home library with books

Cleaning out the study of a loved one with Alzheimer's is just another difficult task for caregivers.

Today I started cleaning the office.  While it has a corner for my computer, it has always been Ken’s room – his den – inherited when the last of our boys left home.  It’s filled (as I have mentioned before) with his things: collections by the score, memorabilia from his youth, school, Navy days and of course his Marathon and fun run awards.  And books; we can’t forget the books: college books, history books, WWII books, a few novels, lots of Navy books, and binders filled to overflowing with what was important to him.  They all seem to look down upon me as I work, perhaps asking, “What now?”

Alzheimer’s is such a perplexing disease.  Our son Kenney dropped by to say hello this afternoon.  Reaching out to shake his father’s hand, Ken didn’t even look at him, but said, “No.” I tried to get his attention so he would at least glance up and smile at his son, but he didn’t.  “He looks good,” said Kenney.  And he does.  Other than that disconnected gaze often found in their eyes AD patients look very good, and normal.  So normal in fact that as I began cleaning the thought raced through my mind, “What if he wakes up tomorrow and the AD is gone.”  What if he came into the office remembering everything and asked what I had done with his engineering books, his drafting and building books, his Architectural Graphic Standards?  What would I say?  I know it’s never happened: a return from the bottomless pit of Alzheimer’s, nor do I believe it will happen, at least not in our lifetime.  Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering “what if?”

Is that the reason I’ve delayed for so long to sort through a lifetime of collections and dispose of what will never be used again – even some personal items — at least not by Ken, and then asking, “What can be used by someone else?” Questions we mull over and over when downsizing. I glanced at some of the publication dates knowing full well the books were obsolete, and even if he were still Ken, most likely they would never be opened much less read.  Even he would have to admit they were outdated.  But they were his and he liked seeing them on the shelf – they were part of him – who he was and what he did.  The drafting books?  Even I know drafting is all done with computers – CADs as they are called – computer-aided drawings.  So it was almost with force that I persevered and sorted out that one section of books – with more to happen at a later date.

My friend, Bob, who had visited the earlier part of the year as he celebrated the life of his deceased wife Julie with all who knew her, called to say that he was home and his journey was complete. We talked about all of these chores that needed our attention, and Bob said that his next goal was to simplify his life.   He planned on sorting his books; technical books from his past, just like Ken, which he had always planned to review or read again, but now he needed to be honest with himself knowing that he never would.  So he planned to take them all to a place where they would be shredded and sent on to be recycled.

In our area of California we have a recycling program, and I knew that if I put the books into the recycling bin, they would be shredded and made into new paper – or whatever.  So into the bin went Ken’s tech books.  A scene from an ancient movie popped into my mind as they clattered to the bottom.  As a youth I watched the screen in a darkened theater as countless books were dumped into a burning bin because Hitler in his madness had ordered obliteration of a good part of the past in his march to world domination, and books held vast treasures of knowledge and history. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved books and felt a desire to protect them — treating them with great respect — wanting them to be there for future generations.  Now I was sending some of them away for destruction.  Even though I know it’s really all right and recycling is for a good purpose I felt a little guilty, consoling myself that a modern world has no use for obsolescence.

Ken loved books as well.  I suppose that’s why he had so many, but Bob is right about simplifying. I need to repeat that word over and over as I continue sorting through Ken’s and my lifetime of stuff.  The one thing I have found is that beginning is the hardest part, and once started I know with certainty that Ken isn’t going to wake up in the morning and ask what I had done with his engineering books. Alzheimer’s never pardons their prisoners.

Originally posted 2011-08-14 00:00:33.


I may have mentioned this before, but in any event I’ll mention it again.  The remote control for our main TV has been missing for a few years.  I do believe it was placed on a stack of newspapers with more papers added with everything ending up in the recycling bin.  I’m just assuming that’s what happened because I’ve looked everywhere, and it’s not to be found.  The remote  for the bedroom is also missing.  I’m certain he tossed it in the garbage because it didn’t work on the main TV.  I will not replace them, especially with one of those universal remotes which, in Ken’s hands, would mess up every TV in the house, and possibly the house next door.

Not too long ago, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by an extremely loud roaring noise coming from the family room.   Wide awake from of a deep sleep I leaped from the bed and followed the sound.  The TV was on, the screen filled with snow while the shattering  sound of static bounced off the walls.   Being thoroughly familiar with the TV without a remote, I quickly turned the sound down to silence.   “Good grief,” I said aloud. “It’s three o’clock in the morning.”

Pushing the menu button I soon found the cause of the problem.  When Ken wants to change the channel, he begins pushing the line of buttons below the screen.   He knows the on/off button, but  just guesses at the rest.  In his pursuit to find a good program he somehow managed to press the menu button then randomly moved across the line pushing button after button.  To my amazement he somehow programmed the TV, which he would never even attempt before Alzheimer’s.  Ironically, he was able to set the start for 3:00 a.m., program “on” and changed antenna to cable, which we don’t have.  Being set on cable when we don’t have cable caused the static.  

He does all this while I’m busy doing incidental household chores, checking finances or whatever.   Because I don’t watch much TV I’m not aware when he’s having a problem.    Before giving up and turning the TV off, he somehow  presses the volume button to its highest level.  With the TV off and the room quiet, he usually decides it’s about time to go to bed.  What’s mind-boggling about his “chance” ability is that during the past few years, he has managed to complete this task  at least a half-dozen times, not always in the same way, but often programing some  doc-u-drama that screams out its message somewhere between midnight and dawn.   Aggravation, frustration, sleep deprived — oh yes —  all of the aforementioned; but the irony of it all is that I must admit Ken has found  these new ways to push my buttons — and he isn’t even trying.

Originally posted 2009-02-14 06:14:22.

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