Michele Smith J.D.
is fundraising to honor:
Dr. Coral Smith
The Longest Day
(10 minute read)
Thoughts of my beloved husband Dr. Coral Smith.
He was the third son and the last of four children, born in Bakersfield, Ca., about 90 miles from Los Angeles. His father was a minister who died of pneumonia before Coral was three years old. His mother was a single parent, she worked hard to ensure her four children grew up knowing the value of education. His two brothers also went into the field of medicine, his older brother a phychologist, his middle brother a therapist. My husband worked as an ophthalmologist with Kaiser Permanente in Orange County California for almost 30 years. He also served on the Board of Directors for ten years.
He obtained his medical degree after attending the University of Granada, School of Medicine in Granada, Spain where we both resided for five years.
Since Coral had been in the military prior to our meeting, after finishing medical school, he decided to do his Ophthalmology internship at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Ca.
We lead a relatively quiet and very enjoyable life over the years in San Diego, Orange County and upon our retirement in Cambria, Ca. along California’s Central Coast.
The biggest challenge of our lives would be when my husband was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2012, then a dementia diagnosis in 2015. I had little to no understanding of this illness and I had to learn along the way. I felt alone, like I was the only one dealing with this issue.
My first thought was to turn to the Alzheimer’s Association website which gave me clarification by listing 10 things that might lead to Alzheimer’s/dementia. I was shocked to learn he literally met all ten. My next thought was, I am not alone, there are others out there dealing with similar situations.
Their web site provided me with information about the Alzheimer’s support group to learn more about the illness as well as how others were coping.
Not realizing what was happening, I wanted to keep Coral’s quirky behavior within our home. Little did I know, and would come to find out, others were aware of his situation. He would keep the neighbors engaged in conversation by repeating over and over what he had just told them.
For many chronic diseases, evaluating the stage of the disease is part of the diagnostic process, and it is a main factor in treatment decisions. But, dementia affects each person differently, so it can be difficult to pin down the various stages.
The common terms you will hear are: early, middle and late stages, or mild, moderate or severe stages, but it seems to begin with the term, mild cognitive impairment.
I started to notice my husband’s inability to remember people’s names which progressed into forgetting the passage of time, places and people. I noticed his repeating events and stories over and over again. I learned not to take anything too personally and that my husband may look his same charming self but he was no longer who he once was - it is the disease talking, not your loved one.
It is also important to avoid complicated explanations for the mistakes. Instead, simply clarify your name and who you are.
If memories are still meaningful to your loved one, then perhaps surround them with mementoes, such as photographs, to help them keep you and other family members in mind. If your loved one asks about a deceased family member as my husband did, do not insist they are gone, but say something like “We will visit them at a later time.” It is best not to be confrontational, instead, be soft spoken, gentle and reassuring, let them know they are safe. They may or may not understand what you are saying, but will pick up on the emotional undertone.
As we maneuvered along with our lives I tried to use skill and care in how I addressed him. I had to learn to carefully manipulate the situation to achieve a calm result.
However, I believe the hallucinations/delusions were the most difficult to deal with as my husband’s illness progressed. This is when their reality substantially changes. It takes a major learning curve to communicate on this level, but you will learn. These are also common in the later stages of the illness.
A dark house can be intimidating for them at night so I installed night lights in each and every room in the house. Even with the night lights my husband saw images of a person standing in the corner, or felt there was someone or something under the bed. There was no convincing him we were the only two people in our home.
Unfortunately, he was starting to not to sleep well and not sleep through the night. I would wake to find him prowling the house looking around for whatever intruder was in his mind.
Often he was so sure a person or an animal was sleeping in the corner of our bedroom. His days were no longer heading to the gym for his workout, but sleeping on and off leaving more restless nights for both of us. Life was becoming much more difficult for us as neither of us was getting our proper sleep and rest.
At this time I became aware, perhaps it was time to make a major life changing decision.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
A question often asked from other caregivers is: "When will I know when it is time to make a change in our lifestyle?"
That is a personal decision and no one can answer that but you. Everyone should get their affairs in order, regardless of whether or not they have an illness. Life’s circumstances can change quickly.
I contacted our attorney to change the power of attorney my husband had over me. He now was unable to act as my agent in the event something happened to me. I needed to ensure I had power of attorney over him for both financial and medical issues as well as getting his health care directive in order.
Perhaps for you, it may be necessary to get a list of passwords, account numbers and other important documents.
It may become time when you cannot provide the level of care that your loved one needs and in-home care is often the first step in getting outside help.
In-home care was out of the question for me as I felt my husband needed a specialized environment with people trained to take care of him. I did not want to be an employer interviewing people and having different people in and out of our home.
There were amenities in the memory care facilities - gardens, trained staff, and programs designed to evoke memories. Unfortunately, as much as it seemed like the right fit, I faced the hurdle of overcoming the stigma that I was putting my husband in a home. For me, it was impossible to provide my husband with good 24 hour care.
Today, Alzheimer’s disease serves as the third-leading cause of death. Every sixty-five seconds, someone living in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Your support is needed to further this research, please donate.
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