Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 12: Fascination with a Toy for Toddlers


This one tore me up. Pam’s fascination with a toy clearly meant for toddlers made it clear her Alzheimer’s Disease had progressed another notch. It was heart-wrenching to watch.

We were in the waiting room at the clinic, some minutes ahead of her telemed appointment with her psychiatrist. The shrink is a good one, and even though my wife gets by with one fifteen minute consultation every three months, this particular medical practitioner understands Pam’s situation/condition(s) extremely well, and in depth.

But we had a few minutes to kill.

I’d brought my Kindle along, but Pam had nothing. She had me pull over the basket of waiting room magazines, selected one, and meandered through the pages for a minute or two, but People Magazine didn’t hold her attention for long. Then she noticed the toy block, obviously designed for toddlers, sitting on the other side of the room. It was an early appointment, she’d thrown up her meds when she first got out of bed, and she was in no shape to make an extra ten foot journey. I slid the toy block over to her so she could play with it.

And play with it she did, her new HurryCane leaning against the toy block. (The HurryCane ads say the cane will stand alone, but they lie a lot.) Hunched over the toy in pleased fascination, she studied the top of the thing with great interest, working out the way colored wooden beads were designed so slide up and down curved wire stringers.

“Okay,” she said, completely absorbed in her study. “These must be meant to go like this….”

Watching her, my emotions were at least dual. Sadness, seeing a woman of stellar I.Q. requiring long moments to work out the details of a toy made for preschoolers. Pleasure, seeing that she was actually enjoying herself, delighted when she solved each puzzle.

Pam, who has Alzheimer's Disease, figures out a toy made for toddlers while waiting to see her psychiatrist.

Pam, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, figures out a toy made for toddlers while waiting to see her psychiatrist.

My wife comes by her interest in a toddler’s toy naturally. She’s always been Super Mom oriented, as crazy about babies and young children as they come. I’d spotted the toy as soon as we sat down in the waiting room and thought immediately that it might end up being a great tool to help Pam pass the time before her appointment–which it did, and I’m grateful for that. She took a good five minutes or more with the toy, moving wooden beads around, matching the tops of animals with their bottoms in another area, and generally staying focused on the contraption for an impressive amount of time.

But watching her take that much time to figure it out was disturbing, too. When we met in 1996, her mind was at least as sharp as mine, if not sharper…and I understood the entire toy in all its parts with a single glance. She did not; she had to work at it.

Which is why, no doubt, they call something like this a “second childhood”.

And then, tonight…this could easily be a separate chapter, but I think I’ll include it here so it doesn’t get overlooked. Technically, we lived off grid on a remote Montana mountain acreage from July of 1999 to July of 2002, but in truth we weren’t at the cabin much for the last six months of that period. I was working as a long haul truck driver, home only for a single five day period each month. We decided to get a long term residency room at a motel in Helena. We were living in that motel when my mother died in 2002.

I discovered a few hours ago that Pam no longer remembers that motel at all. Not. At. All. It might be possible to jog her memory, but since mentioning Mom’s passing didn’t do the trick, I’m thinking it’s likely best just to let it go. She experienced a bit of trauma while living at that motel, too; forgetting that might not be a bad thing.

But, one way or another, it’s a big thing. Some of the Alzheimer’s literature out there states that the people who stave off the more serious effects of the disease for the longest period of time…also crash through the various progressive stages with greater speed and intensity once the obvious symptoms do finally begin to manifest.

The image that comes to mind is a rocket sled on rails.

2 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 12: Fascination with a Toy for Toddlers

  1. I have seen these toys and they do have quite a bit of fascination for people that love children. Seeing her take so long to figure it out, would be quite painful. She sounds like she has gone down a lot since we moved here. I have not seen you much since you finished working over here, and did not see Pam that much even then. I wish I could get out there.
    I do not think that will happen until the wash is fixed though. Even having a van with a truck frame would not work on that wash. Having the lift on the back would definitely hinder that too. It does scrape going out some driveways in town. The lift and chair weigh about 600 pounds and really make that van squat. Looking at putting stiffer suspension on the back of it.

  2. I think she’s gone down quite a bit in recent months, too, though depending on the day, a casual visitor might not spot it. She can still fake it beautifully at times. Having you drop in would be nice, but you’re right: The wash is not ready. It’s fixed “enough” that we’re safely using the Subaru again (which had to have a new battery and a vacuum leak repair), but it’s no place for your van just yet. After the contractor finishes smoothing things back out later this month, it might be workable; we’ll let you know. But at the moment, not only am I pretty sure the van (as you describe it) would drag that lift in certain spots, the ride would be way too rough for Dennis to endure. Besides which, if you hit the wrong side coming off the highway, there are a couple of sneaky spots that could flat-out break an axle.

    Our road aside, I would think stiffer suspension on the back would be almost a necessity.

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