Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hands

There is one characteristic of my mother's that I hate and that is only getting worse as she gets older.  She is a very vain person.  She always has been.  She is from a family of 10, 7 girls, and to be honest, none of them would compete for Miss America.  But for a long time she was the only one who was "citified," who moved from the country to the city, and who, eventually, was taken under the wing of my grandmother whose friends were rich ladies who dressed well and knew how to set a proper table and all those things that go with a certain level of society.  We weren't in that level of society, but my grandmother spent her life trying to live up to it.

I don't remember ever waking up in the morning and seeing my mother without full makeup.  The first thing she did every day was to get up, go into the bathroom, and put her make up on.  She might be cooking breakfast in her bathrobe, but her makeup was on.  I don't think she learned that on the ranch where she grew up!

For most of her life, she went to the beauty parlor every week so there was rarely a hair out of place.  Surprisingly she didn't have professional manicures that I remember, but she was always doing her own nails.

Now, at 97, she doesn't have the same routine.  She can walk about with bed hair, looking like the Wicked Witch of the West and it doesn't bother her, but she is obsessed with her hands.

 
When I left Atria today, I realized I had spent one hour talking (or listening) about her hands.  She's mad at them, you see.  She hates how they look, hates the ropy look of her veins and especially the brown spots.  She picks at them and hits her hands and calls them stupid.

Showing her that my hands look similar to that doesn't help.

 
After she talks to and scolds her hands for looking so old, then she examines her arms and slaps at the brown spots on her arms.  Stupid, stupid, stupid! she tells her arms.  And then it is back to her hands again.  

She will change it up a bit to tell me how ugly her nails are.

 
My cousin gave her a manicure recently but it looks like she has filed the nails down so they are not the way they looked when she had the manicure.  They aren't chipped or cracked, she just doesn't like the way they look.

Then she goes back to examining her hands and how she hates them.  This is a conversation we have almost every time I visit her, but today it was a conversation that went on for literally an hour.
She finally told me that she just realized her shoes had holes in them and I knew it was time to go home before I went stark raving mad.

 
The one brief break from the hour-long diatribe about her ugly hands was when she asked me where the little girl was.  "What little girl?" I asked her and she said "You know.  The cute little girl who is always here."  Not sure where THAT came from!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Power of Attorney

There is a lot more "power" in that term than the title that we sometimes throw around would suggest.  I felt very powerful, signing away all my mother's personal rights in preparation for her admission to the memory care unit next month.

She's going to be very upset and I am having nightmares trying to figure out how to make it all go as smoothly as possible for her.  It reminds me of the weeks leading up to her move to Atria four years ago.

It was the longest conference I've had with Richard, the General Manager of Atria.  We have had our moments when I had to confront him about this or that thing, but this was a congenial half hour we spent together.  I kinda sorta liked him, though when he talked about hoping my mother's rent will be reduced once the tax rate goes from 30% to 15%, I figured that politics was not going to be a good topic for us to discuss.

So now all the decisions have to be made, and behind my mother's back.  She was not happy when I mentioned the move to her (I knew she would not be) and said she would "think about it" and "let me know."  By now she has forgotten.  But I wanted it to be said.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Principal's Office

Well, it wasn't really like going to the principal's office, especially since the two people I was meeting with were young enough to be my granddaughters.  But it was a serious meeting.  They have noticed, as have I, a decided step down in my mother's cognitive function.  They feel it is time for her to move to the memory care unit and I wholeheartedly agreed.

We talked about particulars and dates.  I asked about how this ordinarily works and they said they find it better if someone takes her out for the day while others move her stuff so that when she returns, she goes directly to the memory care unit and, God willing, her memory deficits will cause her to forget that she was ever anywhere else.

So I hope to do this while Jeri is here next month, because things are usually better when Jeri is along, though today she could not remember either Ned or Jeri, but that will pass when she sees them again

One of the HUGE advantages is that we can move her into an apartment that is as bare as possible and maybe she will stop worrying about "all this crap."  All the crap will be packed into boxes and stored until things settle down and I have chance to go through them.  I will also move most of her furniture into storage, since she's moving into a one-room studio that is small enough that I'm thinking of getting her a new, smaller bed (she now has a king size).

I took another tour of the memory unit, visiting the 3 apartments that are currently vacant.  I chose the largest (slightly larger) and brightest and will sign paperwork on Saturday.  I then told her what we were going to do, knowing that she would immediately forget.  I also knew that she would not (a) understand or (b) approve.  I was right, but I didn't dwell on it.  I just wanted it to be said once.

So all that done, I went to the apartment and found her sleeping in bed, as usual.  I had bought more "junk food" for her for when she doesn't want to go to the dining room (cookies, nuts, and chocolate). I convinced her that she would like to go out to a restaurant for lunch for a change.  And I actually got her up, dressed, and outside.  She was pleased to see the rose garden in front of the building.
Then we drove around looking at gardens in Davis.  It seems every other house in town is having gorgeous displays of my favorite wildflower - poppies!

 
We passed by my house (which she has never seen before--and why have I never invited her to come and visit?) so I could show her the irises growing in the front yard.  They came from bulbs I took out of her sister's garden after Marge's death oh so many years ago (at least 30, if not more).  She said that was "interesting."

Then we drove to Denny's in Woodland, 10 miles away for lunch (cheapest sit-down restaurant I can think of that is also nice).

She often does not go to lunch at Atria, frequently tells me she is sick to her stomach and can't think about food (as she did this morning), but at the restaurant she managed to finish a whole bowl of chicken noodle soup and both halves of a toasted cheese sandwich, which I consider somewhat of a triumph....plus ice cream for dessert!

It was a pleasant lunch, answering the same questions over and over again, but she seemed in good spirits and best of all she was out of Atria for a few hours.

Melissa and Brianna, the Atria staff concerned with her care, tell me that in memory care each resident is checked on every two hours.  Also, since her new mantra seems to be that she needs to be doing something to help someone (instead of "I know I should be doing something but i can't remember what"), they can probably find a job for her to do every so often so maybe she will feel like she has a bit more purpose than she has had in a very long time.  At least that's my pipe dream for the day and it makes me feel better.

On the way home, I stopped at the strawberry stand to buy some strawberries

 
She didn't recognize Atria when I drove up, mainly, I think, because I came in from a different direction than usual.  She seemed at a loss when I told her to get out of the car, handed her her keys and told her that if she couldn't remember where she lived to ask someone.  I felt like a neglectful daughter.

But it was a good day and the first step has been taken to move her to what I sincerely hope that after she settles in will be a better place for her now.  A long time friend of hers told me he called her last week and she had no idea who he was.  Very sad.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New complaint

She seems to have dropped the "I know I'm supposed to be doing something , but I can't remember what" and has replaced it with "I just need to find something to do to help people." While I know it's pointless, I tell her that there are lots of opportunities at Atria, but she will have to actually leave the apartment first. That's when she dials it back to the original complaint...but it gives me something to talk with her about. (If she continues this it's a good thing because it's not the sort of thing that is likely to cause her anxiety)

There was NO dirty laundry to pick up, and some of the Depends were gone from her underwear drawer, so I guess she is using them, though that doesn't keep her from leaving feces stains on the sheets.  I just cover them up.  I can't expect the housekeepers to change the bed every day.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Is this lunch?

I went to Atria for lunch.  Nothings works better than a lunch at the funny farm to cheer one up.  She woke up a little more clear-headed than last time, but wandered around wearing only her pajama tops for about half an hour, trying to straighten out a necklace n her dresser for literally 30 minutes, butt flapping in the breeze.  I finally got her dressed and then to the dining room.  If dementia has ever been something she could hide, it no longer is.  I don't know if the woman who eventually joined us, Betty (someone I had not met before), has dementia or not, but I suspect she does.  My mother asked many times if this were lunch and just lots of stuff like that.  I did a lot of explaining what we were doing today (flowers to the cemetery), who Paul was, etc.  Nothing new.  Just the new normal, with a bit more nudity involved this time.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Menu

I went to have lunch at Atria today.  My mother was better than she was the last time I saw her ... kind of "medium good," the kind of day where she had to check the name on the door of each apartment because she didn't remember where she lived, but she wasn't agonizing over what she was supposed to be doing.  

We have decided to give up on trying to get her help with bathing, but hoping to solve the Depends-resistance problem, I replaced all of her current lacy underwear in her drawers with Depends.  We'll see how that goes.

We went to the dining room for lunch and the menu actually looked pretty good.

 
So.  We had clam chowder to start and ordered the entrée.  The soup came fairly quickly, for Atria (which is understaffed and over worked) but it was more than 15 minutes before the entrée arrived.  I had to ask the waitress twice if we were ever going to get our meals, as people around us were being served.

It arrived without any tartar sauce or cocktail sauce to dip the seafood in.  Also, there was no butter and no honey for the cornbread and no apple slaw.

The servers are really good about avoiding eye contact, but I did eventually ask the server if we could get sauce and they was also slaw in arriving, but by the time they arrived, the shrimp was cold.  The clams -- I should have taken a photo -- were the size of hamster turds, flavorless, and hard as a rock.  AND, I noted, my mother had no shrimp at all.

I would have made an issue of that but from the size of the plate and the food on it, I decided she hadn't noticed and it probably would have been too much for her anyway.  But.  Sheesh.  This was ridiculous.  It is getting more and more that this is the kind of thing that happens.  But I keep telling myself that I don't live there and my mother doesn't notice any difference, so I don't want to make a fuss, but....it was not like this when she moved in nearly 4 years ago.  I remember meals that were actually good, but I don't remember having one in a very long time.

We sat at a table with Margaret, with whom we eat frequently, and with Bea, who is always very quiet.  My mother always makes a fuss over the flowers that adorn every table.

 
She always notices how beautiful they are and always feels the petals of the flowers to see if they are real or artificial, though they are never artificial.

It's funny, but visits with her must wear me out emotionally because whenever I get home from Atria, I don't come in to my office but immediately fall asleep in my recliner.  Today it was for about an hour and a half.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Beds


The bed has become, I think, my mother's refuge.  It used to be that when I went to see her, she was asleep on the couch.  Now more often than not she is sleeping n her bed, with lots of pillows and a comfortable duvet.  Sometimes she's dressed for the day, sometimes not and it's difficult to tell if she slept in her clothes (as I often do), or if she was helped to dress and then went back to her bed.


Yesterday I was going to have lunch with her, but no parking place, so I went shopping first and it was after 12 before I got to her apartment.  She was in her bed, dressed.  I could not tell if she'd been up or not, but since her shoes were next to the bed, I assume she had been up and had assistance getting dressed before going back to bed.

I just ache for her.  It must be terrible to wake up in a strange place, with strange people, and no clue where you are.  I woke her up and she squinted at me, and said, weakly, "I think I recognize you."
I sat on the bed, hoping she'd come to life, but she turned on her side, pulled the duvet up over her and said several things, all mumbled softly and I have no idea what she was saying.  After about 30 minutes, I told her I thought I should leave and let her get some more sleep.  That got her moving.  A little.

She eventually sat up, but just sat there, not really acknowledging that I was there, though ultimately she decided she would get up.  I told her I'd wait in the living room.  She finally came out and said "what am I supposed to do?"  I told her there was nothing she had to do but that I was just going to sit and wait for her so we could visit.

She disappeared again for a long time and when I went to check on her, she was sitting on the bed again.

She finally came in and sat in her chair, but didn't know where she was.  She seemed surprised to hear she'd been there nearly 4 years.  She asked how often I sat in the chair she was sitting in.  She commented on the blooming plants outside, and asked what the blanket on her couch was.  She had no concept that I had not been around, and had no interest in hearing about the trip to Santa Barbara (though she asked what I'd been doing ... she just didn't want to know about it).  She said she just sat there and waited for people to come and see her.

I finally decided that we had nothing to say to each other and I left (ironically, exactly an hour, which is how long most of my visits last).  I brought her laundry home to wash, which surprised her that I would do that.

I left with tears on the surface, then came home to an email from the woman who runs Atria saying they were having problems getting her  to shower and to wear Depends and that she has been having accidents. She was thinking I could come by while they bathe her and maybe that would calm her down.  She also suggested I remove all of her underwear and replace them with Depends.

This is killing me.  I hate the thought of causing her discomfort by making her accept strangers bathing her. On one of her more lucid days, we talked about it and she was adamant that nobody was gong to bathe HER.

I agree with the need to get her to accept Depends because incontinence is becoming a problem.
I suggested to Brianna that we just ignore the bathing assistance right now until it becomes a noticeable problem and decided I won't take her clean underwear back to her when I've finished washing it and put Depends on her underwear drawer and see what happens.

As I said, this is killing me.  I watched her sister go through this and that killed me, watching that intelligent, funny woman shrink into someone who had to be bathed and screamed bloody murder the whole time because she hated it so much.

It's so hard to know what to do and I wish I could talk to my mother about it because she'd know the right thing to do!