Jun 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 outside...now! 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 members...no 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 as good) as 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 to her, 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.


Teresa in Music City said...

Oh what a wonderful post! I enjoyed it immensely! I have a 16-year-old kitty who is still such a joy but so much more trouble than she used to be =^..^= We lost her sister this past year to kidney problems, but Gypsy seems to remain healthy and content, and we are thankful!

Mary Collier said...

Love your story about Willow. Reminds me of our 15 year old Chow Chow Tasha who became deaf and blind and incontinent (doggy diapers helped here). She slept most of the time but knew we were there and we were there until the end when she died in our arms. Love them while you have them.

mtnquiltr said...

Your post made me laugh, and also feel a lump in my throat! As a pet owner for many years, I dread our pets aging, and of course it happens anyway. Like it is happening to me too, and my kids tell me I'm getting more and more eccentric! We should all be as understanding as you are. Give Willow a stroke from us!

Winifred said...

What a wonderful post about Willow. It made me laugh & it made me cry. I've been through some of this with my 2 elderly cats, the last of which I sadly lost in March. Willow is lovely and you're right you'll do anything for them. Thankfully mine didn't roam too far from home as we live in a built up area but they were both stone deaf, picky about what they would eat and took to sleeping in some strange places. One used to almost give us heart attacks and drove us bats howling in the middle of the night. Still you just have to enjoy every day with them. Once they're gone it breaks your heart.

Linda Lee said...

I think you are the one who had a work out that day! Our old barn cat decided one day she was a house cat. Until that point she wouldn't allow us to bring her into the house. Her name was "Miss Kitty" because she ruler all the other cats in the barn. Once she started losing her eyesight and her teeth she couldn't rule any longer. That was when SHE decided she was a house cat!

Ann Marie @ 16 Muddy Feet said...

Willow sounds like a typical cat, they wander all over, and sleep wherever and whenever they feel like it. Missing the litter comes with age, everyone of my older animals ended up with potty problems, diapers helped the dogs, the cats always wanted outside, even though they had lived inside for all their lives. We let them, even the ones on special diets. They would come when called after work to be fed. Then one day, you see them, the day you dreaded, but knew was coming. Yes it hurts, but then it feels good to know they lived their last days doing what they wanted, not what I wanted them to. They were free to enjoy the outdoors too. Glad to know you have had 18 long years with yours. The last one of mine that went to the rainbow bridge was only 6, that one hurt the most. May Willow have many more wondrous adventures left in the future.

Michele Bilyeu said...

Thanks, Teresa! We had a dog names Gypsy! She was a min. schnauzer mix who ran away and roamed the countryside..true to her name! We once followed her for 5 miles in our VW bug and still couldn't catch her or get her into the car until DH did a footrace with her and won! Oh animals are such joys and such work. But you just have to love them!

Michele Bilyeu said...

Mary! Glad you stopped by and left a comment! (I know M. in real life) Chows are gorgeous animals! And I thought about creating kitty diapers but I've changed too many adult ones in my life and go back to doing that in August again to deal with cats, too ;) But oh, you sure do have to love them when you have them, because you sure miss them when they are gone!

stitchinpenny said...

I have had cats and a dog that got old enough to seem to have dementia and it is sad. I hope that you treasure each moment she has.

Michele Bilyeu said...

Winifred. You've hit it all right on!

Yep, it makes me laugh and cry too. If you could see me outside in my pajamas tromping through tall wet grass looking for a cat, peering through the neighboring acres of fences, you'd either laugh or call the police! But the rest of it...you have described her to a t.

I forgot to put in that howling! Sometimes, I think I need to get a baseball bat because we must have an intruder, nope...it's the cat! And break your heart when they are gone...oh my goodness! I cried for months after the last one. Months. But then I also cried every day for two weeks over our ducks! Now, it's chickens and we've lost one and she was so ill, it was better for her and me, in the end. But, yep I even love ducks, chickens, guinea pigs, and other rodents I shall leave unmentioned. I did cry over the 11 canaries, I must say..one by one. I'm a lover and a crier..what can I say!

Michele Bilyeu said...

You and me, both! Eccentric is a very good word for it! Maybe our cats and dogs are, too! And I told Willow that a lot of my online friends, know and understand how hard it is to age into eccentricity ;)

Michele Bilyeu said...

Ha, ha! You're right and I love your Miss Kitty story! And you know..darn cats, sometimes they are smarter than we are, because they sure figure all of us out ;)

Michele Bilyeu said...

Anne Marie, You and all those muddy feet around your place would certainly know! And all the rest of it..you are so right on! Mine last kitty to cross was 7 and I wailed like a banshee when we found out she was missing because she had drowned in our neighbors pool. And thank you...she sure is enjoying the time she is having now. It's me who is worn out ;)

Michele Bilyeu said...

Penny, I sure do! I fuss about it all, but I love all of my animals dearly! And I am grateful for each special bit of love that they have all brought into our lives!

Lynne said...

That last photo reminds me very much of WM and our cat, Tom (short for Tomodachi, which means "friend" in Japanese). Fathers' Day is celebrated on the first Sunday of September in Australia.

libbyquilter said...

Willow is beautiful and it was both smiles and tears as i read your post. it can be a double edged sword indeed to see them get up in years . . . every day is a mixed blessing. enjoy her and love her and yes, even indulge her. you both deserve every sweet moment of it.


Sandra Coleman Clarke said...

Cute cat and great story.

Michele Bilyeu@ With Heart and Hands said...

You have said it all, beautifully! Thank you :)

Michele Bilyeu@ With Heart and Hands said...

Awww...thank you so much!

Michele Bilyeu@ With Heart and Hands said...

Such a great 'tom' cat name! Thanks for letting me know about Australia date and I seriously hope you're feeling better!

Kathi said...

stumbling upon this entry was serendipitous. i have an old, ill cat that i love too.

Michele Bilyeu said...

Than you both know, and understand, Kathi! Big hug!!!

Stitching Noni said...

Oh Michelle, I do so feel for you at this time in Willow's life. Your post bought tears to my eyes, but also a smile to my face. Willow looks like the most adorable of kitty companions and to see her grow old like this must be heartbreaking. I love how she goes to sleep in the strangest of places :o) I have always believed that older animals know when it's their time to leave our lives and as that time comes closer they do the best they can to prepare us - even if we don't always see the signs straight away.
I do so hope that you and Willow have lots more time ahead though to give and receive all that love that you both have for each other. Just before I read your post I was reading another post that one of my blog friends had written about her kitty starting to do strange things - I have sent her the link to your post about Willow.
Take care and make the most of the time that you both left together
Hugs xx

Michele Bilyeu said...

It'll bring tears to our eyes when she passes, believe me! I picked her out to be a suprise birthday gift when my youngest daughter was about to turn 9. Through a teaching friend I learned that a pregnant stray had just given birth in one of her student's families outbuilding and they were looking for home for the kittens. We made arrangements, I picked out 6 toes on each front paws, and had her 'on hold' until the actually birthday. We partied at the "Enchanted Forest" theme park and then I brought the four little girls to this strange house where I said I needed to drop off some cupcakes..I did. But I also picked up the kitten, put a bow around her neck, and sang Happy Birthday as I placed her in my daughter's arms. Best gift of the day! The daughter grew up but Willow called our place home and we love her here, still!

Tanya said...

That was absolutely wonderful! I laughed out loud at some of the pictures and "AHH"ed at the one of Willow and you. Actually, I would say that Willow isn't that "off". My cats are fairly young but they zombie out quite a bit and sprint or jump at nothing. How they would love to join your Willow on a jaunt to the neighbors!!!

Michele Bilyeu said...

Oh,Tanya..you and your cats set the bar pretty high! I don't think there is anything they won't do and they all look adorable..and I know can drive you nuts, sometimes, doing them ;) But you have to love them. And like you, mine have been orphans and strays or in Willow's case, a stray that had a litter in someone's outbuilding..surprise! She made the perfect birthday gift for when my youngest turned 9. That was 18 years ago...boy, time flies almost as quickly as cats hide when you try to catch them!