Bob Wolf is a local support group member. His wife Carol has Lewy body dementia (LBD). Bob wrote a wonderful, slim book called “Honey, I Sold the Red Cadillac” about his journey with LBD. He generously donated a copy to our group and it’s been circulating. You can also purchase your own copy!
Bob spoke at the Parkinson’s support group meeting in Walnut Creek last Saturday. His talk (like his book) focused on how he learned to enter Carol’s reality.
Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan attended the talk and shared her notes.
Notes by Denise Dagan, Brain Support Network Volunteer
Speaker: Bob Wolf
Author of “Honey, I Sold the Red Cadillac: Learning to Cope with Lewy Body Dementia”
January 20, 2018
Parkinson’s Support Group Meeting, Walnut Creek
Bob calls himself a recovering engineer. He thinks very logically and practically, so when his wife, Carol, started hallucinating he tried to talk her out of it. His book tells their story and shares how he learned it is not possible to talk someone with dementia out of their delusions or hallucinations.
He began my explaining that both Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) are caused by the loss of dopamine in the brain, but in LBD the areas of the brain affected is more diffuse or extensive, resulting in hallucinations years earlier than someone with Parkinson’s disease may experience them.
Bob learned an interesting thing from a physical therapist (PT) who tested Carol. The PT asked Carol how many steps she thought it would take her to cross the room. She guessed 12, but it took several more. The PT explained that walking is a rather automatic action controlled by the brain in an area affected by dopamine depletion. When you have Parkinson’s disease and you walk without thinking about it you don’t walk well. When you think about it, you move control over your walking to a different part of the brain, generally not affected by dopamine loss so, if you have Parkinson’s disease, you will walk better.
Bob shared the story of when Carol’s initial symptoms presented themselves and his initial response to her hallucinations by trying to talk her out of believing her own eyes. It didn’t work. He learned he needed to work within the framework of her reality, going so far as to schedule their shower times around Carol’s belief that the local little league team was using Bob and Carol’s shower after practice.
This is the story that determined the title of his book. It was the first experience that taught Bob he needed to get into Carol’s reality. One day, looking out the window, Carol began complaining about some teenagers causing damage to Bob and Carol’s red Cadillac. To begin with, Bob and Carol don’t own a red Cadillac, and they live at Rossmoor Senior Living where there are no teenagers. He tried telling her they don’t own a Cadillac and there are no teenagers. She persisted day after day when looking out the same window that the boys were causing this or that damage to their car. One day Bob said, “Honey, I sold the red Cadillac.” She asked, “How much did you get for it?” He was a bit surprised and said, “Blue Book.” She never brought up the red Cadillac again.
Before Bob learned he had to work within Carol’s reality, he once rushed Carol to the emergency room because Carol believed her mother was ill. Bob knew Carol’s mother was deceased and wouldn’t be at the ER, but he wanted to show Carol what he said was true and Carol was mistaken. It only resulted in Carol being upset. After Bob learned to work within Carol’s reality, when Carol believed her mother was injured and at the ER, Bob went into another room and pretended to call the hospital. He told Carol her mother wasn’t badly hurt and had been sent home. He then distracted her with a pleasant activity.
After Carol had several falls Bob hired a caregiver for Tuesdays, when his bridge club met. Gradually, he added the caregiver more and more days in the week. Eventually, their daughter asked what happens to Carol if something happens to Bob, even a bad cold or the flu? He realized it was time to find Carol residential care. The family looked at several places and still picked one that didn’t serve her needs. They moved Carol to where she lives now and she’s doing very well.
Bob had a difficult time dealing with the fact that he was retired with only one job, to care for his wife, and he couldn’t do it. He saw a counselor who suggested writing down his experiences and his feelings. He did, but he realized he didn’t need a counselor for that, so he kept writing and joined a caregiver support group. At the support group he realized his stories could help others learning to care for someone with LBD, so he published his writings in “Honey, I Sold the Red Cadillac.”
Question & Answer
Q. Does Carol still know you?
A. Most of the time, although sometimes she believes Bob is her father. After all, he has white hair and makes all the decisions.
One day the activity was a travel video of Iceland. In one scene, a girl was putting on ice skates when the activity leader asked the group, “What is that girl doing?” Carol said, “Getting ready to fall down.” So, you see? Sometimes she really knows what’s going on and still has a great sense of humor.
Bob’s best advice is to remember the flight attendant’s instructions, “Put your own mask on first, then help the person next to you.” If you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone. Take care of your own needs first, then look after your loved one.
Q. There was a comment that levodopa increases hallucinations, so stop or cut back on levodopa.
A. Bob pointed out that the anti-psychotic Carol takes makes her Parkinson’s symptoms worse, so they need one medication to help the side-effects of the other, and vice-versa.
Q. Another man asked about the commercials he’s been seeing on TV about a man with Parkinson’s having hallucinations. He wanted to know what they are selling.
A. Someone from the back of the room explained Nuplazid is the only FDA approved medication specifically designed for Parkinson’s/LBD hallucinations. This man’s wife is taking it and he says it is very expensive.