MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – For many families who have a loved one with memory loss, the transition out of pandemic life has come with notable changes.
For six years, WCCO has been documenting the journey of a retired Stillwater doctor from his early stages of memory loss to his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
As we found after a long year of isolation, life at the Quinns’ is different as some hard decisions weigh heavy on their minds.
The first difference you pick up on is Paul Quinn’s difficulty following the conversation when his three daughters are over for a visit.
It’s a scene that not long ago took place outside, socially-distanced, over zoom, or on the phone.
“The biggest changes with my dad. He’s not as talkative. He doesn’t participate. He’s quieter. He’s more isolated. He was pretty dominate in conversation. He’s much more sidelined now,” one of his daughters Mary McCallum told us.
Our cameras captured those days pre-COVID. The retired family physician and Navy admiral reliving the old days with ease.
The stories, for the most part, are gone. So too, are some of the mechanics of the 82-year-old’s routine.
“He doesn’t really have an idea of how to use things anymore so we’re all a bit fearful that something is going to happen,” his daughter, Katie Mack said.
It was two years ago when Paul’s family took his car keys away. Last summer, the lawn mower proved too dangerous. Now, it’s simple cooking tasks that have set off smoke alarms that worry them.
“I think that’s exhausting for my mom because it’s so much to keep up and it changes literally by the minute,” Mack remarked, as we witnessed when Paul wandered in a few minutes after he forgot he said he’d stay outside for a while.
“It was pretty much 24/7 the last year and a half,” Paul’s wife, Peg said.
Without the hustle of grandkids’ sporting events or big family holidays this past year, Peg would explain the reality of the pandemic to her husband several times a day.
“It’s been really amazing that something this major in the world didn’t exist for him,” she said.
What does, is what’s in front of Paul in the moment. Even that doesn’t last long.
“There’s not anything that’s too complex around here. Then I go outside and mow the lawn if the lawn needs mowing,” Paul told us.
“You don’t actually mow the lawn anymore – we have guys who come and do it for us,” Peg said, correcting her husband.
Doctors have told Peg that Paul shouldn’t be left alone anymore. She has outside help through the VA twice a week and daughters who take turns.
Still, heavy decisions are looming with Paul possibly needing to move into long-term care.
“This summer was the first time she mentioned she’d need to sell the house,” Katie Mack said.
“We all grew up here. The grandkids all grew up coming here,” their daughter, Ann Vance said.
“They designed it for family. We have lived in every inch of it and packed it with kids and chaos and holidays and it’s been amazing,” Mack said.
“It’s a really special place. So to think about that not being here anymore is really hard,” Vance said.
Peg admits it’s getting too much to manage and the countryside presents its own challenges with Paul’s condition.
Still, the Quinns are committed to being open through it all, open with their advice and their heartache, knowing too many others share the same road.
“One other thing I’ve learned is that person is in the moment and you just go where they are it’s ok,” Mary McCallum said.
“They call Alzheimer’s the long goodbye. I think that’s what it is – an incremental loss but steady,” Peg Quinn said.
The Quinns also believe families should record those stories a loved one with memory loss is telling them.
They may seem repetitive in the moment but as they’ve witnessed, those stories will end and families will cherish the keepsake.
Stay tuned on Wednesday for a CBSN Minnesota Special: Living with Memory Loss.
From experts available to answer your questions, to estate tips to help your own family make a plan, and the new hope for patients.
It’s all coming up right after the noon news, at 12:30 on Wednesday, streaming on our website and the CBS News app on any of your devices.
You can also look back at all of our reporting with Paul Quinn here.