Alzheimer’s Books: Tangles and The Little Girl in the Radiator

I read two books on Alzheimer’s from the caretaker’s perspective:

  1. The Little Girl in the Radiator
  2. Tangles

Tangles and The Little Girl in the Radiator are written from the perspective of the caregiver. Tangles is written by Sarah Leavitt about her mother. The main caretaker is her father.

In The Little Girl in the Radiator, the son (Martin Slevin) is the main caretaker.

I enjoyed Radiator Girl more because of its humor. Tangles is a comic book and I’m not a big fan of comic books. Both were good; tears were flowing at the end.

Here are some things that stood out for me:

Loss of Appetite
In both books, the patient loses appetite, and so is in real danger of getting weaker. This may be in part because the patient’s sense of smell is gone, and so flavor and taste comes from the tongue. As a result, both patients loved sweet food (sweet candies in Tangled and chocolate biscuits in the Little Girl in the Radiator). It’s bittersweet the lengths at which the patients would eat sweet food. In Tangled, the mother eats sweet candies without taking the wrapper off, while in the Little Girl in the Radiator, the mother buys 50 packets of chocolate biscuits.

Managing the bodily functions of an Alzheimer’s patient is hard. In Tangles, the mother’s hygiene has deteriorated to a point where there are bits of feces and the patient is oblivious. The author mentions multiple incidents, and I think the mother even pooed in her underwear. I’m not sure why they didn’t put the mother in diapers earlier.

There are some nice pictures of raised toilet seat which only a comic book could capture nicely.

I wonder if a bidet toilet would have helped the patient remain clean. I wonder if there are bidet toilets for elderly. You’d have to be used to using one too, and I know I’m not used to it.

Also in Tangles, keeping the mother clean is a challenge. The mother can’t brush her own teeth so her breath stinks. The comic book pictures a bathtub, which must be difficult to get in and out of. I wonder if a shower stall is easier for someone with Alzheimer’s. Hygiene seems a challenge and they hire two caretakers for the mother when the father is away at work or needs a break.

Pets offer love
In both books, pets seem to help. In Tangles, Sarah’s mother recognizes the cat instead of her own daughter, In The Little Girl in the Radiator, the patient adopts an unruly dog for a few months, and is the one person who can relate to the dog. There are some pretty touching stories about the dog stealing the Sunday roast, but at then finding the lost patient!

Lost concept of time / Waking up at night
In both books, the patient can’t sleep and wakes up in the middle of the night, expecting a hair appointment or having a full-on conversation. In Tangles, the husband turns on the TV all night to entertain his affected wife. This can be very hard on the caretaker because the caretaker needs rest too.

Interesting Observations by the Author of The Little Girl in the Radiator:
Suggestive and Easily Duped
This may depend on how social the patient is. In the Little Girl in the Radiator, the author describes how his mother is easily swindled by door-to-door salesmen. Thankfully, he had power of attorney and was able to dispute charges which the mother had agreed to.
Know the laws in your state and country and assert them! Get power of attorney so that any legal agreement that the patient enters into isn’t binding.
Another example of how the patient is impressionable, is that whatever she watches on television becomes reality for the patient.

Repetitive actions that speak to a larger insecurity
Martin Slevin was astute enough to interpret deeper meaning from his mother’s obsessions. The title “Little Girl in the Radiator” is a fixation that his mother has — that there’s a little girl trapped in the radiator. Martin learns from his mother in her last days that ‘she’ is the little girl in the radiator — that she feels trapped and can’t come out. There are other repetitive patterns such as asking to go to the hairdresser (the mother was always looking her best and well-coiffed) and locking her son out of the house when she felt insecure or that he was a threat.