Knives and other sharp objects should be kept in a safe place away from AD victims.

I have always liked my kitchen knives handy when I’m cooking, and they were handy for many years.  Even after Ken had been diagnosed with AD my knives were still held on a magnetic bar attached to a cabinet next to the sink.

 One evening, a few years ago, Ken was helping me with the dishes after dinner when he said, “Hey, be careful with that knife.”  No need for him to fret, I was just attaching it to the holder.  Yet he was concerned and I couldn’t help but think he still had a “healthy knowledge/fear/respect” for sharp things. 

 Admittedly, the thought of him going berserk one day and doing me harm had crossed my mind, but only in the wildest passing as his frustration and anger were manifested in other ways:  mostly “shutting the place down” by turning off the power breakers (their location long forgotten) and stacking up my things so I could take them with me when I left.  Besides, he was still rational and I could reason with him for many years without too much difficulty.

During all of that time, there wasn’t a hint from Ken that I should have been more prudent about the sharp things in our house other than the snippet of conversation mentioned above.  So the knives remained on the magnetic bar until our automobile accident in February of 2010, six years into his disease.  Following my healing and convalescence, I returned home three months later. Ben, Ken’s new caregiver had put all of my knives elsewhere – out of sight – in a safe place.

Ben made other changes as well.  The safety factor was always foremost, but other changes were for convenience and still other changes were just plain practical.  I have a few boxes packed with items which have survived the change: either I have stored them for another time — whenever that is — thus avoiding a high probability of them being broken, and some items I have given away to family and friends, or they were donated.  Whether that’s downsizing I’m not sure.  Nevertheless, much temptation has been removed from Ken’s grasp.   A decorative towel rack survived and was stored, being removed from above the bathroom hamper because the cabinet-like hamper with a solid lid became a bench where Ken sits for cleanup.  Balanced pictures above the towel rack were donated because they were in the way.  Practical became the operative word, but items weren’t the only problem.

The second bathroom door and the door to the garage are both located at the end of a short hall; one at the end of the hall, the other to the side.  One day, looking for the bathroom, Ken opened the garage door which has two immediate steps down.  Had he continued his forward momentum into the dark garage the fall could have had dreadful consequences.  Ben put a hook and eye latch at the top of the door, but Ken’s upper body strength could easily have pulled out the eye part of the lock by just turning the knob and pushing hard on the door.  The falling into the garage disaster was waiting to happen.  A better way was to reverse the passage lock, keeping the keyed portion on the inside with the key close by for those needing to get into the garage. All other rooms and hall closets throughout the house have keyed locks, and medicine cabinets have long ago been secured.

There are some things, however, you just don’t think about.  I do believe every kitchen in the country has a so-called junk drawer.  Lots of stuff in there: pencil stubs, crayons, paper clips, pliers, staplers, a few rubber bands, old receipts from the store, chalk, a few more tools – you name it, it’s probably there.  One day I had an empty Tupperware cake carrier on the counter with its lid “burped” on tight. It was a harmless thing for us to leave out; no sharp edges, light in weight and easy to carry. For Ken it became a mystery and a challenge.  I noticed him examining it, curiously turning it over and over.  In my mind I thought it would keep him busy for a while.  It did, and then curiosity turned to frustration because he couldn’t find a way to get it open. 

A fraction of memory must have clicked as he opened the junk drawer and pulled out a ten-inch, straight-edge screwdriver.  Methodically he traced it around the edge of the closed Tupperware.  With his fist curled around the handle Ken was exerting force in an effort to pry it open.  Both Ben and I arrived at the scene at the same time.  Waiting for the right moment, Ben reached forward in an effort to remove the screwdriver from Ken’s hand.  Not to be – Ken whirled around, faced Ben holding the screwdriver up as a weapon.  Ben retreated.  “This is mine,” he threatened.  “Leave me alone.”  I grabbed the Tupperware and pulled off the lid distracting Ken as Ben took the screwdriver.  

Could Ken with a  diseased mind do bodily harm to someone?  Yes, without a doubt.  Frightened, frustrated and angry, he is probably capable of doing any number of bad things as a prisoner of AD; things which would be deplorable, shocking and so out of character for the man I married. That man was kind and gentle almost to a fault. 

When the children were small we had a very deep drawer where I stored tall boxes of cereal.  I opened it one afternoon and found a tiny mouse at the bottom.  He got in but couldn’t get out.  Try though he may, the walls of the drawer were just too tall for him to make an escape.  The creature could have been a double for any of Disney’s adorable rodents, and I really wanted to let it go, but on the other hand I didn’t want to find it back in the drawer. So I said to me, “I’ll just wait for Ken to get home and he can deal with it.”  No matter how cute Mickey Mouse’s 750th cousin 1,200 times removed it was still a filthy, germ-ridden little beast.

 “Flush it,” I instructed as my husband peeked into the drawer.  “Ahhh,” he answered, “I can’t flush the terrified little thing.  With that he removed the drawer and carried it to the car.  “Where are you going?” I asked.  “I’ll drive to an empty field and let it go.”  “Thank you,” I called, relieved that the mouse was gone with neither of us having to be the villain.

 Unfortunately, that Ken is longer with us.  In his place is a human being who is just as trapped and terrified as the tiny mouse, but much more capable of striking out in his own defense.  As caregivers and those who love the victims, living with AD is a continuous learning situation, and we must be ever vigilant.  Ben was right — safety first, even if it’s not convenient.  ALL sharp things need to be kept in a safe place, and knives and scissors aren’t the only things that are sharp.  The tools are now in the garage.


Originally posted 2011-03-05 21:10:30.


I recall my grandson, John, being the helpful boy he was, had surprised his mother by putting away all of the dishes in the dishwasher.  At six, he was so pleased with himself,  and she thanked him with a generous hug and kiss telling him how thoughtful he was and how much she appreciated him.  There was just a slight problem.  The dishes hadn’t been washed.  So when he had gone his merry way to play she washed every dish in the cabinet — dirty ones and clean ones alike.

When Ken is my husband he often wants to help in the kitchen.  A one-time Navy cook he had bragged for decades about his skills, but  during all of those boastful years Ken seldom used any of those skills in our kitchen.  However, when he retired I strongly suggested to him that cleaning the kitchen would be one of his homemaking  jobs saying, “If you’re retired, then so am I.”   I was pleasantly surprised to find he was totally accepting of his new job assignment and would often ask, “What can I do to help?”  And he began rekindling his old skills.

It seems, though, that time and circumstances do have  their way with us, making change a constant in our lives.   As his memory began to fade he could accomplish less and less in some areas, but was still a very good prep cook happily peeling vegetables, taking out the garbage and sweeping up the floor.  When even those skills diminished I found I would rather he didn’t do anything, but just as a wise mother doesn’t discourage the help of her young children, I didn’t want to hurt Ken’s feelings by telling him that he was actually in the way.  So, for the most part, when he is cooperative and not argumentative he can help.

Perhaps it’s because of those years when the kitchen was his responsibility that he has become obsessed with the sink and counter space.  When I bring out greens and other vegetables to make a salad, he puts them back in the refrigerator as soon as I turn my back, he also puts serving bowls out of sight, washes  greased cookie sheets while I’m mixing the batter and polishes the sink each time I rinse my hands.

If I wash a few pots and pans, leaving them to drain in the sink he wants them put away — right now — dripping wet.  More often than not our home and cooking area has become HIS house and HIS kitchen, wanting everything in its own place or out of sight — according to him.   Sometimes if he discovers dishes in the dishwasher he will empty it.  With the progression of Alzheimer’s, though, he can’t tell the difference between clean and dirty dishes even though I periodically sprinkle them with catsup believing that might identify them as needing to be washed.  One morning, however, I caught him as he opened the dishwasher and began to remove the dishes, catsup and all.

“They’re dirty,” I said.

“No they’re not,” he replied, apparently not seeing the red blotches.

“Yes,” I insisted.  They are dirty.  That’s why they’re in there.  This is the dishwasher and when it’s full, it will wash the dishes.  That’s it’s job.”

“Not necessarily,” he said in his arrogant tone, which is not that of Ken.

“We’re not going to argue about this,” I stated.  “The dishes are dirty.  Do not put them away until they are washed,” I concluded emphatically, closing the door, and suggesting that there might be a ball game on television.

I busied myself elsewhere and later that afternoon I noticed he had managed to empty the dishwasher in spite of me.   He mentioned how hard he had worked cleaning up the kitchen and putting everything away.  I sighed and thanked him for his effort.  Later, when he wasn’t looking, I filled the dishwasher to capacity with dishes from the cabinets and emptied all of the forks, knives and spoons from the drawers into the basket washing it all, just as my daughter had done with six-year-old John.

“Let’s see now,” I asked myself thoughtfully, ” is there another way?   How did we do the dishes way back when……?”    Oh yes:  fill the sink with hot soapy water, toss your helper a towel and say, “I’ll wash, you dry.”  And he does.

Originally posted 2009-05-21 06:42:17.

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