Monday, June 18, 2012

Dementia...Is it Her? Or is it Me?

Willow turned 18 and Willow has feline dementia.

I don't even need to take her to a vet for a diagnosis.

I don't need to give her a 20 question test and see if she can answer any of them, correctly.

I asked my brother, to give my mother that test in 2002...... and I wasn't sure of some of the answers, myself!

And my brother, who is a doctor, claimed that my mother was fine...and of course, she is not.... but I suspect he was more than a little worried about me!

When I think about feline versus human dementia...all I have to do is watch and track a few of Willow's behaviors for the past year ...and mine right along with her....and I know..that one of us is, as Betty White says 'Off Our Rockers.'

I'm the one following the cat all day long with a camera..... and pretty much letting her do almost anything she wants to do!

I mean...I really need to get a life! Willow, obviously has a heck of a good one of her very own!

I still love this old cat, dearly. Even if she has become an incredible amount of work. Like a human, cats with dementia exhibit many, if not all, of the same symptoms.

They wander through the house forgetting what they are doing and what they are looking for.

They suddenly stop in their tracks and zombie out for large periods of time and then suddenly...movement....and they're off circling again.

Cats...well, they are sleeping on a chair one minute,

.....and using a near bathroom experience to lose continence on the carpet, the very next!

Like her human counterpoints, Willow can't remember when she ate, what she ate, if she still likes it or not and if she doesn't, when she stopped liking it and when she will suddenly start liking it again. So, she cries a lot. Make that most of the time...for food.

One minute I'm buying kitty kibble for seniors (sensitive stomach, easy on the kidneys) the next I'm giving her my own serving of roast chicken off of my plate because she refused the kibble and hadn't eaten all day long.

I've gotten into co-dependent checking behaviors. I check to see where she is, what she's doing, and if I need to put her in her litter box area, or! I find her, I grab her and rush her outside..and well, she goes back to sleep.

But, I'm trying to get her to live outside during the nice weather, anyway.

It's a lot easier than cleaning up after her if I forget that she has to go to the bathroom!

She's very even tempered and lovie with her dementia, so I think it's just the cutest thing when she takes cat naps in new places all of the time.

And yes, it was a LOT of work with my wildcrafting of plant molded cement lawn art last year. All of those wheelbarrows of cement and sand, adding the water, finding dozens of big leaves, and molding them for 24 hours before peeling saran wrap off of them....but Willow thinks this one was made just for her!

And yes, it's even more work sewing with a cat on your quilts and your sewing supplies and even on the quilt that you're working on!

But then, Willow pretty much sleeps everywhere she wants!

What 's really hard is the not sleeping part of feline dementia. When it really takes over...usually early in the morning when the sun is just rising, or late at night when dusk beckons her.

She has begun to do the sundowning dementia wandering.

The first day she wandered I searched and called for her for 3 hours. I was terribly worried since her eyesight and hearing are both failing and worried she wouldn't find her way home.

By the third day of this, I became not only a crime scene investigator but a missing person's one, as well. Well, more than that. I was the sleazy detective with the camera waiting to catch the loved one in the act.

I followed her as she went out our front door,

down our long driveway,

across our lower field,

through a double barbed wire with two electric wires fence.

Into our neighbor's property, down their long driveway by their horses, down to a scummy pond where she drank contaminated standing water laden with mosquito larvae and other bacterial tidbits.

After happy hour, she sat and stared for over 15 minutes. I swear that cat never blinked.

And did she find her way back home? You bet! And then...I just followed her, so I was fine, too!

They off she went..back the way she came. And yes, she repeated this activity twice more that day.

Our marshy walks got a bit tedious so I started my 'confine and conquer' tactics. I kept her in the house, in a separate room, with her food and kitty litter.

I begin to let her outside out but only with constant, and direct supervision.... and after three days of that I gave up.

I was worn out from all of our wanderings and she was just fine ....but tired of me following her around like a crazy woman.

All that talking to myself, taking photos, and endlessly saying things like....

"You'd think 15 family members with Alzheimer's or Dementia would be enough! Why do I have to have a cat with it, too????"

But then I listened to myself...talking out loud with no one else around.... and saying the same things over and over.

We're both getting older, we're both worn out and and a bit lounge-y and scrounge-y. We both forget our personal grooming and take more and more 'mental health days off' from being 'at home' too many days in a row.

And, I got to thinking in my limited amount of spare time, when we weren't busy from wandering....I love all of my Alzheimer's and dementia family matter what they all said and did, or say and do..... and that's been a heck of a lot worse than Willow's, or mine has been.

So, where does an 18 year old cat sleep.... and what do you allow her to do?

I'm so very sorry to admit this...but after a while...anything....and everywhere... she wants!

And the other head of household? .........
He's as bad (or as Willow thinks) I am ;)

Hope you all had a great Father's Day!

Willow sure did!

My sweet Willow passed away on June 30, 2012.
I barely made in home from my brother's hospitalization in Anchorage, Alaska and and had not yet left for his hospitalization in Seatle, Washington.

I'd like to think that Willow waited for me. It was certainly one of those special days ...when only she and I were home.

I gave her a meaning filled passing ritual as I waited her passing away with her. I placed her on a soft bed in the filtered sunlight of our patio sliding door and stayed with her, talking toher, and loving her with my whole heart and soul.  She did not appear to be in any pain and every once in a while she looked up and connected with me, completely.

And while she died of natural causes and being 18 years old, and at home surrounded with love, it was as natural meaningful as it could possibly have been.  It all took about 3 hours, and I used every bit of it to be one with her and the love she had given to each and every one of us in her life time. When it was time, she gave a last sigh and was gone.

The rituals and the meaning of both and death are all part of the circle oftl life. I love now that I can read this post and laugh with delight at even the last month of her life. That I can still cry at this postscript is simply a testament to love fully shared.
Love you and miss you, dear Willow.!

Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join in the Liberated Quilting Challenge and make or donate small art quilts to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!