We will get more.  He calls Aricept his dizzy medicine.  He used to have bouts of dizziness at various times during the day, and he said that his Aricept helps that.  The bottle has a warning that it may cause dizziness, but to him he believes he takes it to combat his dizziness. If it helps his dizziness, real or imagined, it is all the more reason for him to take it.

Driving to work today I realized we will have to take the next few weeks getting back into our quiet evening routines.  Having Papa help with dinner again when we get home, rather than have five people in the kitchen all doing something different.  Starting a new puzzle in the evenings where we can talk as we are looking for pieces rather than the stress of always looking at someone and perhaps being at a loss for words; and with fewer people it will be easier to direct the conversation for him to talk about times that are much easier for him to remember.  And fortunately baseball season has started so we have evening games to look forward to watching.  It has not taken long for him learn which channels televise spring training and to encourage him to become a Nationals fan.  Go Nats!

Endnote:  I received a call moments after Papa’s scheduled appointment time asking for a list of his medications.  Before I could send one, Papa remembered he had carried one with him today.  Success!  I just hope that is not what he was up all night thinking about.

Everything in Moderation

Most people have daily routines, and Papa is no different.  After waking up and getting dressed and ready for the day he typically eats breakfast and gets ready for his morning TV.  Most mornings he eats at home but then takes a quick drive to a local restaurant for a cup of coffee.  Papa is still looking for a group to socialize with in the mornings and this past week he expanded his search for a hangout to try Burger King, although he emphatically states their coffee is not nearly as good as McDonalds.  We love how determined he is and next week he mentioned he feels comfortable enough to try a few new local places.  Depending on his timing in the morning he makes his bed before or after the first Walker show. Papa is very predictable and sticks to his routines.

I surprised Papa Friday and came home from work before lunch to spend the afternoon with him and his first comment was I don’t know why my neck hurts but I couldn’t make my bed.  I asked what happened and assured him that an occasionally unmade bed is no big deal then I suggested an anti-inflammatory and pulled out the heating pad.  Doug gave him a quick massage to see if he could work out the kinks, and he spent the rest of the evening relaxing in his easy chair and pondering over what had caused it.  I wonder why this happened, I had a still neck once before but that was when I was working on a car engine.  I don’t do that type of mechanical work anymore.  During the evenings many conversations my mind kept wandering to wonder if he really only had a stiff neck one other time or if he only remembers it happening one other time.  I was envious I can’t count the number of times I have strained my neck.

This morning at breakfast I asked him how his neck was feeling and he said much better.  The heating pad and medicine helped me but I think Doug cured it with a rubdown. Doug felt like Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, and was glad he could help.  Then it occurred to us!  Papa spent countless hours last week working jigsaw puzzles like he was training for an Olympic competition.  Leaning over the table looking for specific pieces to put together probably caused his stiff neck.  We all laughed and mentioned that he is going to have to slowly build up his puzzle workouts, and a walk around the block every so often might help to cross-train.

Jigsaw puzzles are great for a variety or reasons, but especially someone whose memory skills are declining.  Not only are they a great social outlet for us to sit facing one another and talk without having a TV on, but also they are a mental workout.  A puzzle builds concentration and uses your mind using spatial reasoning to find a piece that would fit due to color shape or size, dexterity putting the pieces together and logic knowing why a piece will or will not work in a specific place.   Looking for the same pieces each time we are sitting at the table helps to build Papa’s short-term memory skills, and the feeling of accomplishment watching the picture come together is a great boost of self-esteem.  I loved hearing Papa’s excitement as he said Got it! or I knew I could find that piece! or Almost there!  I am so proud of Papa and look forward to building many more puzzles with him.

Papa’s first puzzle was a picture of different types of ice cream, and when it was completed on Wednesday, Doug picked up an ice cream treat for us to celebrate.  Thursday while Papa and I were out on our weekly “dinner night” he asked to stop and get a frame for the completed puzzle and he also picked up a new puzzle to start working on. He really enjoyed watching the puzzle come together and the feeling of success once it was finished.  While we pieced or puzzled or jig-sawed (or whatever true puzzlers call it) together Papa would tell me how he and Nana had worked puzzles while they were stationed in France over fifty years ago.  He was very happy to be reintroduced to an old hobby, especially one that reminded him of Nana.

The new puzzle was out of the box minutes after arriving home and while we were beginning to put together the border, Papa started asking questions.  I wonder how they make puzzles?  I wonder what the biggest/hardest/______(fill in the blank) puzzle is?  These pieces are all the same shape and are pretty tiny.  Thankful for YouTube we looked up how puzzles are made for the next 45 minutes.  We never realized the different cuts of puzzles, and we will spend a bit more time being selective before we pick out our next puzzle.  We both decided random pieces are more interesting than a strip or grid pattern, and really worked his memory to find a specific shape.  But until we go puzzle shopping again, we will be working on a panoramic view of Times Square and we will have to keep reminding Papa will have to remember that we are not in competition, he will have to complete his puzzles in moderation, just like we eat ice cream.

Papa's First Puzzle!  SUCCESS!!
Papa’s First Puzzle! SUCCESS!!

Tonight at dinner Papa glanced over to the other end of the table with our puzzle laid out and asked, I wonder how a puzzle is made?  Maybe in the next few weeks we’ll work on teaching him how to use a computer so he can get to YouTube….

Reference:  Cobble Hill makes a variety of puzzles with beautiful artwork, and we look at them again for our next purchase.  The family puzzle is a random cut with three different sizes of pieces and was the perfect size for Papa at this time, but they have wide assortment of sizes ranging from 35 pieces to 2000.