Mary Ann had vivid dreams all night long, waking often, sometimes only minutes after the last time up.  Even though she was up, each time her visual experience and awareness included whatever she was dreaming.  The people now had a baby.  She and they were in Alaska.  More than once when she awoke, she was in Alaska.  She was never here at the house sitting on her bed.  Each time I had to try to convince or just raise my voice and insist that she lie back down.  This went on throughout the entire night.

Of course, more than once she wanted to get up and get dressed — mostly to go back home.  Once I woke up with her sitting down on my bed almost on me, unaware of where she was.  When I woke at 7:15am (having been up with her at least two or three times an hour until 6:15am before that) she was sitting on the edge of her bed, pj’s off, determined to get dressed.  She, of course can’t do so without someone getting the clothes and putting them on her.

I got her dressed.  Then we went out for pills and breakfast.  She was doing lots of hallucinating during the course of that time, but they were more manageable than last night.

After eating, I left her at the table since she seemed settled there.  I asked if she was okay there while I took my shower and cleaned up.  She said yes.  I was glad she did since part of the reason for my leaving her sitting there is that the chair she is in is heavy and has arms, not allowing her to hop up and fall.  She has now been sitting at the table for over two hours.

She did manage to lose track of how she was holding her cup of ice water and ended up pouring it out on the table.  Much of the time she was sitting there she was making eating motions as if she was picking things up from the table and putting them in her mouth.  After a while she lay her head on the table.  I asked her a couple of times if she wanted to go in and lie down for a nap, saying that it would be better to nap earlier in the day than later.  Once she sort of snapped back that she was fine — the tone was, “just leave me alone.”

Her head has been up and down at various times.  I headed out to the dining room every ten minutes or so to ask if she needed anything.  She has stayed there all morning, always responding that she is fine..

County Health Nurse Linda came by and gave us out H1N1 flu shots.  Mary Ann was a little responsive to her.  Later I asked if she was hungry.  She said yes.  I reheated the half of a hamburger sandwich from yesterday and brought her Pepsi and chips.  She had her face pretty much in her plate and got a bite or two of the hamburger.  Each time I offered any sort of help, she refused it.

Then she dumped the Pepsi out on the table as she had her water earlier.  After cleaning it up, I got a cup that was left over from when our Granddaughters were here.  It is a small plastic cup with a tight lid and a large plastic straw that reduces the leakage should it go over.  That is now there for her to use.  She did drop in on her chair, but nothing leaked out.

Finally, after a long time of getting no food, I asked her if she wanted any of Mary’s Jello, Cool Whip and cottage cheese salad.  I brought it and asked if she would let me put the spoonfuls into her mouth.  She agreed.  At least she got some nourishment.

After a bathroom trip, she wanted to return to the table.  The television is on, a loud submarine war movie that sometimes catches her attention.  Her head is on the table at various times.  I continue to check on her and ask if she wants to move back to her transfer chair by the television (her usual spot) or lie down in the bedroom for a while.

Last night returned me to the edge of my capacity to handle Mary Ann’s needs here.  Once a few years ago, when discussing Mary Ann’s care needs with our daughter, Lisa, who served as an Administrator of a very large multi-level care facility for the older population (CCRC), she said that at that point already, her Mom would not qualify for a room in an Assisted Living facility.  She was already then past that point into full nursing home care.

The person I cared for last night would need to be in a locked Dementia wing.  I just came back from checking on her at the table, asking if she was okay there.  She said she would be there for a while.  I then went back and asked her where she was.  She answered, “Kansas City.”  Thinking she was just confusing Kansas City with where we live now since they are so close together, I asked if she was in our town, our house, sitting at our dining room table.  She looked around as if she was trying to figure that out, but did not answer.

Today I am looking at two options that seem unacceptable to me.  First of all, right now, this moment, what she is doing is something I can handle.  Last night’s experience would not be tolerable to me for more that a day or two, if that, certainly not for days and weeks and months and years.

At the same time, the thought of Mary Ann in a Dementia Unit all day and all night is intolerable to me.  At one point yesterday, she asked about my lunches with Jim and John the day before.  She was asleep all day. I had no idea she actually had a conscious awareness of those events (John’s was a coffee).  Then this morning when she seemed to be in hallucination mode, she asked what Jim had to say, referring to the lunch day before yesterday. If she was living completely in a world of hallucinations, it would be one thing.  She is back and forth.

Then, if she were to be in such a unit full time, I would not be able to tolerate leaving her alone for long periods of time.  The thought of spending most of the time, most days, in the Dementia Unit with her, is pretty tough to take.  I have been in Dementia wings, making calls on folks for a few decades, experiencing all that comes with such a place, even at best.

Add to that the loss of much of what we have worked hard over the years to save for our last years and for our kids is a tough pill to swallow.  If using most of those resources would provide a good quality of life for us it would be one thing.  The option it would provide is hardly that.

She ate only a few bites of supper.  She would not allow me to help.  With great difficulty I have now gotten Mary Ann to change for bed and lie down.  She has been completely convinced that she is not at home.  She has tried again and again this evening to get me to take her home.  We have walked around the inside of the house and to the front door.

I am going to check with the online group to see if others have had an increase in Seroquel do the opposite of its intended purpose of reducing hallucinations.  Again this evening, I had to be virtually at her side every minute, constantly trying to connect her with reality, almost completely unable to do so.

I wonder if there will be any sleep tonight.  At the moment I am not very hopeful about that.

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Is it a dream?  Is it real?  Are there one of them or two?  Do you see that?  Where did it go?  Who are those people?

I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be to sort out all the messages that Mary Ann’s visual cortex is sending to her awareness of what is around her. It would be one thing if all the messages were confused.  That would be horrible to experience.  The insidious nature of Lewy Body Dementia is that there is not just one consistent pattern of processing reality.  Someone with LBD or in Mary Ann’s Case PDD [Parkinson’s Disease Dementia – a Dementia with Lewy Bodies] can be absolutely clear and lucid and sharp mentally one minute or hour or day and virtually unable to comprehend where she is or what is being said to her the next minute — no exaggeration, the next minute.

The online group of caregiving Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia often contains posts from someone who is constantly searching the landscape for studies on LBD and related matters.  Coincidentally, the day after the appointment with the Ophthalmologist about Mary Ann’s eye problems, there was a post containing the notes from a presentation by Swaraj Bose, MD, a neuro-ophthalmologist at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UCI.  Here is the purpose of his talk according to the Support Group Leader, Vera James: “His main reason for speaking with us was to give us a fair idea of the eye problems and why do the eyes behave in the way they do in Parkinson’s/PSP/Atypical Parkinson’s and what the caregiver can do.”

You can imagine how pleased I was to see that timely post. What happens is that the Lewy bodies, sort of like the lesions that build up from cholesterol, build up on neurons.  With LBD and PDD, they often attach themselves to the cells in the Visual Cortex. That is one of the ways LBD and PDD are different from Alzheimer’s Dementia [AD]

The notes from the meeting included this comment: “Visual perception is defective in probable DLB. The defective visual perception plays a role in development of visual hallucinations, delusional misidentifications, visual agnosias, and visuoconstructive disability charcteristic of DLB.”

Here are part of the notes:

Common eye complaints:
#1 – Related to disturbance of down-gaze PSP.
– Difficulty in coordinating eye movements while reading even if their vision is normal, especially through their bifocal glasses.
– Difficulty in eating because they cannot look down at their food on the plate.
– Difficulty in going downstairs and stepping off curbs.

#2 – Related to lack of convergence/ fast and slow tracking- Parkinson/PSP/ Atypical PD. (Note:  Convergence means to bring the eyes together)
– Difficulty in focusing, words run into each other.
– Hard to shift down to the beginning of the next line automatically after reaching the end of the first line.
– Inability to quickly move eyes up or down.
– Inability to track moving objects or maintain eye contact.
– Double vision. One eye sees one thing, the other eye sees another and the brain brings them together. Kind of the way 3D glasses do. When you have double vision, the brain isn’t bringing the eyes together to get the one vision.

#3 – Related to vision disturbances- Parkinson/ PSP/Atypical PD.
– Difficulty in focusing/blurry vision/visual hallucinations. Visual hallucinations can be in all of these illness. Some visual hallucinations can be from to much medication, but it can also be from a lack of dopamine in the cortex where the signal is fallen and gives false images and causes these visual hallucinations also. So not all visual hallucinations are psychotic. Other things that can also cause visual hallucinations are benadryl and OTC cold meds. They can also cause spasm.
– Changes of reading glasses at a quicker intervals.
– Decreased in contrast sensitivity (difficulty in distinguishing shades of gray) and color perception.

#4 – Eyelid abnormality
– Difficulty in voluntarily opening their eyes (apraxia)
– Forceful eyelid closing (blepharospasm) .  This is treated with botox.
– Decrease in the rate of blinking (3-4/min vs. 20/min)

#5 – Dry eyes
– Burning sensation, redness, watering, itching, excessive tearing, rubbing of eyes, blurry vision.
– Double vision with one eye.  Usually results in ‘ghosting’ of images or shadowing of images.

Those notes are almost an exact list of Mary Ann’s visual problems. The eyelid issues have been pronounced for a long time.  Often she just has not been able to get them to open.  We have learned how to walk together with her eyes shut with me holding her tight at my side.  Sometimes we stumble around a bit, but we get the job done.

She has commented more than once that she is seeing two of something.  She has asked often to go to the Optometrist to get new glasses.  The burning, redness, dry eyes, excessive watering, rubbing her eyes all happen often.  She has struggled with reading for a very long time.  I can only guess that a number of the problems listed above combine to make reading almost impossible for her.

I have talked often about the hallucinations she endures. In our online group there has been a thread of posts about our Loved Ones losing the ability to discern the boundary between dreams and reality.  Sometimes Mary Ann confuses with reality what she is hearing on the television as she lies in bed at night.  I would turn the television off, but she insists on having it on when she goes to bed.

One problem, described as “down gaze” seems to fit her problem with seeing the food when eating.  One suggestion mentioned in the notes is raising the food to eye level.  Last night I got out an old lap tray and a styrofoam cooler lid to make a platform at the table on which to put Mary Ann’s plate.  It looks obnoxious, but for today’s three meals, it actually seemed to help.  I am not sure how long Mary Ann will tolerate using it.  I will look around for something more aesthetically pleasing to use regularly.  I would love to find something portable enough to use when we are out, although she will probably not allow such a public display.

I plan to ask the Parkinson’s Clinic folks at KU Med Center if they have a Neurological Ophthalmologist on their staff.  One suggestion in the notes was that such a specialist be consulted.  Most of the rest of the suggestions in the notes are things that we already have been doing.

I am glad we ended up getting the appointment with the Ophthalmologist here.  It has helped us understand better what it is we are dealing with.  Again, I am learning more than I ever wanted to know.  I am sure that M.D. degree must be in the mail by now.

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She knew exactly what she wanted us to make for Christmas dinner.  I had no idea what she was thinking until that moment in the grocery store.  I had asked a number of times what she thought we should make for Christmas dinner when the family gathered.  Each time I asked there was no response.  I made suggestions encouraging a yes or no answer, but there were no answers, neither yes nor no.

At the grocery, she said something out of the blue about making a list.  Then I think she said the word “salad.”  The interaction caught me off guard, since she seemed to be saying that we needed to list ingredients for something for Christmas.  We were in the throes of shopping, dealing with the person in the deli department slicing cold meat for us.

That conversation ceased for the moment.  When we were passing by the meat counter, on the way to get something on the other side of it, she stopped and said something about ham.  The options I had been suggesting as options in those earlier attempts at deciding what to prepare included things we have had in the past, a spiral cut Honey Baked Ham, a brisket, turkey, even a take out Prime Rib special from a local restaurant I had just seen.  Through some asking and answering it became clear that she was talking about ham steaks.

We got two large ham steaks.  Then she said something about grapes.  Finally she said “Grape Salad.”  That is a very tasty salad that again had never been mentioned in the many times I asked about Christmas dinner.  I had gotten only complete silence in response.

What apparently was happening is what I remember Thomas Graboys talking about in his book, Life in the Balance.  Mary Ann seemed to have had conversations in her mind that never included any words coming out of her mouth.  There have been times that she seemed convinced that she had said something, or we had talked about something when there had never been any spoken words.

Occasionally, Mary Ann has seemed to blur the line between dreams and reality, convinced that there was an interaction, a conversation about something, providing information that sounded as if is was the matter of fact recounting of something someone had told her.  What complicates things is that sometimes she is remembering absolutely perfectly something that did happen, was said, something I either wasn’t around to hear, or simply forgot.

On the positive side, it forces me to listen to her without dismissing what she says immediately even if it sounds bizarre.  It may be true.  It may not be true.  On the negative side, I am always pretty unsure and often frustrated trying to figure out which is which.

Mary Ann has not been able to participate much in the shopping for Christmas gifts.  I have gotten lists or thought of or seen something in most cases.  There was one item she remembered for someone, something mentioned to her when I was not around.  We got it.  I am not sure if it is a memory of a converation in a dream or a real one.  In this case, I am fairly confident it is something she is remembering from a real conversation.  I will find out when the presents are opened this Sunday, when we celebrate an early Christmas.

I do have to admit that while sometimes pretty frustrating, it is not boring around here.  There are often surprises, sometimes pleasant ones, sometimes not.  I suppose a couple of days of boring might be okay, as long as there was a good night’s sleep included.

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.