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Daily Life With Mild Cognitive Impairment: Making Adjustments at Home

A visit with an occupational therapist, continued daily walks and a new community project

By David Koulack

Editor’s note: The founder of the first sleep and dream research lab at the University of Manitoba and a retired psychology professor, David Koulack is documenting his health journey through occasional posts on Next Avenue.

Recently, I received a letter informing me of an upcoming appointment for an MRI at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

"How come?" I asked my son Joshua. "I had an MRI only a few months ago."

"To see if you've gotten any worse," he said.

David Koulack sitting outside with a newspaper. Mild cognitive impairment, Next Avenue
David Koulack, photographed by his son Daniel   |  Credit: David Koulack

His reply probably told me more than I wanted to know, but it also got me thinking about the recent past, the present and the future.

It's been several weeks since I got my first vaccination for COVID-19, but the process of getting it gave me another perspective on my situation.

As for me, in spite of my mild cognitive impairment, I was doing just fine and I was doing it on my own.

The vaccination site was at the Civic Centre which was crowded with people my age — 82-year-olds — but what was striking was that many of those people were in wheelchairs or using a walker or, at the very least, were accompanied by an attendant. But as for me, in spite of my mild cognitive impairment, I was doing just fine and I was doing it on my own.

And, as an added bonus, while waiting for the vaccination, and afterward for 15 minutes to make sure that there were no ill-effects from the vaccine, several of us became friends with each other. We joked around, talked about our lives, the strangeness of the situation and the world in general.

In short, we talked about the sorts of things we would have been talking about in the outside world if we had actually been able to spend time with other people, something that was going to happen now that we would be immune, or so I thought.

But of course, that wasn't to be the case. Vaccine or not, we are still advised to keep our distance from others, even after the second shot, because there are new COVID-19 variants on the scene.

Making Our Home Safer

Another recent event was that I had an important meeting with an occupational therapist. Her job, it was explained to me, was to make our home as safe as possible for older people and especially, I guess, for an older person with "the shaky wakeys" (how I describe the way my condition makes me feel).

The appointment started in the bathroom where she prescribed two vertical bars on the bathtub wall — one next to the shower to aid in stepping into the tub and one on the far wall to hold on to while the shower was going.

The OT also recommended adding a railing adjacent to the steps going down to the basement from the main floor and other railings to be attached to the walls beside the steps leading to the second floor.

"And," she added while demonstrating the instability of an iron banister on the second floor, "this needs to be replaced by a sturdier wood structure."


There were also a number of loose rugs on the second floor that she felt should either be removed or secured to the floor with rubber backing or two-sided tape.

And then coming back downstairs, she checked our bedroom, where she quickly focused in on our dog Mabel's bed.

"This has got to go," she said. "It's a hazard."

The writer's dog mabel sitting outside in the sun. Next Avenue, mild cognitive impairment
David Koulack's dog, Mabel  |  Credit: David Koulack

I have a vivid image of the moment she said that. She was in the room standing on Mabel's bed, if you can believe that, and Mabel and I were at the door. Was Mabel's brushing against me just happenstance or a message of some sort?

Staying Active With New Endeavors

When I looked down at Mabel, I was certain it was the latter. Propriety demanded that neither of us make a comment, but I did bend down and stroke Mabel in a manner that made it clear that she and I would discuss this later.

"Listen," the occupational therapist said as she handed me her card before making her way to the door, "if you have any questions about what we've talked about or any other changes you'd like to make, don't hesitate to give me a call."

My thanks were heartfelt. Her suggestions were really helpful and I had every intention of implementing almost all of them. "Except for the last one," Mabel said, and maybe she was right.

Life couldn't come to a halt because of the "shaky wakeys" or the pandemic, for that matter.

As it turns out, we're going to have to wait a bit for the work to be done because the guy who has helped us out with all sorts of alterations and fixes in the past is, as usual, very busy.

But that's okay, summer is here and there all kinds of things I can do, like helping my wife Barbara with her garden, not to mention managing my tomatoes and cucumbers and, of course, getting outside and walking as much as possible with Mabel.

One of the things we particularly like to do is to go to the nearby Little Mountain Park. There, Barbara and I can spend an hour or so walking on the many pathways while Mabel spends the time charging through the woods going after all sorts of game that she never manages to capture. What fun that was for all of us.

But, unfortunately, the last time we went was not without its consequences.

The next morning, Mabel had a limp. The vet's diagnosis was arthritis, so now she's on medication and, while she still likes running around, the truth is she'd rather hang out in the garden or just go for our regular walks.

A garden of peonies and poppy flowers. Next Avenue, mild cognitive impairment
The garden outside their home  |  Credit: David Koulack

There had to be more than this. Life couldn't come to a halt because of the "shaky wakeys" or the pandemic, for that matter. And that's where our friend and neighbor Bill happened along.

"I'm going down to the Assiniboine River on Thursday at one o'clock to start cleaning up all the debris that people have discarded down there," he said. "You want to join me?"

"You bet," I told him.

And that week we began what will be a long-term project. Something I realized I had seen someone doing on his own when we first moved to our Riverbend neighborhood. Where was the man now? I wished that I'd spoken to him then, that I could have told him we were going to be carrying on his legacy.

And there's something else: our neighbors are threatening to join us. Maybe this is the beginning of something new — people helping nature to restore itself.

David Koulack took early retirement from the psychology department at the University of Manitoba in order to write. His articles have appeared in many newspapers and his short stories and creative nonfiction pieces have been published in a variety of literary journals. Read More
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