When somebody may be suffering from Alzheimer’s, neurologists and geriatricians administer certain cognitive tests. Some of these tests are devastatingly simple. One such test asks the patient to draw a clock face when the time is 2:45. People with Alzheimer’s are very likely to draw a clock with the short hand on 2 and the long hand between 4 and 5.
I learned this in a remarkable little book. Making Rounds with Oscar (Hyperion 2010) was written by David Dosa, a geriatrician who works in a nursing home in Rhode Island. Oscar is a tabby cat who also works in the nursing home. . . a resident companion animal along with several other animals and birds. (Enlightened nursing home!) Oscar has a unique talent. He knows when somebody is dying. He goes and stays with them until the end, whether they are all alone or surrounded by grief-stricken loved ones.
This is a helpful, healing book about Alzheimer’s, the end of life, and the mysterious connections between people and pets. The savory irony is that Dr. Dosa is not a cat person. He never gets to the point of doting on Oscar – but he comes to respect the reality of the comfort Oscar brings to the dying and their loved ones.