Jul 8, 2012

Alzheimer’s and Humor: A Brief Walk on the Light Side of Dementia

He began laughing and so did Anne and I. And – you guessed it – he kept right on stealing the spoons AND the ‘pee-lows’!

By +Marie Marley 
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

Marie Marley
Alzheimer’s disease is a deadly serious topic, and deservedly so. But sometimes laughter is the best medicine. So to have a short respite from our somber caregiving duties, I’m going to tell a couple of amusing stories about my beloved, demented Romanian soul mate. Both are incidents that even he found funny, and we both had a good laugh!

I invite all of you to share your own precious amusing stories – especially those your loved one also found funny.

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What if You Had a Fire in Your Kitchen?

When Ed was still living on his own in an apartment, he answered the knock on his door one day and found a pretty young lady in her mid-20s standing there. He smiled and gestured for her to enter. “Hello there! Oh, I’m r-r-really excited to see you again. How have you been? Come ‘een’! Come ‘een’!” he bid her.

Only thing was, Ed had never seen her before. That alone pretty much fulfilled the purpose of her visit. Kristi, Director of Admissions at Cincinnati’s Alois Alzheimer Center, was there to evaluate him for placement.

Ed and his apartment were reasonably presentable that afternoon. He was fully dressed, albeit in his ‘house clothes,’ and had his dentures in, which I’d come early to check.

He sat in his recliner, and Kristi took a seat on the sofa near his chair. Not wanting to interfere, I sat at the far end of the sofa, planning to just observe.

She explained the reason she was there. He didn’t seem to understand, but he was in an excellent mood and readily agreed to talk with her. I assumed it was mostly because she was so young and pretty. He loved all young and pretty women.

Kristi consulted the paper that was attached to a manila folder with a large paper clip, turned her body directly toward Ed, and began asking the usual questions, enunciating each word clearly and loudly.

“Can you tell me who’s the President?”

“Boosh,” he blurted out, grinning and obviously pleased with himself for knowing the answer.

“Great! Can you tell me what date it is today?”

He thought for a few seconds, then his head began to slowly shift downward as he simultaneously turned his left wrist inward a little.

Well, I’d be darned! His mind isn’t totally gone. He’s alert enough to remember his little Timex has the date on it.

That gave me some comfort. He smiled broadly, stated the correct date and we all three laughed about his cleverness.

“What state are we in?” she continued.

“I’m so sorry,” he said after several seconds. “I r-r-really can’t remember. I think it may be Ohio. Or R-r-russia.”

“Okay,” she said. “What country do we live in?”

“America!” he shouted with glee, displaying his great pride to have become an American citizen.

“That’s right! Now, can you count backwards by sevens, starting at 100?”

He had a blank look on his face, then said, “Yes, I can count very well – both in English and in R-r-romanian.”

“That’s good,” she said. “Let’s go on to the next question.”

She continued with her questions and wrote down everything he said.

Kristi then asked her last question: “What would you do if you had a fire in your kitchen?”

He thought for a minute then started laughing out loud. He stretched out his arm, pointed to me with his shaky finger and proudly announced, “I’d call her!”

Kristi and I immediately joined Ed, laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes!

An Alzheimer’s Sneaky Thief!

Even before Ed became demented, when we went to restaurants he had the odd habit of wrapping food items in napkins, putting them in the breast pocket of his sport coat and taking them home. These were things like the little packets of ketchup or mustard from McDonalds or pieces of leftover bread from just about any restaurant. Not that he needed those things – it was just a habit. And one I found amusing at the time.

Well, when he developed Alzheimer’s he kept up that habit when he was living at Alois Center. After finishing each meal he would carefully wipe his spoon clean with a napkin, then wrap the spoon in another napkin, put it in the breast pocket of his sport coat and take it back to his room.

Pretty soon his room would have spoons all over the place so the staff would go get them and return them to the kitchen. But sure enough the next day he would start a new collection.

Then the staff tried to stop him of this habit by giving him plastic spoons, which they hoped he’d have less interest in. It worked for a while, but soon he started stealing the plastic spoons as well.

I often sat with him when he was eating and had observed this behavior many times. Finally, one day when he started his cleaning ritual I said to him, “Don’t take those spoons, Ed. They don’t belong to you. They belong to the facility.”

“Oh, no!” he said, loudly enough for everyone to hear. “I take them every day with no remorse!”

He was aware he’d said something funny, and we both burst into laughter.

Spoons weren’t the only thing he pilfered from the facility. They had sofas in the lobby that had little designer pillows on them. For some reason Ed was drawn to those little pillows (or ‘pee-lows’ as he pronounced it) and developed the habit of taking them back to his room, too.

Just as with the spoons, the staff would go to his room periodically, retrieve all the little pillows and return them to the sofas. And just as with the spoons, he would begin stealing them all over again the very next day.

One day I was sitting with him in the dining room when one of the kitchen staff members, Anne, came over to say hello to us. By that time I had given up trying to stop him from stealing the spoons.

So I said to him, “You really enjoy stealing your spoons, don’t you?”

“Yes, he certainly does,” said Anne. She was one of the staff members who found this particular behavior funny.

Just then Ed got a sly grin on his face.

“It isn’t just the spoons I steal,” he said proudly. “I also r-r-really love to take those ‘lee-tle pee-lows’!”

He began laughing and so did Anne and I. And – you guessed it – he kept right on stealing the spoons AND the ‘pee-lows’!

NOTE: To read more funny stories about Ed visit my web site (see below), where I publish a “Silly Saturdays” blog post every Saturday.

Come Back Early Today:
A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy

Marie Marley
Marie Marley, PhD, was a caregiver for Dr. Edward Theodoru, her delightfully colorful, wickedly eccentric Romanian soul mate, for seven years. After he passed away in 2007, she wrote an award-winning book about their relationship, Come Back Early Today: A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. In the course of narrating their 30-year love story, Marie illustrates the solutions she found to 14 different issues that typically arise when loving and caring for someone with dementia. You can visit Marie’s website which contains a wealth of information about caregiving at ComeBackEarlyToday.

Original content Marie Marley, the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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