I called this morning to find out how we should go about reducing the medication that seems to be making things worse.  Through his nurse, last week we were instructed to call back after a few days on the newly increased dosage of the Seroquel.  When she called back, she simply said that we needed to find a Psychiatrist to manage the dementia and the meds.  We have just been set adrift and are on our own.

This University of Kansas Neurologist specializing in Parkinson’s is the one on whom we have depended for about fifteen years now.  There are very few options where the kind of expertise needed to deal with Mary Ann’s complex version of Parkinson’s is available.  KU med center is one of the few places in the country.  None of the rest are close enough to do us any good.

I need to find out whether or not he is still willing to continue prescribing the medicines dealing with the motor issues associated with the Parkinson’s.  Then there are some meds that have impact on the dementia, but were prescribed by the Neurologist to deal with the Parkinson’s.  He also prescribed some of the meds that are intended exclusively to help with the dementia.  What happens when we need a refill?

When I asked during last week’s phone call if there were any Psychiatrist’s at the med center to whom we could be referred to manage the medication the nurse curtly told me that they were not taking new patients.

I have begun checking to find out if there is anyone here in this area who is competent in dealing with Lewy Body Dementia [LBD].  It is enough different from Alzheimer’s Dementia [AD], that it will not be adequate to simply be aware of the usual treatments for AD.  So far the responses seem confirm my impression that we are underserved in this area with good Psychiatric/Neurological care.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I have concluded that generally the medical community loses interest in folks in the later stages of life.  Hospice does a wonderful job of helping people during those years with end of life care.  They, however, are not in the business of treating the diseases that bring people to that point.

I will seek out the best care that I can locate here in this area and try to draw the best out of whomever she sees for care.  My goal remains to have the best quality of life possible for as long as possible in the face of a progressive disease process that we cannot stop.

I am apprehensive about how things will go now that we have discontinued the extra morning pill that seemed to make things worse.  It is a pretty powerful medicine.  Reducing it can have a negative impact.  Tonight Mary Ann seems unable to speak clearly — the words are slurred and pretty much unintelligible.  It is making the simplest communication very difficult.  It took a long time to determine that she wanted to sit up on the side of the bed and have some water.  When I gave her the water, she seemed unable to use the straw.  The years of experience giving people wine from a chalice during my active years as a Pastor came in handy as I helped her drink directly from the cup.

This morning Mary Ann got up very early again after a number of times up earlier in the night.  I actually can’t seem to remember how much sleep I got.  I did get to bed pretty early for me.  I think I got a little more between Mary Ann’s dreams.  She was again hallucinating constantly.  This morning she was actually pretty entertaining with some pretty silly comments.  She ate breakfast, then Bath Aide Zandra came.  She did not seem to do well and afterward was unclear that it was Zandra who had been here.

She napped a bit, rested with her head down some of the time.  Lunch was a little harder than usual to get accomplished.  Supper was tough since she just couldn’t hold her head and the upper part of her body up for me to feed her.  Holding her up and feeding her is really very difficult to do.  When we finished, she had eaten a fair amount of meatloaf, if little else.

Volunteer Tamara came this evening while I got to the grocery store.  It has been tough to get out lately even to do the basics.  Mary Ann is now in bed, but she seems to be having trouble settling.

I am dreading the task of finding competent medical care, developing a good working relationship with him/her, and adjusting to whatever changes in medications and treatments may be involved.  It is hard to walk into a new situation in which I bring 23years of intense study on this particular patient, but those with whom I am sharing come with the confidence that they are the experts whose decisions must be accepted as the final word after a few minutes of conversation.  We have been spoiled by having doctors who have listened well and communicated well.

I am looking for some good to come from this transition.  It often happens that paths we would not have chosen bring us to a better place than we might have gone otherwise.  I can hope.

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I think spending the day last Saturday while Mary Ann was sleeping, moving into and through the feelings about where we seem to be headed allowed me to listen better and and come to terms with where Mary Ann is now in the disease process.

In the phone call about the fax I sent last week, Dr. Pahwa’s assistant relayed the option that Mary Ann see a Psychiatrist to look over the medicine regimen to see if there are some better options for her.

When we talked with Dr. Pahwa today, it was apparent that the Psychiatrist option made sense if I was still uncomfortable with the Seroquel.  We would need to use a local Psychiatrist where we live (an hour from KU Med) since one of the main alternative meds demands monthly blood tests to monitor it.  I have read enough to know, and Dr. Pahwa confirmed, for the sort of dementia Mary Ann has, Seroquel is by far the better choice.  The alternative also is likely to make the fainting worse.

Here is the heart of the matter.  There is no one around this area who knows the unique characteristics of Parkinson’s as well as Dr. Pahwa.  I suppose it sounds arrogant to say so, but I would have to explain the uniqueness of Mary Ann’s complex version of Parkinson’s and the character of this dementia to someone who is a generalist and does not focus all their attention on Parkinson’s.

I know of nowhere to get better information on what to do and when in dealing with the complexities of Mary Ann’s expression of Parkinson’s.  Every time in the last 23 years we have gone to anyone other than the Dr. Pahwa and Dr. Koller before him, Mary Ann has done poorly.  She has been where she is now in some ways at least twice before, once 14 years ago and once about 8 years ago.  The first time it was Dr. Koller and the second time it was Dr. Pahwa who brought her back to a high level of functionality each time within weeks of seeing them.

While he was sensitive in how he approached it, and actually simply responded with a look that said more than enough when I said it, Mary Ann is doing as well as we can hope given how long she has been battling the Parkinson’s.  Changing meds in some elusive search for the perfect combination restoring her magically to a former place in the journey would be a very risky exercise in futility.  What might be gained is not worth the risk of what could be lost.  Those are my words, but he agreed immediately.

If we lower the Seroquel, we opt for less sleep time and more hallucinations.  Selfishly, I don’t think I could handle that result.  The two days and nights she sleeps, allows me to sleep.  The times there are streaming hallucinations already push me right to the outer edge of my capacity to cope.

It is time to accept that we are where we need to be.  This is our new normal.

We talked some more about enrolling in Hospice.  We will have a family talk this Saturday when the kids and I are together.  If Mary Ann is awake and alert, we will certainly include her in that conversation.  If she is not, I will talk frankly with her about it.  I have already begun doing so.  I talked openly with Dr. Pahwa, as we were together with Mary Ann in the Examination Room.  I talked about the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order that would be expected for the full Hospice program.

I will try to get someone from Hospice to come over to the house before I leave Thursday morning for three days of solitude at the Spiritual Renewal Center in Oklahoma.  I will also try to get any input the Cardiologist might be willing to give that could help inform the decision.

I mentioned in last night’s post that Mary Ann was beginning to hallucinate.  She also fainted two or three times during that first commode trip of the night.  She did not sleep soundly through the night.  There were a number of trips to the commode.  As happens when we transition from sleep days to hallucination days, she was up more than once an hour in the last half of the night.  I finally fed her a single serving container of applesauce and took her out in front of the television with the promise that she would not get up.  Then I got a few minutes more sleep, until the alarm went off, got showered and dressed.  By that time, she had, of course, gotten up and was on the floor outside the bedroom door.  She did get a scrape on her leg, from what I am not sure — there was nothing obvious that she might have hit.

She took her pills and ate breakfast in time for Bath Aide Zandra to get her showered, hair washed and dressed in time to leave for the Neurologist appointment in Kansas City.

She had pretty much shut down and moved into her head on her lap mode as we moved from the bedroom to the door to the garage.  I have never had a more difficult time physically, getting her out of the chair, to the steps, down the steps, to the car, and into the passenger seat.  I almost had to carry her.

We made it into the car.  She had her head down the entire trip to KC.  Getting her out of the car and transferred directly to her wheelchair went much better there — probably because there was no walking, nor were there any steps.  In the past, steps have been her best thing.  That is one of the  unusual characteristics of Parkinson’s.  The line of the step make it easier to get her feet to move than on a flat plane.

In the doctor’s office, she was in leaning forward mode, although not all the way to head in lap position.  She was minimally responsive during most of the time with the doctor.

We agreed to fill out an assessment that will be used in a study on the impact of non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s — all the problems other than the ability to move arms and legs, and keep balance.  The survey took a very long time.  Mary Ann was really struggling to respond.  I am not sure how helpful we were to the study.  One interesting quirk was that while she managed to say the months of the year backwards, December, November, etc., she could not track with another request.  She was asked to count backwards from 100 by sevens.  I was glad I wasn’t asked to do that.  Kelly, who was administering that part of the survey, explained it and repeated the instructions a number of times.  Mary Ann’s first response was to just count backwards from ten to one.  Kelly repeated that it was counting from one hundred, subtracting seven each time.  She then said what is seven subtracted from one hundred.  Mary Ann answered, three.  She never connected that Kelly said 100, no matter how many times she explained it. Mary Ann always responded with ten.

Admittedly, it was hard to watch as she was asked to write a sentence of any sort, and she made some tiny scribbles and was not able, of course, to read it or say what she wrote.  She was to draw a simple shape matching one on the paper in front of her.  She made a couple of attempts, but to no avail.  Mary Ann was always very good at drawing.  She illustrated a children’s book she wrote many years ago.  She never tried to get it published, but it is very cute.

I know she hates how much she has lost over the years.  It has become just a fact of life now.  It is part of our current normal.

When we got home Mary Ann ate some thick and hearty steak soup with my help, finally falling asleep in her lemon meringue pie. She was refusing to let me help her at that point.  She napped in bed for a couple of hours, got up, ate the pie (this time letting me help), and soon headed back to bed.  Of course, I cannot be sure how tonight will go, but we are on the increasing hallucination time if her current cycle of symptom changes continues.

Today was a day in which the facts of our situation seemed quite clear. Having worked through the strong feelings about the matter last Saturday, and a Sunday morning a month ago, seemed to make it easier to be rational about the information available to us today about where Mary Ann is in this journey with Parkinson’s tagging along.  Dr. Pahwa reminded us how long our battle with Parkinson’s has been going on — twenty-three years now

It is time to accept where we are in the journey.  We don’t have to like it.

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In forty years of calling on the sick, I can’t tell you how many times I heard from people who had gone through a surgery after they had recuperated, “I didn’t know how bad I felt before I had the surgery until now, now that I feel good again.”  I don’t think I realized just how heavy the weight was that I felt, thinking Mary Ann was declining at a faster and faster pace.

I can’t know how long the feeling will last since this is such a roller coaster ride we are on, but for the moment, it feels as if a deep and heavy sadness has been lifted.   Like a little child, I tend to act out when I am struggling with something.  I act out by getting grumpy.  I make no promises to anyone that I will now be nicer for a while, but there is a profound sense of relief.

Our Cardiologist, Dr. M, was a parishioner for the last dozen years of my ministry.  We have come to appreciate him very much.  He combines a lot of traits that a patient looks for in his/her doctor.  He takes the time to listen well.  Not only that, but he takes what the Patient and Caregiver have said into account when making decisions.  He is decisive in a way that respects those whose lives are impacted by those decisions.

He has made clear that he is not in the business of predicting the future and cannot answer the “how long” questions.  What he will do is disclose what he knows, analyze it and make a logical assessment of the situation.  While I am always looking for something that help clarify where we are on our journey, there simply are not definitive answers to my questions.

Today, I took an approach that allowed Dr. M to analyze the data with me and compare where we are to where we were eight months ago (the last round of tests).  He also looked back farther so that we could get a sense of the trajectory we are on, at least in terms of Mary Ann’s heart and kidneys.  The Neurologist is the one to ask about the Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  The heart issues in particular provide the most concern in terms of longevity.

Dr M’s look at some key indicators seemed to reveal, that while Mary Ann’s heart and kidney health has declined, in most ways she has been moving back and forth along a pretty level trajectory.  Her numbers have been worse at times in the past than they are now.  They also have been better than they are now.

The conclusion seems to be that Mary Ann is fairly stable, not on a trajectory that is taking her quickly toward free fall.  Mary Ann and I are fully aware that something precipitous could happen, but the truth is, that is so for all of us.  The Parkinson’s itself has been moving very slowly.  There are not likely to be dramatic changes in its progress.  The Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, is another matter.  It is very unpredictable.  It changes in fits and starts and can turn on a dime in a new direction or return to a better place thought never to be seen again.  Other than trying to control the Autonomic malfunctions to the degree we can, we have only the Exelon patch to help with cognitive issues.

As to her heart and kidneys, it is the high blood pressure that is the enemy.  Today Dr. M responded favorably to my suggestion that we consider the addition of  Mestinon to Mary Ann’s medication regimen.  That drug has the potential of helping control the fainting by raising her BP only when she stands up, the time it drops thereby precipitating a fainting episode.  It is an off-label use of the drug, but there are no major concerns that militate against trying it.  It does not conflict with anything she is currently using.

My intention is to cut in half the dosage of the Midodrine (okay with Dr. M) for a few days, then add the Mestinon. It is always wise to change only one med’s dosage at a time so that any problematic changes that might occur will be easier to trace to the source.  I will try to take her BP as often as possible and ask our Parish Nurse if she would stop by to check it also. The goal is to use as little Midodrine as possible since it raises BP all the time, not just when standing.  BP is highest when lying down, since it does not have to fight gravity.

The information received today through Dr. M’s analysis helps in a couple of ways.  Both Mary Ann and I perceived what he said in a positive way.  I feel a sense of relief that revealed just how down I had felt about her perceived decline.  We understand her to be pretty stable and on a fairly flat trajectory in the progression of the heart and kidney problems.  Another way that we are helped by having more clarity on where we are in this journey, is that we can use our ability to deal with the challenges more efficiently.  We can’t afford wasting our days fighting things we cannot change.   We can’t afford to waste our energy because we are in denial about the realities of our situation.  As I have said before, a certain amount of well-placed denial can be very helpful in living through our days as meaningfully as possible.  However, we need to know what to accept and what to fight.  We don’t want to accept something when we should be fighting it, nor do we want to fight something that it is time to accept.  Today helped us better discern what to fight and what to accept.

At least tonight, my assessment is that I had moved toward acceptance of a more rapid decline than is actually happening.  I feel more bold now about stretching the limits of what we are doing.  I will, of course, not be foolish about tackling things that put us at an unhealthy risk.  A certain amount of risk, however, is necessary to stay alive and well.  After so many years of practice, we have ways of dealing with most of the problems that arise when things do not go well.  If we try something and it goes badly, we will deal with it and try something else.

I guess it has been a good day!

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First there was little sleeping, then there was a lot of sleeping.  Not only did she nap for over five and a half hours during the day yesterday, she went to bed earlier than usual, slept through the night, and was slow in getting up this morning.

The question in my mind this morning was, have we increased the Seroquel too much.  Will she now be sleepy all the time and move to a lower quality of life on account of it.  Is my decision to add another 25mg of Seroquel hurting Mary Ann?  When we saw the Neurologist last, he increased the dosage by 25mg and said that if the increase was not enough to deal with the hallucinationa and restlessness at night, I could raise the dosage another 25mg.  That is what I have done.

While I don’t yet know the answer to my question about whether or not the increase is too much, today she has stayed awake.  Tonight when I asked about it, she said she was tired all day.  Her tiredness could be the result of the Seroquel.

It is so very difficult to adjust the medicine to just the right amount, what the doctors call titrating the dosage.  The variables are many and complex.  Sometimes it takes a while for a change in dosage to have effect.  Different people don’t always react the same way.  Seroquel is a potent drug.  There are risks, serious risks.  Probably the most serious problem that can emerge is Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome [NMS].  If I understand correctly, that problem very quickly can cause death.  It is an uncommon side effect of the drug, but nonetheless a risk.  Again, if I understand correctly (disclaimer: I am not a doctor), stopping Seroquel suddenly can also trigger serious problems.

Starting new meds, stopping meds, changing the dosage is like running through a grove of thornapple trees.  Someone might get hurt.  Mary Ann is always involved in the decision-making on the meds, but generally, she trusts my judgment on what she should take and when.  She is pill averse, so she takes as few as possible.  She will on occasion simply refuse to add more.  Most of the time she accepts what the Neurologist prescibes, and what I recommend.  That is not a responsibility that I relish, but, like it or not, it comes with the territory.

Caregivers often have a great deal of responsibility for how their Loved One does.  We are the ones who have a daily awareness of how things are going. Good doctors listen to us and take into consideration what we think is needed.  Again, that is a lot of responsibility to have.

I asked for help with Mary Ann’s (and my) sleepless nights and the disturbing hallucinations.  I asked.  The answer was to increase the Seroquel. I may have gotten more than I asked for.  This morning I was very concerned, actually, I was scared.  At the moment, since she was awake all day, I my concern has been mitigated a bit.  We will see how tonight goes.  The information on Seroquel suggests that the drowsiness that comes when it is first taken often diminishes.

What we both long for is for Mary Ann to be awake during the day, and asleep at night.  Is that too much to ask?  Probably, but we can hope.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.