Deborah J. Haynes

Houses and Dementia

I sit in our nearly repaired Jamestown house, three feet from the propane stove. I’ve turned the heat up to about 65 degrees because I am awaiting my first guest in five months. Listening to the flames and the whirr of the ceiling fan above, I sip Bushmills, a reminder of my trip to Ireland last June to meet cousins. I brought wine, water, whiskey, and snacks for this first social event in the house.

The last 100 gallons of propane cost nearly $4 per gallon, a vivid reminder of corporate interests and energy wars. Mostly the house is kept at 50 degrees. We do not yet have water: the process of rebuilding the town’s water plant and distribution system will begin soon, with a goal of completing the work by next August. It is an ambitious goal, especially given the fact that work is also beginning soon on the stream corridor to protect the town from further flooding during spring runoff. Everyone—including the engineers who are working on the design for armoring the creek banks, deepening the channel, creating catchment basins, and more—is anxious. Unexpectedly, I find myself curious about what will happen as the snow melts, the creek rises, and debris begins to flow again.

Two days ago, we moved a few pieces of furniture, along with boxes of household goods, back into the house. About half of the oak floor still needs to be replaced and the whole first floor will be refinished. A new toilet and shower are being installed on the ground level. The raised, and very expensive, septic field is under construction. I want to make the house comfortable again, even in the context of uncertainty about what will come.

From a legal perspective our primary residence remains 51 Main Street, although we have just moved into a newly remodeled bungalow in Longmont, about 35 minutes drive from Jamestown. So many factors shaped my decision to buy this small transitional house, especially my husband’s slowly progressing dementia. It is difficult to speak of this process in a public forum, but I think it is time.

In the past few years since the onset of David’s cognitive decline, I have read several compelling memoirs about the process of advancing dementia, especially Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle and Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Katy Butler. Attending workshops sponsored by the Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the county Council on Aging has provided me with deeper understanding of the various kinds of dementia and their diverse manifestations. Especially, I learned about the crucial importance of having adequate support for myself and for my husband’s care so that I do not wear myself out. David vacillates between high cognitive functioning, where he is able to engage in activities and coherent conversations, and a state that he calls “annoyance,” which seems more like anger and depression to me. I will soon begin a workshop on caregiving, during which I hope to learn more effective strategies for dealing with my own and his frustrations with this ongoing process.

In the midst of seemingly endless concentration on houses and dementia, I have retired from active teaching and service at the university. In November on this blog I published an interview with colleague Marilyn Brown about the flood. My university department recently published another interview with Marilyn that has more to do with my professional life.

It is cold today and the forecast calls for snow, which will slow down the mountain snowmelt. March and April have historically been months of the greatest snow in our part of Colorado. But we shall see what this year brings. A few warm days, already in the 50s, remind that spring will come again.

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