Alzheimer’s Decline in the Age of Coronavirus

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The last two weeks have been the longest days of my life.

If you have known Norm Nielsen, you know that throughout his life he was one of the most vibrant and active persons I have known. To the very day that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly five years ago, he was a remarkable magic performer, builder, had a memory like no one I have known, never procrastinated, and achieved everything he put his mind to.

Alzheimer’s would change his life and mine, forever.

Norm Nielsen
The is what Norm looked like on February 17, 2020. His 86th birthday.

Two weeks ago, Norm was his usual self. Although he did not have short or long term memory, and no concept of time or place, he was still able to speak and read, he could walk, and with gentle reminders, he could groom and dress himself.

Between ten and seven days ago, Norm’s condition declined ten-fold. All of a sudden, he was falling 3 – 5 times per day. And during those times, I was able to pick his 150 lb body up and get him going. After a couple of days like that, his ability to groom himself  was gone. For a few days I had to shower him, dress him from top to bottom, and get him ready for the day. Not to mention having to physically lift him each time he needed to go to the toilet. Which meant that I did not sleep for days. After four days of this condition, he stopped eating. The reason: It was difficult to swallow.

Throughout this ordeal, I am contacting his neurologist/geriatric doctor. In these technological times, these fancy clinics have these so called “electronic portals” in which you send a message to your doctor. Having to communicate via a computer does remove the empathy and humanity of the health care system. A nurse from the doctor’s office contacted me and told me that due to the coronavirus, they are not seeing any patients right now.

Since she had zero initiative, I told her: This could be due to the decline in his level of dementia; or he could have an infection of something other than the dementia that is causing these symptoms. Is there a way to check him?

She recommended this Health Direct services, and gave me their telephone number. I called them, and they requested some sort of paperwork – which I did not have. No paperwork, no service.

At this point, in my mind, his neurologist was out. They would not be able to provide the help I needed. After quick thinking and a few phone calls, I managed to get Norm cardiologist’s personal cell phone. I called her last Monday afternoon, described the symptoms, and she said: “He probably had a small stroke. Let me order an MRI. Can he walk?” I said: “No.” “Then take him to the emergency room,” she said.

Emergency rooms in Las Vegas, during Covid-19 era are weird.

I have had plenty of experience with taking people to the hospital, and the waiting room at Summerlin Hospital was empty this time. There were only three patients in the lobby: A little girl held by her mother with fever, another coughing gentleman, and Norm and I.

I asked them… How come so few people?  They told me that Covid-19 is keeping people away, so what they were getting were real emergencies. People these days were not using the ER for frivolous reasons.

They did allow me to be with Norm at the ER. Due to his Alzheimer’s he needed someone with him that could check him into the hospital and provide information for the doctors.

He did have to remain in the hospital and get a room upstairs. But I could not go in. Rules are strict these days. No visitors at all were allowed.

I have no idea what could have been going through Norm’s mind. With no memory, and no concept of time or place, I guess he might have been afraid and confused. Or, perhaps, which is what I would like to think… In a blissful state of glee, given all the attention given to him by the staff. I will never know.

It was frustrating not to be there as Norm’s advocate.

Rather than bother them every few hours to find about his welfare, I befriended the head nurse and told her I would only call once per day. I told her… “All I want is a full report.” “What is the best time to call you?” She kindly said: “Later in the afternoon, after all the tests are administered to Norm.”

Tarika was the nurse’s name. One of many in these scary healthcare times. She was very sweet and thoughtful and there was a time when she went out of her way to make a telephone call and put Norm on the line.

After a few days, though, no news from a single doctor… I had to ask the nurse if that was ever forthcoming. It was not until the end of the third day… Or Thursday afternoon… That I heard from Dr. Bamman from the hospital. At the end of the conversation, it seemed that Norm was the “picture of health”. No stroke was visible on the CT Scan or MRI, there was slight plaque formation seen on the carotid ultrasound, normal for his age. Blood tests were normal, etc.

Strange…

Yet, he can no longer walk, he slurs his words, he does have difficulty swallowing, and has declined cognitively.

My own amateur theory (from past experience with our friend Gary Darwin, and my own mother, who had dementia): Norm had a mini-stroke or a TIA (transient ischemic attack). These are so tiny, that our imaging capabilities won’t see them, yet could be so powerful, that they might account for his sudden decline.

The decline is such, that unfortunately, I don’t find myself capable to physically care for Norm at home. He needs someone to help him walk, and to even perform the most basic activities like going to the bathroom. Although I am able to lift him, doing this along with managing Nielsen Magic and taking care of the home would become a herculean task.

Finding a Memory Care Facility

I decided to contact the Alzheimer’s Association, and requested a list of Memory Care Facilities in our part of the Las Vegas Valley.

I called all of them, including one located two blocks away in our neighborhood. Alas! The neighborhood facility did not have availability, and I interviewed the others by phone. With the covid-19 pandemic no visitors or tours are allowed of any senior facilities in area. 

Sight unseen, I picked one. Factors were: The price, service, website, and the customer service and the way they treated me while on the phone.

So far, so good…

Memory Care Facility's Welcome Sign for Norm
The receptionist was kind enough to prepare this sign for Norm. This will be his new home for the foreseeable future.

I have probably made the most critical decision in the life of a caretaker: Moving my loved one away from home to a nursing home situation.

At this point I don’t know when I can go and visit him, as visitors are not allowed until after the pandemic is over. I do keep in touch with the nursing staff, all of whom have been compassionate and understanding of the situation.

I do hear Norm was comfortable the first night, watching a movie late at night with the nurses. Lol!

I never thought this would break my heart, but it does. I really, really miss my best friend.

— Lupe Nielsen
(April 5, 2020)

73 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s Decline in the Age of Coronavirus”

    1. Dear Lupe,

      When I learned of Norm’s passing, it brought back many
      years of treasured memories. He was a dear confidante
      and friend for decades to both Glenn and myself. Norm
      was an artist of the highest calibre, and it was an honor
      to have witnessed an impeccable, astonishing and wondrous stage act of our time. We were breathless
      every minute Norm was on stage. I only wish that my
      father, Harry Willard the Wizard, could have seen him.
      Norm certainly lifted the Art of Magic to the highest pinnacle and held it there.
      Lupe, I am grateful that he found you to stand by him
      through his career and life. You were a blessing, for
      Altzheimer’s is an “uncharted
      journey” and not for the faint of heart. We are both witnesses to the challenge it is.
      But
      when I think of Norm, I will remember his playful manner and laughter with frends. He cultivated beautiful things such as enjoying great meals between shows and after shows.
      When he bought his exquisite home, he was so proud to
      share his rare magic posters with a multitude of friends.
      There was a time when Norm shared his home with our
      dear friend/comedian, Bob French. In return, Bob would
      oversee his office and home on Barham. Bob once said
      Norm amassed volumes of glowing letters of appreciation from clients and international producers. Norm was the
      ideal professional artist on stage and off. He was a true
      friend of style and substance. To quote a cherished
      review by Syd Lorraine:
      “…..the act was brilliantly presented and flawlessly
      executed. It was the kind of an act that nothing could
      follow and nothing did.”

  1. May your heart be at peace, Lupe. You are putting him into the level of care best for him, best for his comfort. As you know, at a certain point, others must step in to do what we cannot.

    I think you were the best thing to happen to Norm in his life. He was blessed beyond measure to have you. You were blessed to have him. What a team you are!

    Please know that every friend Norm has sends you their gratitude and blessings for your work, your dedication and your love for him. You have done for him, through these years, what we could not.

    Endure.

    In deep gratitude,
    Tom Jorgenson

    1. Thank you for your sweet words, Tom. I am confident Norm is at a good place now. I will miss him dearly, though. Norm was also lucky to have you when he lived in Los Angeles. Thank you for being a good friend.

  2. Lupe, Our Hearts are breaking with you. Life is so difficult at times we seem over whelmed. There are never any right or wrong decisions we make in these scenarios. You do what you can do. It is sad that we are in the middle of this Covid 19 mess right now. Maybe he will adjust faster to his new surroundings this way.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Norm. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.

    Randy and Julie Glau

  3. Sending much love and prayers in this difficult time. You are both very amazing. I admire how you have taken care of him as well as juggle the magic shop and still managing to make items. He’s a fighter I see that in your posts. Our families love and prayers go out to you both continuously

  4. Oh Lupe… My heart is with you. I can only begin to imagine how difficult this all has been for you. I want you to know that you’ve made the right choice, as hard as it was. And yes, this is going to be a challenging transition for you, and perhaps for Norm, too, though there really is no way to know what his experience is. I like to think of him happy there, enjoying the attention he’s getting and finding his new normal. Give yourself time to adjust, feel all the feelings, use your journal…. If you can, get outside every day and breathe some fresh air and feel some sunshine on your skin. I’m around if you want to talk, and you have our full support. Sending love….

    1. I am so grateful that you are in our lives, Abigail! Thank you for your love and support. Hope you and Jeff, are well and safe in these uncertain times. God bless you.

  5. Lupe, you’re a wonderful partner. No one could be better. You’re resourceful and courageous and if Norm were able to grasp what you’ve accomplished he’d be so grateful and proud. I certainly am.

    1. We are grateful that you are part of our lives, Teller. Thank you for your kind thoughts and words. Hope you and your loved ones are well and safe during these crazy times. I look forward to seeing you again in the near future. Hugs!

  6. Our love and hearts go out to you both. You are doing a wonderful job, even as it gets harder. Thank you for sharing your posts with those of us who love both Norm and you.

  7. Lupe:
    Sending love to Norm and you. So sorry for his decline. Hope you are holding up in the crazy new normal of the world. Sending prayers for Norm.

  8. I am so heart broken i can not say anything, i can hardly write. I love you both more then you know.

  9. Oh, Lupe. I wish we had some words that would comfort, words that would fix this but of course we don’t. Please know that we love you and Norm. We can’t pretend to know what you are going through but we know you will handle this with your usual good grace. Hugs.
    Mac and Jen

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Jen! I trust things will be alright. Hope you and Mac are well and safe. Much love to you both! xoxo

  10. Lupe, we are so sorry that you and Norm are both having these challenges. You have been such a blessing in his life, as he has been in yours. I know they say that God does not give you more than you can handle, but sometimes the challenges seem absolutely overwhelming. You have been such a tremendous caregiver for Norm for so long. We will definitely keep both of you in our thoughts and prayers. Love and blessings always!!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Harry and Trudy. I look forward to seeing you again in the near future. Be well and stay safe. 🙂

  11. Lupe, I’m am so proud of you for all the care you have gave Norm in the past years. Life became complicated for you & Norm much faster than anyone could have anticipated. It must have been very frustrating to witness a loved ones’ health get worse, and frightening to be in the caregiver role. Stay well & healthy…..Sending Love!

  12. Lupe,

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and Norm. I know this was a very difficult decision to make. I was in your shoes. I took care of my father for three years. I did everything. And I was very burnt out. I was getting ready to put him in a care facility something I vowed I would never do. My father passed away just one week before going into long term care.

    I will pray that Norm has a very happy and great experience with this facility. I know that you have done all you can. Please know that what you did is okay. Do not put any burden on yourself. Just know that you and Norm mean a lot to the Magic community and you are both loved.

    1. Thank you for your kind thoughts, Rodney. So sorry to hear about your father. 🙁 Taking care of people with dementia is quite a challenge. Be well, and stay safe!

  13. Lupe – I have thought of you and Norm so many, many times over these last few years and admired your unbelievable dedication. I know how difficult this choice must have been for you but as you have always done – you are doing what is best for Norm. Please know that Becki and I are sending the strongest possible good vibes your way. Stay Safe. – Bill and Becki

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Bill and Becki! Indeed, things happened so quickly that it was time to get him another level of care. Hope you are both well and safe. Hugs! xoxo

  14. Lupe,
    You and Norm have my prayers, thoughts and love. I’m so happy that he had you to help him during this immediate past period, and for the past years.

    You ask a great question: whether Norm was afraid or in blissful glee. A very dear friend of mine (elderly nun) visits elderly homebound persons, and once remarked “I don’t know…maybe persons with dementia and Alzheimer’s have it made…maybe it’s the way to go with not having worries, and being content in the moment… [think of Norm watching the movie!]” I would like to think this (bliss) is the case.

    I would see if you can get a print of a poster (or two) that he loved, to hang in his room. It may provide added bliss.

    I realize your world has been, and continues to be, upside down.

    I’m honored to have visited you both last month (He had his quick wit!)

    You have my prayers, thoughts and love.

    Your friend,
    Mike Hrab

    1. It will always be a challenge to see the world through their eyes. So far, I have been happy with the care they are giving him. Although I can’t visit, they keep me apprised of any development. It was good to have you visit a few weeks ago. Hope you are well and safe. Take care, and I look forward to seeing you again in the future. xoxo

  15. Lupe querida lamento mucho que el Alzheimer haya escalado tanto en Norm. Solo deseo paz para tu corazón en este momento. Todo pasa , lento o rápido y arrasándonos, pero pasa. Pronto con la ayuda de papa Dios podrás ver y abrazar a Norm. Besitos!!

    1. Gracias por tus bellas palabras, Madeleine! Como siempre, hay que seguir hacia adelante! Espero que tú y tu familia estén bien, especialmente de salud. Abrazos!

  16. Lupe, I admire greatly you beeing there all the way for Norm. In good times and in bad…. Something that is really hard to find.
    See you when Corona is over …. Stay strong
    Wolf

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Wolfgang. Hope you and Gudrun are well and safe. Be well and thank you again for your friendship. Hugs! xoxo

  17. Lupe, There are no words we can think of to make things better, but we love you and Norm and know you will survive with your usual good grace, good humor, good friends.
    We are heartbroken for you both.

    Much love,
    Mac and Jen

  18. Lupe, my heart is aching for you right now. Please let me know if you need me for anything, Lisa and I are both here for you. Whether you need us to bring dinner to you or you just need a friend on the other end of the phone, I am here for you. You’ve never been the type of person to lean on others, but now is the time. Lean on your friends and let us all be there for you.

    Love to you and Norm,
    Lynetta

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Lynetta. Your friendship is truly invaluable to us. It is always comforting to know that we can always count with someone when s%@t hits the fan. Lol! We love you too, and hopefully we will see you and Lisa again after this pandemic is over. Be well and stay healthy! xoxo

  19. Lupe, your strength throughout all of this has been inspiring. Hopefully communication from his caretakers will be as frequent as possible and that you’re able to visit him in May or June at the latest. We hope you’re taking care of yourself.
    Love, Sonya and Tom

    1. So far, I have been pleased with the staff at the caretaking facility. That is a huge relief. I have not contacted Norm yet, as I want him to settle into his new routine and environment. Hope you and Sonya are well and hanging in there. Sorry your wedding got postponed. 🙁 All this shall pass, I am sure! Be well! xoxo

  20. Oh, Lupe.
    What a hard time for you. You have done so well by Norm all these years. I remember having lunch with you, Norm and Bob in the earliest steps of this awful journey. Norm knew he knew us, but names were elusive. I hope the staff at his nursing home realize what a great man they now have. I’m heartbroken for you that you can’t visit with him, which must make this separation even worse. My love is with you.

    Wash your hands.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Esme! Things are lonely without Norm around here, but I know that he is in good hands. They love him at the nursing home, as he makes people laugh and he is extremely sociable. Hope you are staying well and safe too. I look forward to seeing you again in the near future. Hugs! xoxo

  21. Lupe, I and hundreds of thousands have marvelled at the most Magical of our teachers and inspirations. Norm was and will remain a legend for us all – and your love and care for him will be something that brings us all great joy. You have many Brothers and Sisters . . . and we all share your sadness.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and support, Paul! I does mean a lot to us. Hope you are well and safe during these crazy times.

  22. Bless you, Lupe! Thanks for all you have done and are doing for Norm.
    Stay safe and well.

      1. Lupe, I just read your post after placing an order with Nielsen magic. I am so sorry for what you and Norm are going through. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. Warmest regards, John McLaughlin

  23. Lupe, my cherished old friend. I cannot conceive of a greater act of love. Nor, for that matter, a greater act of personal courage.

    If you will forgive me for presenting it this way — truly, behalf of Norm, you have my gratitude.

    My thoughts are with you. Much love.

    Jamy

    1. You are sweet, Jamy! I cherish our friendship of so many years. Hope you and your family are well and safe. (At least I know they are being well fed!)
      Hugs! xoxo

  24. Lupe, my thoughts and prayers are with you and Norm! He is most assuredly blessed to have you and the care that he now needs! Please stay strong and healthy.

  25. Lupe, I’m sorry that you are going through this. My Mother had the samething and eventually had a mini stroke. Before the mini stroke she got along pretty good with the help of my sister. After it she fell a lot and broke bones that caused a lot of pain. My sister did the samething and put her in a memory care home. My mother knew that I was Santa and would tell everyone that would listen to her that her son was Santa. I went to the Memory Car home to tell them I was Santa, to make sure they didn’t think she was crazy. They put that in her file and would talk to her every day about Santa. Know that you did the Best thing for Norm. After all the virus stuff goes away, you will be able to visit Norm. God Bless you Lupe. This is not easy!

    1. That was a good story about your Mom. Glad that you and your sister were able to give her a great life at the end. And yes, I also believe you are the real Santa! Be well and stay safe!

  26. Lupe, my heart breaks for you. Please know that I send love and prayers across the miles for you and for Norm. I am so happy Fielding and Janice took me to dinner at your home all those years ago. I knew after I met you and Norm, and Lisa and Scott, you all would be friends forever. I know I am far away, but you and Norm are in my thoughts so often. I love you both. xoxo
    Diane

    1. Thank you for your friendship, Diane! It is a privilege to know you. We are grateful for your thoughts and prayers. xoxo

  27. Lupe, I met you briefly at the recent SAM convention. My heart goes to you and Norm. Bless you for all you have done. I am so happy that so many have offered their thoughts and support. God be with you.

  28. Lupe, you are brave and strong and so caring. You have loved Norm and given him strength, support and love for years. You have done the very best you could for him . I know this was the most difficult decision of your life and it was the right one. Living with someone who is immune compromised and having medical issues that make “normal life” difficult, I know how hard it is to be both a partner in a relationship, and caregiver. Please, give your self time and care to keep yourself healthy and happy.
    Both you and Norm have been friends and inspirations for many years. I wish the best for both of you, especially in these very trying time. My prayers are with you both.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, Marc! We are grateful that you are part of our lives. Take care, be well and stay safe! Hugs! xoxo

  29. Lupe, Norm and you have always been strong partners. You’re caring and strength are inspirational. These are very difficult times for Norm and you. I’m certain that you will make all of the best decisions. Be strong. Im forever grateful to have shared times with both of you.
    Charles

    1. Thank you for your kind message, Charles! We are also grateful for your support and friendship. Hope you and your family are doing well in these strange times. Stay safe, and I look forward to seeing you in the near future! xoxo

  30. Lupe,
    Just read the blog. Very sorry to hear about all that is going on.
    You are an inspiration as is Norm. Please take some time to take care of yourself too.
    Hopefully the quarantine will lift soon and you’ll be able to visit.
    If there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to ask.
    Terry

  31. Dear Lupe:
    I am only a casual hobbyist magician and frequent visitor to your website. I have always enjoyed following Mr. Nielsen’s and your own magical exploits. Please accept my heartfelt thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. I wish you both all the best.

  32. Lupe
    My deepest sympathy to you. Norm was one of my magical heros. From the first time i saw him perform the violin act on an HBO special to this very day. His creativity, style, and professionalism should be the baseline for entertainers everywhere. I never had the privilege to see him perform live, but hundreds of time on TV. I have had the privilege of meeting you many years ago when you worked the magic shop in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. He was a lucky man to have him as his partner all of these years. Again please accept my sympathy and prayers for you at this sad time. His loss is a great blow to the magic community ,but i am sure that pales to your loss. Love to you.

  33. My dear Lupe……….. My deepest and sincerest condolences. I pray the Good Lord will bless you and all who love Norm with peace, love, comfort and strength during this extremely difficult time.

  34. I am with you by thoughts, because I know how much this is a painful decision to take ( I had to go through this a couple of years ago). I am sure that is the best thing to do because at a certain point it’s no more possible to handle the situation and it is also the best for him…
    all my love for both of you..;
    Yves

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