Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Magic of Bing

It was not one of her better nights. 
I had called her in the mid afternoon to ask if she would be interested in driving around town to see some of the decorated houses.  She said it sounded like fun.  I remember that was one of the pleasant Christmas things we did when I was growing up.  We would go out into "the avenues" in San Francisco and look at the houses, decorated in Christmas lights.  I was looking forward to doing it with her again. I told her Walt and I would come and have dinner at Atria with her and then we would go out after dinner.  She said that was fine.
I thought we could go a bit before dinner and have a cocktail hour, since she loves her vodka tonics and it would be a bit like old times to be sitting there and chatting over drinks.
But when we got there, she was not in her apartment.  I always worry when she doesn't answer the door because I'm afraid I'll go in and find her on the floor, dead, but she wasn't.  The apartment was empty, so we headed up to the dining room.
Yes, she was there, surprised to see us.  She didn't remember we were coming. 
The people she had been eating with were just finishing their dinner, so they offered us their seats and they left.  She asked what we had been doing, and I told her about the funeral.  Then she asked us what we had been doing.   Several times.  Each time we told her about the funeral.
The waitress delivered her dinner and she was surprised to find it on the table, not having remembered the waitress had just been there.  She asked what it was and said she didn't order it, but since it was there she might as well eat it.   Then she asked what we had been doing all day and what we were going to do after dinner.  I reminded her we were going out to look at lights and she seemed surprised that we were going to take her too.
I noticed she was more quiet than she usually is.  Kind of sunk into herself, arising periodically to ask us what we had been doing.
When a man walked by with green mint chip ice cream and Walt expressed surprise that they had green mint chip ice cream, my mother said that of course that was what they had.  It's what she always orders, she says, and immediately told the waitress she wanted a vanilla cone (which is what she really always orders).   When the cone came, she was shocked that they had given her 3 scoops, though they always give her 3 scoops.  She said she couldn't possibly eat that much and would take the leftovers to her apartment, but then ate it all anyway.
It was a fairly normal visit, though I did wonder if she was showing signs of a bit of Sundowners Syndrome, where older people with dementia are worse after dark than before dark (though if you never leave the building, I don't know if that is a factor anyway).
We went back to the apartment so she could get a coat so we could go look at the Christmas lights.  She did and we went out to the car.
I was tickled because I had brought my iPod with me, with a playlist of Christmas music and I was going to put it on, but something happened and the music never started.  I didn't realize how much I had looked forward to playing Christmas music on our travels until I couldn't play Christmas music, because Christmas music was always a big part of the season when I was growing up, and I wanted to bring back that memory for her. After trying several things, I could get an audio book to play, but still not the music on my Christmas playlist.
I decided to give it the "kick it" fix, turning off the iPod and then turning it on again.  When it came on, I chose the Bing Crosby record that we always played while trimming the Christmas tree, both when I was growing up, and then when our kids were growing up. I crossed my fingers and pressed "play."
Miraculously, it started.
So there we were, driving around all these beautifully lit homes in Davis and in the back, my mother is singing along to Bing Crosby.  I got all choked up and teary-eyed.  It was a perfect Christmas present.  It was a moment of "normal." I read recently that music is wonderful therapy for dementia patients and that even when they can't communicate in other ways, often they can still sing familiar songs.
My mother may not remember that we went to a funeral this afternoon, but by golly she sang every single one of those Bing Crosby tunes without a stumble.
Ultimately, it was a very good night.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


I visited my mother today and it was another one of "those" days where we talked about her age and her death and I couldn't get her interested in any other topic.  When I left the apartment and went out into the lobby, a gentleman was there setting up for a puppet show and the chairs were nearly filled with other residents.   I stood there and thought for a long time about going back and inviting her to come up and watch the show with me, but then realized that she would probably just say that she didn't want to and, sadly, I left Atria and came on home.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Being in the Moment

A cousin of sorts (I can't keep straight 2nd cousins and once removed cousins and any other qualifier that goes with family relationships....and even if I could I can't remember just how this young woman is related to me, whether the daughter or granddaughter of a cousin, or what. I just know she's family) today sent me a link to a video called something like "12 minutes with Alzheimers," in which two people, a newswoman and a caretaker for a wife with Alzheimers, were fitted with various assists to help them understand what it's like to live with Alzheimers, as they attempted to complete a handful of simple tasks, like finding a tie and putting it on, setting the table, finding a white sweater, etc.
They had something on their eyes to mimic visual impairments like macular degeneration or cataracts, their hands were wrapped in rubber gloves fitted with things that would mimic arthritis, they had things put in their shoes to give them the feel of someone with arthritis or other problems of the feet, and they wore earphones to keep a low-level noise in their heads at all times.  It was amazing how quickly they mimicked the previously videotaped movements of persons with Alzheimers, experienced extreme frustration, and began to understand what it was like living in that world.
There were other videos on YouTube that I watched, identifying the signs of dementia and Alzheimers and tips for coping with it. One of them talked about the importance of being in the moment when dealing with someone with dementia.  The videos were wonderful in helping me understand why, for example, making any decision is not only difficult but seemingly impossible for my mother. They helped me understand why so often what someone says to her doesn't seem to penetrate at all. They made me realize that the time for helping her to understand anything of great importance to me has passed and is never going to come back, and I have to let that go.
In truth, I think caregivers of loved ones with dementia are truly heroes.  It's a 24/7 job, with no vacations, coffee breaks, or time outs to be alone, without making arrangements ahead of time to be sure that your loved one will not be unsupervised.  I am so fortunate to have found Atria, a place that she really seems to like and where I feel she is as safe as she can be, while still living independently, yet only 5 minutes from my house where I can (and do) see her several times a week.
I am also so fortunate that my mother hasn't retreated completely into the world from which there is no return.  She can have a reasonable conversation (many times!), she can handle her own activities of daily living, she still recognizes people.  It's just that the memory loss is worsening.  She is afraid of becoming like her mother (who also had dementia, though she died in her 80s, I think) or her sister (who was in the Alzheimers world when she died at age 81). She is enough aware of her memory problems that she is embarrassed that anybody should know how bad it is -- though she herself doesn't have a clue how bad it really is.
I don't know what is ahead for her, but at this time of the year, as I have done every year for the past few years, I realize that this may be her last Christmas.  She may have a dozen more in her, but at 94, looking at the possibility of this being her last Christmas is not unreasonable.
I need to concentrate on being in her moment and making this time of her life as rich as I can, letting her enjoy camaraderie on her level, having that "do you think I'm going to make a hunnert?" conversation a dozen times in an afternoon, if that is important to her.  I need to stop worrying about how quickly her dementia is progressing and start concentrating on what she has left and how to be with her in the most meaningful way now.  
As I keep saying, every time I go to Atria, I feel like I'm going to Fantasyland and some days it's easier than others, but I think the best gift I can give her this Christmas, and for the rest of her life is to fully participate in whatever is her level of interaction on the particular day. To make every day meaningful on a level she can appreciate. To find funny stories that make her laugh, or fragrant flowers that always delight her. To continue to make books for her that prod her memory without her realizing that her memory is being prodded.
If I can fully do that, we will have a wonderful relationship for however long she is going to be with us, and neither of us will have anything to regret when she finally does go home to her husband and her siblings.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


This morning I went to a support group for people dealing with dementia and Alzheimers.  It was a group of about 10 people, the leader of which was actually an old friend.  Surprise, surprise.  He had come to the group because his mother died of Alzheimers, and I guess he just stayed on to be part of the support system.  His co-leader was extremely knowledgeable about everything.  She has a mother with Alzheimers and a sister with a different psychiatric problem, so she is dealing with it on two levels.
There was a woman in the early stages of Alzheimers, and a man with Louie body dementia (which is Alzheimers paired with Parkinsons).  Both of those people are still high functioning and able to live independently and are still driving, though the man was encouraged to give up his car.  The rest of us were dealing with loved ones in various stages of dementia or diagnosed Alzheimers.
There was the older man who moved with his wife to the University Retirement Community, the Cadillac of assisted living facilities.  He said that he was attracted to URC because of the many, varied activities that they offer.  But his wife has not left their apartment in the 6 months they have lived there. That made me feel better because that pretty much describes my mother, though she does go to the dining room and sometimes goes to the table where they work puzzles, but nothing else.
There was a woman whose mother was just moved into assisted living back east.  She is here and her brother lives 2 hours away from Mom.  She's feeling great guilt for being so far away, and also still suffering grief over having to pack up the family home.  She seems not to be getting much support from the rest of her family and I suspect she will, like me, return to this meeting next month.
There was a man whose wife is in end stage Alzheimers.  He has obviously been coming for a long time and was mostly there just to be a part of the group.
The last woman is taking care of her husband, also with Alzheimers.   I had to leave before she had a chance to speak much, but assume I will get to know her in the future, since she seems to be a long-term member as well.
The dynamic of the group was wonderful.  Each of us with immediate concerns got a long time to tell our story and get feedback.  I know there is nothing anybody can do, but being with people who all understood and who cared was such a wonderful feeling.
From there, I went to Atria for my weekly lunch with my mother.   I've said it before and I'm sure I will say it again many times, but there are perks to dementia.  She barely remembers our fight last night, does not remember yelling at me and hanging up on me.  I laid out for her the new rules, which are that she is going to do her own laundry, but with my help, so she won't feel that anybody is taking her clothes and leaving her with clothes she does not recognize.
I told her I would take her shopping to get new clothes and when faced with the choice of going to a regular store nearby and paying full price, or going back to San Rafael to the thrift shop where she worked for so many years to shop there, she decided she really didn't need any new clothes after all.  She did try to bring up all of those unfamiliar clothes and I just told her that I wasn't even going to discuss them with her any more and that she could do what she wanted with them.
Then we went to the dining room and had a very nice lunch with my friend Peggy and another woman.  I was pleased to see how many people my mother greeted coming into the dining room.  That was a very good sign. At one point she had to sign a ticket for me to eat there and she couldn't remember her name.  I thought she was kidding, but she wasn't.  When I told her it was Mildred she wrote that and didn't add her last name because she couldn't remember it.  That hasn't happened before, that I am aware.
So it was a good day, following a very bad afternoon and I left feeling good.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Laundry, Part 2

We had a bad few moments today..  A telephone fight with my mother over clothes that I washed for her that she swears are not hers and she complains that her closet is emptying out and she doesn't know what has happened to her clothes.  She ended up screaming at me and hanging up on me.  I just don't know what to do about her.  They are her clothes and she doesn't believe that it is her memory problem that she doesn't recognize them.  I am so frustrated with all this!!!!  No wonder it brought tears.
I was so upset after the incident with my mother that I was fuming.  I sent off several messages to different people for different reasons, one of them to a medical professional I know to ask for suggestions of a therapist I might see that could help me deal with my mother.  She gave me a couple of names, but also suggested I check the Senior Center to see what they might offer.  Turns out they have a support group for people dealing with people with dementia and Alzheimers, which meets once a month...and the next meeting just happens to be tomorrow, so I'm off to a support group tomorrow and if that doesn't seem promising, I'll check out the recommended therapists.
Also, I came up with a plan of action.  I am going to take her shopping for new clothes.  I'll even take her back to the thrift shop where she used to work, if she wants.  We will then bring those clothes home and LABEL them all together.   And then I will let her know that I am not going to do her laundry any more. She is going to do her laundry there at Atria, only we will do it together (since she is afraid of getting lost going to the laundry room, just a few steps from her apartment).  She will take the clothes from her hamper and put them in the washing machine and transfer them from the washer to the dryer and then bring them back to her apartment.  It will be much less convenient for me, but if it will avoid another incident like today, then that will be good.
I don't know if she will remember our fight, or if she will remember and not be speaking to me tomorrow.  We are scheduled to have lunch at 11:30 and the support group meeting is at 10:00.  I don't know what I'm going to find at Atria tomorrow.  But I have to do something to make this right.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Laundry, Part 1

My mother had a couple of checks to deposit, so we went to the bank today.   Walt asked why we didn't just use an ATM machine and I told him that she was set in her ways and liked doing her banking in the bank, but when we got there, she realized it wasn't the bank she was used to in her old house and said she guessed she could use the ATM machine.  Only she couldn't because, of course, she didn't have a clue what her PIN number was. For that we have to make an appointment and re-do her whole card. I may do that at some point in the future.  It's unlikely she will have any more checks (or many more checks) that need to be deposited anyway, so it may be an unnecessary step.

When I got to Atria and was signing in, my friend at the desk handed me a big pile of clothes my mother had brought to the  desk again, saying they weren't hers.   It was the ENTIRE load of laundry I had done for her last week, including her underwear.   I brought them to her apartment and she argued with me that she had NEVER had clothes that color before.  I don't know if I convinced her to keep them, whether they were hers or not.  I pointed out that she hasn't purchased anything new in decades, since she got all of her clothes at the thrift shop where she worked so even if they weren't hers, what difference did it make?

She said she didn't want to be walking around Atria and have someone accuse her of stealing their clothes.  I didn't point out that it was unlikely anybody would know if she was wearing someone else's underwear.

But I came home and decided that when I do her laundry next time, I will have to hang it all up myself and not leave it for her to do.  If I leave it on the bed, as I usually do, she can't recognize it and I'm tired of having this battle with her every time I do her laundry.  (She won't do her own laundry because she's afraid she will get lost going to the laundry room--which is at the end of the hall from her apartment--and won't remember how to work the machine.  She wouldn't even look at the laundry room when I tried to show it to her after she moved in, though she insisted we buy detergent and bleach.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Girls' Day

What a fun day it was today.  Tom and Laurel were driving through Davis on their way back to Santa Barbara and stopped for a visit and brunch with my mother.  Walt and I went (of course), and Ned took advantage of the fact that he can still drive (he has neck surgery next week and will be house-bound for about six weeks) to join us too.
AtriaApron.jpg (134436 bytes)I had brought gifts for everyone (except my ,mother, because I had given her her gifts from our vacation when we returned from the vacation).  For Ned there was the finale season of Dexter on DVD for him to watch during his recovery.   For Tom there was a collection of spices I bought at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul.   For Laurel there was a box of apple tea, also purchased in Istanbul.  For the girls there was an apron and a flower wreath for Bri and a doll for Lacie and whistles for both of them, all bought in Ukraine and then there were books for Lacie's birthday (which was a month ago) and books for Bri about dinosaurs, which she studied this summer (all books purchased at Logos).
(Obviously I should have purchased an apron for Lacie too, but I didn't think she'd be old enough to appreciate it.  Obviously I was wrong!)
We sat in my mother's apartment and visited for awhile and then, when the kids began to get a little restless, they went out into the garden.  The lady next door to my mother has a dog.  We knew that she had a dog because I'd seen the fence for it for weeks, but I had never actually seen the dog.  But today, with all the commotion of the girls playing outside, the dog came out to investigate, and they made friends with it.
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They also enjoyed running up and down the path in the garden, while Walt, Ned and Tom watched.
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Eventually, we headed off for brunch.  The girls both had to walk with Uncle Ned.
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I was able to reserve the little private dining room, off the regular dining room, which was just perfect since we didn't have to worry about the noise or the girls running around.
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Ned and Lacie looked cute for the camera.
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and he and Bri mugged for the camera.
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Lacie had worn shiny black boots and my mother loves shoes.   As a kid the thing she wanted most was a pair of black patent leather shoes, so she loved Lacie's boots and the two of them made a game out of taking them off, stealing them, getting them back, and putting them back on again.  It doesn't take much to entertain a toddler...or a great grandmother! 
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Ned was talking to Bri about his upcoming surgery (he is having a bulging disc in his neck fixed, with cadaver bone and fusing of the two segments of the cervical spine).  Bri was very interested in hearing about it and trying to imagine what he was feeling (numbness and tingling in his hand and pain in his neck).  She listened intently and was very cute and asked good questions and Ned was just great about explaining it in terms that a 5 year old could understand.
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When we returned to Grandma's apartment, Ned got out his x-rays and showed her the bones in his neck and explained how the doctors were going to fix him.
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But eventually it was time for Tom and family to get on the road.   They had to make it back to Santa Barbara tonight and it's a long drive. But it was such a good visit and I think I'm going to put together a Snapfish book about it for my mother, who by next week will have forgotten they were ever there!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Feelings...Nothing More than Feelings

I was writing a letter to a pen pal this evening and talking about my mother and the grandkids.  She never remembers seeing them, can't remember their names, and thinks they are a toddler and a baby.  I remind her all the time about how old Brianna is and how old Lacie is and she can retain that information for a few seconds and then will ask me again how old Bri is.
But as I was writing it, and how sad it makes me that she can't remember her great grandchildren, I began to think back over the time when I have been disappointed in things that she has taken no interest in.  I finally decided that this inability to remember the great grandkids is just a continuation of a trait that she has had most of my life.
I can't remember how involved she was in my emotional life when I was growing up, but I think back over the times when I have been disappointed in her reaction to things, in her inability to empathize, or even listen constructively and it makes me think that there was always a mis-firing in her brain where that was concerned.
When she initiates concern for someone, based on right or wrong information, she is very empathetic and concerned for the welfare of the person she is thinking of.  I think of Peach's husband Bob, for example.  The last time she saw him he was in a semi-coma in the hospital after his stroke and was in and out of consciousness.  We all worried that he was going to die, and the reports were not encouraging about his ability to ever be normal again.
As Bob continued to amaze us all with re-learning to talk, to walk, etc., in my mother's head he was still that shell of a man, hovering on the brink of death, unable to recognize people or talk to people.  Even now when I bring her pictures of him sitting by a lake fishing or standing in the yard with Peach, smiling, she spies his walker and moans about how sad it is and what a shame that he will never be the man he was again.
By the same token, I was amazed to see her friend Dodie, who came to visit her recently.  For a few years now she has told me that Dodie had "lost it" and she describes her with the circling finger around her ear that people use to describe someone who is a bit crazy.  I thought she must be in end stage Alzheimers, but when I saw her, visiting my mother, she definitely has some memory problems, but seems to be in much better shape than my mother is herself.
When I think back over the things that have disappoined me over the past many years, it is always the conflict she had between her new family, after she married Fred, and our family.  As I have written her many times, Fred's family always came first.  I gave up trying to get her to understand how much that hurt me because it's not even that it goes in one ear and out the other--it's like she is incapable of processing my hurt feelings.  I tell her how hurt I was when I wasn't included in her  wedding photos and how moved I was when her stepson Ed's wife insisted I get into a photo with my mother and Fred's kids because "you're part of the family too."  It was the first time I had been considered part of the family and it still makes me cry emotional tears when I write that here.  I have told her that several times and it never even registers.  Not even an eyeblink.
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(her 90th birthday, when Fred, Jr., in the middle, was still alive)
I think about all the shows the kids did that Walt's family always attended and my mother never did because Fred didn't like them, or because she was doing something with his family.  I think about the times I begged her to come to a special performance, but she never did...and now she remembers attending them all and how much she loved them.  It does no good to point out that she was almost never there, though even in the days when she was more with it than she is now, I did mention a few times how sorry I was that she missed this or that very special performance.  Again, there is no reaction.  It's as if I had never spoken.
So the way she is now, in that aspect of things, at least, is different from her dementia.  It's just the way she always was.  Maybe that helps a little.  I don't know.  I'll have to work on that....
It's a difficult situation when you, yourself, are one raw ball of emotion most of the time!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Old Friends

I love watching my mother with her friends, old friends with whom she has laughed for years, and who know she is has memory loss, but don't realize how extensive it is.  It is almost like having her back, briefly.
Wednesday is my usual day to have lunch with her (we started it because of the Brain Gymnasium.  Now I just go for lunch.  She doesn't remember it, of course, but is pleasantly surprised each week.)
When I got to her apartment this morning, I heard voices inside.   It's also the day the housekeeper cleans, so I thought she was talking with the housekeeper, but when I opened the door, there were her two good mah jongh friends, Paula and Dodie.  
They had a mah jongh group going for many years.  It was kind of like our Cousins Day, without the overnight.  There was eating and drinking and laughing and even a little game playing.  Before my mother moved here, the group had disbanded.  One woman died and someone else took her place, but was never up to the hilarity of the original group.  Dodie moved to a facility with her husband and could not come--and then her husband died.  Another woman developed Alzheimers.  So what is left of the original mah jongh group is happy memories.
I think Paula is the youngest in the group--she will be 90 in January--and she's the one who is still the most "with it" and this was her second visit to Atria.  She picked up Dodie, who had never been there, en route.
Dodie is entering her own tunnel of dementia, though not quite as bad as my mother.  She mentioned her husband dying, which I had known about for years, but my mother was shocked.  How terrible that nobody told her!  She apologized for not sending a card, but Dodie didn't remember that my mother had been at her husband's funeral.
But mostly it was fun listening to the three women joking and laughing and teasing each other.  I was not going to stay for lunch, but they talked me into it.  Paul and my mother had wine.  Dodie and I were the tea-totalers.
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It was fun listening to her tell them about living at Atrial, how she joined an exercise class but halfway through her back would start hurting (she's never been to an exercise class and doesn't even know where they are held), how she participates in all the activities (nope)...I just marveled at what she was saying to keep up with the conversation, but she was keeping up with the conversation and having a good time, and who cared whether Paula and Dodie knew there were part of her fantasy or not.
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Elusive Card

Today we were good people and took a step toward remaining healthy.   The main thing was that my mother and I were going to get flu shots.  She didn't remember that, of course, but the nice thing about her is that I tell her we're going somewhere and she never questions it. 
So I got to the apartment and first she had to find her Kaiser card.   This has been going on for about five years now.  Her Kaiser card is in her wallet, in a little plastic folder that has Kaiser's name on it, and she has to have it in her hand before we leave the house.  But she can never find it.  I told her where to find it.  She found it.  Then she put it back and we went to the car.
When we got in the car, she said she knew she would need her Kaiser card, so I had to help her search for it again.
Then when we got to Kaiser, she had to go searching for it again.   Every time it's exactly where she puts it every. single. time.
So we headed for where the flu shot were being given, but it was a mob scene.  That's when I remembered that she was also supposed to get blood work done, so I decided we'd do that first, hoping the crowds would thin by the time we finished at the lab.  
She found the Kaiser card to register and the phlebotomist told her to hang on to it and show it again before the blood was taken.  (This is kind of weird since we were the ONLY people in the lab waiting area and the woman who told her to keep her card with her so she could show it again before the blood was drawn was the same person who would be drawing her blood in 10 seconds!) 
The blood draw went uneventfully and we walked out of the lab and literally ten steps to the hall and she asked if she would need her Kaiser card again for the flu shot.  I said yes...and she couldn't find it.  It wasn't in her wallet.   It wasn't in her purse.  I searched her wallet and her purse 3 times myself.   I went back to the lab and it wasn't there.  It had just disappeared.  In literally ten steps!  
We sat in the lab and went through everything again, both of us and eventually she was the one who found it--in her purse.  I sure don't know where it was hiding because I swear I went through every pocket in that thing.  
But eventually we did have the card and we signed up for flu shots.   The line was, as I hoped, much shorter and we only had a couple of minutes to wait.   In case you have not had your flu shot yet, let me tell you that the needle for this is so small that you literally can't feel it at all.  There were toddlers having shots without even blinking.
When we got back in the car, I took her purse away from her and made sure that the Kaiser card was where it should be so we don't go through this all again.
We took the long way home.  I drove her around a little bit of the campus, hoping to get her interested enough in Putah Creek, which runs through the campus, that she might be willing to try walking there, but though she gave it passing notice, she just kept mentioning over and over again how many cars there were parked in the parking lot.  You'd think she'd never seen cars before.  And there was zero interest in Putah creek or the vegetation there, which a year ago would be a huge draw for her.
Plants and flowers are something else she seems to be losing interest in.  This is the woman who could make a dry stick bloom and whose house was always filled with lush greenery and the most incredible violets and orchids you can imagine.   But she seems to have lost all interest in gardening so much so that in the aftermath of my cousin bringing her about 8 different kinds of plants to put on her patio, she constantly talks about how much work it is to water them and how a couple of them have died.  And she keeps telling me that she thinks my cousin just had some old plants around that she didn't want and thought she would dump them on Aunt Chubbie. I know my cousin would be very hurt to know that since she has been so wonderful to try to make things look nice for my mother.
But today was another day when I realized that there are perks of dementia.  There is a beautiful street in town which has upscale unique homes, lush old greenery and is really one of my favorite places.  I took her for a drive along the street shortly after she got here, but it's now fall and the trees are starting to turn color so I took that drive again and, of course, she had no memory of having been there before, so it was like seeing it all over again for her--and that was nice, because she loved it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Checkbook

My mother called this morning, all a-twitter.  She has no checks.  (Oh dear God let her eventually remember that she has checks!)   I asked her what she needed checks for.  She said she had a bill to pay but she had no checks.  I told her that yes she had checks, and told her where to find her checkbook.  While she was going to get it, I asked her what check she needed to write.  She said it was to B of A.  I asked her what it was for and she said she didn't know but that it was over $500.  She got into her bedroom and asked me what she was looking for. I told her she was looking for her purse.  She said she couldn't find it.  I told her where to look.  She finally found it and then asked "now why do I need my purse?"  Told her she was looking for her checkbook.
She found the checkbook and asked me why she needed it.  I told her to look inside and see that she had, in fact, written a check to B of A.   But she has no check register.  She has a carbon copy of her checks and because she couldn't check the register, she didn't know how to find out whether she had written a check or not.
I told her I would be there as soon as Walt got back from the store and we would look at it together.
I knocked on the door to my mother's apartment and she was delighted to see me.  She didn't know why I was there.  I said I was there to help her with the bill she thought she had to pay.  "What bill?" she asked.
I told her she had just called me five minutes before, but she didn't know about a bill and couldn't find any bill.  Finally she found it and it was for her Kaiser coverage.  They billed her on October 10 and she had written a check on the 12th, so they just hadn't received it yet (the bill was double because they thought her original bill was overdue).
I told her to get her checkbook and we'd check to make sure that she paid the bill.  She said she had no checks.  I told her that yes, she did have checks and that Ed had brought them to her.
"Well, where are they?" she asked.
I told her that her checkbook was in her purse.  She went into her bedroom and then returned to ask me what she was looking for.  I told her she needed her purse because she needed her checkbook.  I told her where to find it.   Turns out she had put it in a different place this time, but she eventually found it and I showed her that she had, indeed, already paid the bill.
While we were talking, she picked up two pictures that Ned had brought with her birthday flowers.  She asked me who had brought them.  I told her Ned had given them to her on her birthday and she responded "so how much money do I owe?"  I told her she didn't owe anything yet.
I THINK she kind of sorta understands, and to help her I brought the bill home with me so I can call B of A on Monday to make sure that her check arrived (god help them if they refuse to talk to me because I'm calling for my mother!)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"How Long do you think I'm going to live?"

I made a short trip to Atria today.  My mother had asked me to buy bread and milk for her (I know that a week from now I will probably throw both out) and I had noticed she was out of ice cream, so I bought her some ice cream too.
We sat down to visit and within 15 minutes I had reassured her at least 10 times that Ed would be by to visit her tomorrow and would bring checks for her.   She would then turn around and say "that's good because I need to go to the bank and get checks."
When there was a gap in the conversation and she asked "How much longer do you think I'm going to live?  I'm old, Bev.  I'm 94.  All my family left me behind." I had to get out of there.  I just wasn't up for the "I'm old--when will I die?" conversation today.  It's the conversation we have at least three times every time I visit her.  It's a terrible thing to say, but on one level, I am almost wishing for her death.  I don't want to lose her, but she wants to go so badly.  I remember when she went through this with her mother-in-law and had exactly the same conversations with her.  Catherine lived to be ~102 and spent a good five or six years refusing to become involved in anything at the very expensive facility where she lived.  My mother was so frustrated with her and I wish she could understand (she can't) that she is doing exacty the same thing.
Peg told me today about a woman who lives at Atria who is 102 and who makes clothes for babies of low income mothers and homeless people and who volunteers in several other activities in Atria.  I mentioned that to my mother and she just said she was too old to get involved in anything.
I came home and read another book on dementia.  If there is anything comforting in these books it is realizing that as dementia patients go, my mother is high functioning.  And that, believe it or not, is comforting.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Bank

I dodged a bullet this morning, though.  Last night my mother called and said she needed to have me come over in the morning because she had "errands to run."  I asked what errands she wanted to run and at first she couldn't remember, but she finally said she needed to get to the bank.  "Why do you need to go to the bank?" I asked her.  "Well, I have bills to pay!" she said.  I asked what bills and she said she couldn't remember but she knew she had bills to pay and she had to go to the bank because she was out of checks.   Trying to tell her that she had no unpaid billsl only made her angry.  She always does her banking at the end of the month and she needed to get to the bank.  I pointed out that it was the beginning of the month, but it was clear that she was only getting angry, so I just said I would come to get her at 10 a.m.
I hoped that her dementia would click in and that she would forget when I got there in the morning.
At 10 a.m., I knocked on her door and she greeted me and didn't say anything about the bank.  I sat down and she asked what I was doing today.  I told her I was working at the book store.  Still nothing about the bank.  She finally did mention the bank and I asked her which bills she needed to pay.  We must have had the came conversation twenty five times, about how she needed to pay her rent and she had to do it at the bank.  I would remind her that she wrote a check for her rent two weeks ago, she said she didn't remember, I told her to check her checkbook (which she never did).  Then in a couple of seconds she would  start all over again, forgetting we'd already had the conversation.  She needed to go to the bank because her rent was due and she always pays it on the 3rd of the month.
Ultimately she decided to take my word that her rent was paid, that she wouldn't be thrown out of her apartment, and, when I told her how windy it was outside, she decided she didn't want to go out in the wind, but preferred to sit in her apartment, where it was warm and cozy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Emily Post

I went to visit my mother this morning.  We actually had a good chat, mostly because I just play along with whatever fiction she talks about now. Every single day she tells me that she slept terribly, that she lay awake until 5 a.m. and finally fell asleep and slept until 9.  Then she tells me that fortunately this only happens once in awhile.  So I don't know if she really doesn't sleep until 5 a.m. every day, or if she is remembering ONE time when she didn't sleep until 5 and remembering it over and over again...kind of her own version of Groundhog Day.
She asked if I was going to have lunch with her and at first I said I was coming to have lunch tomorrow, but realized that the reason was that Wednesday was our day to have lunch after the Brain Gym.  But now that the Brain Gym is out, no reason not to make our lunch day Tuesday...or Friday...or whatever day it works out to be.
When we walked into the dining room, I saw X sitting by herself off at a table for one.  She was just getting seated, so I invited her to join us, since we have eaten with her before and it was sad to see her sitting by herself.  She is relatively new to Atria and I know she doesn't know too many people now.  She is also nearly 90 years old and I haven't quite figured out if she is better than my mother or any event, she also has dementia, and it's quite a trip having lunch with her and my mother.
But the thing about X is that ... how do I describe it ... ?   She is very "fey."  That was the word I wanted to use, so I looked up, to make sure it was the right one.  One of the definitions is "excessivey refined" and another is "quaintly unconventional."  There is another definition that is "crazy, touched" but I think that wasn't what I was going for.
Anyway, she speaks as if she wrote Emily Post's guide to etiquette, she is over the top polite, she's fascinated by everything and expounds on it a GREAT length, whether you are interested or not.  Still, she's a nice lady.  A mutual friend (let's call her Y) sat with us for a bit and she interjected a bit of normalcy and got a side conversation going with my mother, while X continued to drone on and on and on.   After our guest left, X went on at great length about how she really liked Y and that she didn't see her often because Y had her own circle of friends and X felt it would be impolite to intrude herself on Y's friends and she felt that friendships were valuable and it wouldn't be fair if X were to interfere with Y's time with her other friends just went on and on and on.
Then she told us that she had met a woman who was into scrapbooking and journaling and that I think she had invited X to her apartment to see the books.  She was very impressed with this woman, and with her husband whom she thinks is from India because he has a different color skin than X does and he was very soft-spoken but very supportive of his wife and she was impressed because when the wife was showing off her books, the husband didn't jump in and take over and do the explaining for her.  She mentioned many times how he was very soft spoken and very supportive and how he let the wife take the lead in the discussion.
I remembered that X has been divorced for a long time and she had eluded to difficulties in the marriage and listening to her talk about this "Indian" man, I wondered if her husband had been abusive and if that had left her with her various ideosyncracies.
Anyway, my mother and I finally made a break for it when X paused for breath.  When I looked at the clock I realized we had been sitting there listening to X for an entire hour and neither of had spoken a word in all that time...not only that, but X hadn't said anything that remotely related to us or that we were remotely interested in!
But at least we were able to have a good laugh about it...and times when we can laugh together these days are the best.  There was another plus today.   I had washed her laundry and brought it back for her on Monday and when I checked with the front desk, she hadn't returned ANY clothes saying they weren't hers.  We are making progress.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Done Good

I finally took a break from my Breaking Bad marathon and went to Atria around 10:30 a.m.   I didn't want to be there too close to lunch because she always wants to treat me, but lunch a Atria every day can get spendy for her (she doesn't realize that!)
We had a nice visit and she laughed about my Breaking Bad marathon and how addicted I'd become to the show in literally just a couple of days.   She told me, again, that "they don't have the shows I watch up here."  This is only partly her dementia.  For literally DECADES I've been trying to get it through her head that she watched NBC on Channel 4, but that Channel 3 was the NBC network up here.  She figures now that because her shows used to be on 3, 5, and 7 and that she has no 3, 5 or 7 up here, that she can't watch her shows, but must watch different shows.  It doesn't help that there is no directory screen on her ComCast set up (this is basic, basic, basic cable, which is provided free by Atria, but anything additional will cost).  She also does not get the Davis paper.  I tried bringing it to her,but since she doesn't know anybody in Davis she is not interested in reading anything about the town, so I stopped doing that.  
For TV, I think she just turns it on, flips through channels (many of which are in Spanish) and if she doesn't recognize anything, she turns it off.  
After I got home, I kept thinking about her TV problem and I know she used to watch several favorite programs, so I decided to make her a TV guide.  I drew up a table and arranged it so that I included only the channels she would be interested in.  Also, since she doesn't turn on the TV until 6 p.m., and goes to bed by 11, I only included the 6 to 10 time slots.
Then I just sat here at my laptop (because I can't get a week's schedule on the cable box in my office) and just filled in all the shows for her.  It looked like this:
TVSched.jpg (68662 bytes)
It took the better part of a couple of hours, but when I finished, I had the whole week mapped out for her and even designed a cover. 
TVGuide.jpg (47879 bytes)
I stapled it all together and drove back to Atria to give it to her, so she could see which shows were going to be on tonight, in case she wanted to watch TV.
Whenever I give her something, she's always appreciative, but she was positively giddy about this listing.  She thanked me over and over again and looked through it, delighted to find the names of favorite shows there.  "You know, I thought they didn't get the same shows here that I had..."  I was very happy that I had taken the time to put this together for her.  It can pretty much serve as an indefinite TV Guide, though I will check and see if anything major changes from week to week and then run off new pages, as necessary.
I felt really good about myself, so good that I came home and took a 2+ hour nap.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fantasy Land

There may be no characters wandering around in funny costumes, and nobody singing "It's a Small World" (unless it's at the Tuesday sing-along), but I feel like I've accepted my regular visits to Fantasyland and I'm sure that ultimately I will be much happier for it.
Now that I have given up trying to encourage my mother to do anything at Atria, she is much happier because we don't argue any more, and, while not exactly happy, I am at least glad that I don't have to work so hard any more.
When I arrived today, she greeted me as if she hadn't seen me in weeks. I complimented her on her new manicure and the fresh flowers on her table and asked if she had had a nice visit with my cousin Denise yesterday.  She insisted that Denise hasn't visited her for weeks, the manicure is old and she needs a new one, and the flowers are the one I sent to her on her birthday three weeks ago.  She also said that Ned had been there yesterday for lunch.
But I know for a fact that Denise and her sister were there, that Denise brought the flowers and gave her a manicure, and that Ned is coming next weekend.  But it's pointless to try to get her to remember because it only frustrates her, so I play her fantasy game.  Denise hasn't been there, nobody has visited her, she hasn't had a phone call from anyone, and Ned came to have lunch with her yesterday.
We had a ten minute visit, but managed to stretch it out over an hour and a half.  She asks what I've been doing exciting, I tell her about the three shows I saw over the weekend, she asks what I have coming up this week and I tell her "nothing," then she tells me that she hasn't done anything exciting herself, that she just sits there, that nobody comes to visit her, and then she asks me what I've been doing exciting and what I have coming up this week.  When I finally tire of having the same conversation over and over again, I tell her I have to run errands and that I'll see her in two days.
She does remember that she has 3 friends coming to take her out to lunch tomorrow and it will be interesting to see if, when I go to see her on Wednesday, she remembers that they were there.
Acceptance is a good thing.  If you can't change a situation (and obviously I can't change this one), might as well just accept what is and go with the flow.  I've never been good at that, but maybe I can learn. As my mother has told me all my life, "this too shall pass" and I'm not in a big hurry for this situation to pass.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Wasn't Ready

There is more to "coming home" from a vacation than unpacking, doing all the laundry (and trust me, with no access to laundry facilities, EVERYTHING, even the things you hadn't worn yet, smells!), and restocking the kitchen because you tried to run out of everything before you left, so nothing would go bad while you were gone.
Everyone had told me I could put my concerns for my mother behind me while we were gone and I didn't really think I would do that.  I still sent her e-mails every day (which she forgot receiving) and I was worried about her, but it wasn't until I walked into her apartment on Sunday to have the same conversation that we have been having every day for the last couple of years, that I realized that I really had put all that aside and had managed to have a "Mother vacation" after all.
I went and saw her yesterday for awhile and brought some postcards to show her, and brought her toilet paper (how she managed to go through five rolls of paper while we were gone, I don't know!).  She was also out of ice cream, I noticed and she said she needed paper towels, so today I got those for her yesterday and planned to deliver them today.
I'm still having jet lag, I guess.  I don't think of it as jet lag, but I do nap a lot and I managed to fall asleep around 1, waking at 3, with a start, and realizing how late it was.  I considered skipping today, but I had all the stuff to take to her, so I literally staggered out to the car.  I was still half asleep when I pulled up at Atria, though the chat with the girl at the front desk (who has never heard of Istanbul) helped wake me up, and off I staggered to my mother's apartment
The problem was, I think, that she had been sleeping too and was as groggy as I was when she answered the door.
So there we were, two groggy people, one with dementia, trying to have a coherent conversation.
In my cheeriest voice, I said that tomorrow was our big day, the day we go to the Brain Gym again.  She said she's not going to go.  She hates it.   She doesn't need any help because her brain is fine and she realizes I'm trying to help her, but she is never going to go there again. much for help with her brain, which apparently is just fine.  I'm disappointed.  I thought that was going to be our "thing," going to the brain gym and then to lunch, but it was only my thing.  Time to give up and let her just deteriorate.
The ironic thing, which she would never see if I pointed it out to her, was that when her mother-in-law moved into an Atria-like facility my mother spent years so frustrated with her because the facility offered so many opportunities for her, but she refused to interact with people and all she did for years was sit in her room asking why she was still alive and wishing to die.  But if I pointed that out to her, she would not see that she is doing exactly the same thing.  
There is a birthday dinner for all with September birthdays coming up and I asked if she was going to go to it.  She just looked at me like I was crazy. Go interact with other birthday folks?   WhyEVer would she do that?
Ed had been there yesterday, apparently and brought up the last of her stuff, in boxes, on a cart, with a note that it was for me.
You would not believe what happened.
She slouched in her chair, glowered toward the boxes and said "Stuff," with all the venom she used to use for "all this crap" in her house.  She said she didn't know what was in the boxes and I said I didn't either, but when I took them home, if there was anything I thought she wanted, I'd bring it to her.
Then she said something like:  "Well, when I moved here, you told me to just leave everything behind and I did.  You said I wouldn't be needing it.  But how do I know there's nothing in those boxes I might need?"   She then suggested that we go through a box a day to make sure she didn't need anything.
I told her that the thing that botherted her most about her old house was all the "stuff" in it and that she hadn't needed any of it for the past four months, so she obviously didn't need anything that was in any of the boxes.
She got very huffy and said I didn't understand what it was like to leave it all behind and that she really felt she needed to check the boxes to find out if there was anything she really wanted.  I pointed out that even if there was, she had nowhere to put it in her new apartment.  I was very, very angry with Ed for putting me in this position when he could have let me know he was coming and delivered these boxes to my house.
She then got very angry because I was keeping her from her stuff.   But as I have said before, there is an up side to dementia.  I tried to find a subject to talk about other than the big pile of boxes in her room and she was easily distracted.  But I really needed to be out of there, and I definitely needed to get rid of those boxes or she would have them all opened in no time.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Exercise in Futility

When I dropped my mother off at Atria this morning and drove out of the parking lot, I was fighting tears.  I don't know what I expected, but something more than what I got.

We didn't go to the Brain Gymnasium yesterday.  Well, we did, but my mother got very dizzy and said she had to go back to the apartment.  I walked with her, holding onto her because she was kind of staggering.  She's had dizzy spells before, but not since she moved to Atria (or at least not that she has told me).   Ordinarily I would have waited to see if she had more spells, but I am nervous about leaving her alone while we are on vacation and as she had not yet met the doctor I signed her up with, I decided to make an appointment just to make sure everything is OK.

She hates to go to the doctor, so the fact that she agreed to go without an argument told me a lot about how she was feeling.

This morning she wasn't feeling dizzy and so she was angry that we had to go to the doctor.  I swear she turns into a 10 year old at the thought of seeing any medical professional.  Of course I have a warped sense of terror since I worked in medical offices for so long and see nothing terrifying about them.

But she agreed to go.  I chose Dr. S for her because when I went to get her on some doctor's service, he was the only one available who listed "gerontology" as one of his special areas of expertise.

On the intake sheet, she wrote "dizziness and insomnia" for reasons why she was there.  I had previously written him a letter of introduction in which I outlined her memory problems and what had (and had not) been done in San Rafael.   She never took her neuropsych evaluation because at the time they scheduled it, we were in the process of moving her here, so her official diagnosis is still "mild cognitive impairment," which was given her more than a year ago.

Dr. S got into the room and introduced himself to us both, the last time he looked at me throughout the exam.  He asked where my mother had lived before she came to Davis and she laughed and looked at me and said "I don't know, Bev...where did I live?"  She made it sound like a joke, but she really doese not remember where she lived.  He then launched into a story about his family going to Sausalito for a boat class and having to stay in San Rafael and how there was a race going on and so the hotel rooms were going for $600 a night and they stayed at a Motel 6 where they paid $200 a night.  The story went on and on and on.

He finally got to her first complaint and spent an exhaustive amount of time on dizziness and its causes, all in terms that I could see clearly she was not following, though she pretends well.  At some point when he had run the subject to exhaustion, I mentioned that she was also there for insomnia.  He snapped "we'll take things one at a time."  He then went to her last bone density exam, done in 2007 and suggested it might be time for a new one.  She growled that she didn't like tests and he said "Well, I'm just here to suggest; the decision is up to you and I gather your decision is no."

He looked at her diagnosis of "mild cognitive impairment" and said "When you wake up in the morning, you know what day it is and what date it is, don't you?"  She said "oh sure."  I said "You do NOT" and she got angry with me.  Later, when I mentioned the neuropsych evaluation which had not been done, he poo poo'd it and said that was for head trauma and that because she knew the day and date and remembered 4th St. in San Rafael (which he had mentioned and she agreed was a nice street--it's the street she worked on), that she should remember that a little memory loss was inevitable as people age.

He didn't do a THING to check her memory.  Not one thing, but get her to say that she did know the day and date, thought he didn't ASK her the day and date, which she would not have been able to give him.  That's her biggest frustration every week at Brain Gymnasium, not knowing the day and date, to where Michael now writes it down for her each week so she won't be so frustrated.

Dr. S ordered some labs to be done (which she also growled at) and then sent us on our way without even addressing the insomnia, which in the confusion of his trying to explain his four page medical report to her I completely forgot to bring up again..  By her report, she has not slept for about 3-4 nights, lying awake until 5 a.m. and the doctor didn't even address it.

In all honesty, I don't know what I'm expecting.  But something more than this.  He offered her a shingles vaccine, saying that even though she had shingles before, she could still get it again, but she doesn't like shots, so he didn't push it.  He didn't push a bone density exam though she takes no Calcium supplement and her biggest fear is having to use a walker or be in a wheel chair, which would certainly happen if she happened to fall (like maybe when having a dizzy spell) and break a bone.  

He did order labs and I'll get them done, though she's angry at having to go to the lab, especially when she's fasting, so with Jeri coming for the next week, I don't know if I'll do that now or wait until we get back from vacation.

She's very, very nervous about our being gone for 3 weeks.   She must ask me a dozen times a day what will happen to her if something goes wrong while we are away.  I reassure her that the manager will be aware that we're gone, and he will have both Ed's and Ned's phone numbers in case someone needs to be notified.   I have also arranged with my friend Peggy, who lives at Atria, to send her photos while we are on our trip, and she will bring my mother to her apartment and show them to her on her computer.  

And in joking mode, I tell her that if she dies, I will make arrangements for the chef to hang her in the dining room kitchen freezer until I get back.

I wish I felt better about this doctor, but after today, I have a feeling this is not a guy to discuss anything with; it's a guy to order tests and that's about it.

I wonder what he learned in his gerontology class...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Giddy Girls

I can honestly say that today was the best day at Atria.  Ever.

We had Brain Gymnasium at 10 a.m.  She really didn't want to go, but went and brought the folder I'd given to her.  Everyone seems to bring their "home play" to class in folders and I have all these folders left over from the information they give me when I review a play.  I chose the Wizard of Oz folder for me and the Les Miserables for her, since I told her she looks so miserable when I try to take her to the activity!

I couldn't find my folder, though, and thought I'd left it in the car, so I sent her on to find the class on her own (which she did!).  Turns out I left the folder at the front desk.  The class had sort of started when I got there and Michael was trying to get my mother to remember the date (she and I had gone over that before we left her apartment, but she had forgotten).  

My mother was doing what she always does when she finds herself stumped.  She made jokes, and laughed about being "95," but this is week 3 and Michael is on to her now and, though kind, gentle, and understanding, would not let her get away with it this time.  For one thing I said that she was 93, not 95, and for another one of the participants in another class is 100 and "sharp as a tack," so he said he's not letting her get away with claiming she's too old to think.

Amazingly, by answering his questions ("was the holiday this month a long time ago or a short time ago?" etc.), she actually got the date right!   We all cheered.  The next question concerned figuring out a date based on knowing what today is.  Once again, she started joking and he wouldn't let her and by God she eventually got THAT answer right too.

We did a couple of geography games and though she struggled, she didn't make any more mistakes or struggle any harder than everyone else in the class--including me.  Michael also made it fun by having us pass around a rubber chicken and if you were left holding the rubber chicken when the timer went off, you lost 27,000 points (I asked him how many you would have left and he said nobody had ever asked him that before).

Anyway, it was fun and she seemed to like it and she actually seemed to be working.  Michael said he could see that she was starting to get it.  No guarantee that this will continue, but I was optimistic for the first time today.

By the time we leave on our vacation next week, when I will be gone for 3 of these classes, I hope to find someone in the class who will volunteer to pick her up for class each week, so she doesn't give up.

I hadn't intended to stay for lunch, but it was Mexican day and lunch sounded good, so I decided to stay.  I'm thinking that eating with her once a week would be nice, not too expensive for her and she knows that she has someone to talk with when I come.

We sat down at a table, which she told me is "her" table (go figure!) because she tries to sit there all the time. In short order we were joined by Loretta, 83, who said she had just come in from a shopping trip and was exhausted.   She is an artist, a former singer, and seems to be a very nice lady.  She and my mother both decided to have wine with their lunch (I stuck to water).

The longer they lunch went on, the giddier they got and the whole thing was just really fun for all of us.  I hope we see more of Loretta, since she seems to be a person who might turn out to be a real friend for her (though maybe I'm being premature about that).

Before we left, my friend Peg stopped by.  She had been eating in a small group on the other side of the dining room.  Apparently Loretta is in her Brain Gymnasium class.  She asked my mother if she had this week's "home play."  My mother didn't know, but I said that she did.  She asked if she could borrow it, and was going to stop by my mother's apartment to get it.  This would be the first resident to come and visit and I hope that it went well.

These are all such tiny little things, but given what I've been observing over the past month and a half, this was such a "normal" day, with my mother participating, fitting in, and making friends.  I am breathing so much easier tonight!

Walt set up a little dining room table for her yesterday.  It is a drop-leaf table that we found in his mother's storage unit.  It nicely fills the only "blank" place in the apartment and she feels that it feels like home and no longer a motel.

In fact, it feels so much like home to her that she sat in her chair today, with me in the other chair and she looked around and said "Bev, what are you going to do with all this crap when I die?"


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sometimes It's Heartbreaking

My mother was a stay at home Mom until I went to high school.   Karen was 4 years younger, so she was in her last years in our 8-grade grammar school.  Up until that time she was the Mom who sat at the kitchen table with a bowl in her lap, peeling apples for her famous apple pie.  She was the Mom who helped us with homework, who helped the Girl Scout leaders when they asked for volunteers, and who kept the house spotless.

But as she was starting to be faced with a mostly empty nest and a difficult husband, she saw an ad in the paper from Bank of America, which was looking for typists.  She went in for an interview and set her own conditions (because of my father's work schedule, she could only work 3 days a week, they would be a different three days every week and she couldn't tell which days they would be until the end of one week).   Amazingly they hired her.

She started working 3 days a week, gradually worked up to a full time job, as she felt more comfortable being away from home, and eventually was promoted to a Trust Officer, an office she held for several years, during which time she was also vice president of the Business & Professional Women's club and gave speeches regularly. 

She was also the treasurer in any organization she joined.  She kept the books for our household.
And so it is heartbreaking to watch her struggle to do simple math problems in the Brain Gymnasium, which we attended today for the first time.  It requires thinking to figure out the problem.  The first was to tell what was the date the day before two days from tomorrow.  Her main problem was that she had no idea what today's date was, but she was so embarrassed.  She didn't notice that two other people in the group had problems with the question too.

We have been attending "Keep Your Brain Sharp," which, to tell you the truth, is just plain boring.  The leader, who is not particularly vivacious, gives assignments like "list the presidents starting with the current one and so backwards and see how many you can name" or "make a list of all the animals that you might see around here."  Then she leaves the room, comes back in, has us read our lists and gives another list. I have been taking her to the class because it helps her brain work, but today we tried the other memory program and it is head and shoulders (and perhaps torso also) above Brain Sharp.

Michael, the leader of this group, is extremely outgoing, charismatic, and very, very encouraging, telling my mother over and over again that there are no wrong answers and that the whole point of the exercises is to get your brain to actually think.

There was another exercise where you named a geographical location that did NOT end in the letter "A" and the next person named a place that begins with the last letter of the previous location.  Everybody had difficulty with that at one time or another, and though my mother had more problem than the others, I would see her working and enjoying it.

There were 3 other people in this class (plus Michael), 2 of whom do not live at Atria, but live in the community and come for the exercises.  They were so incredibly encouraging to my mother and told her over and over and over again how much it helps and how the important thing was to keep coming back because it works (sounds like an AA meeting!)

I had planned to stay for lunch and wait until Alice Nan came to visit.  She was in Sacramento and had not yet seen my mother's apartment, but during the class Walt called to let me know I had to make a change in a review I had written, so I didn't stay for lunch, but came home and went back later.  

It was very interesting to talk with my mother during the hour before Alice Nan arrived.  It was like she had slipped mentally back about 3 weeks.   It's hard to explain, but the things she didn't know about Atria are things she has known well for the last week or so.  I wondered if all that brain work had shaken things up in there and it all needed to settle down again.

She asked me four times where Alice Nan lived now and one of the first things she asked Alice Nan was where she was living now, but basically I think she enjoyed the visit.

While we were waiting for Alice Nan to arrive, she was looking at our "homeplay" (since Brain Gymnasium isn't school, Michael doesn't assign "homework" but "homeplay."  I loved the first one.

 It's like a verbal sudoko, where you have to figure out how to get all the words into the blocks.  I saw immediately how to do it, [spoiler case you want to do this on your own] -- Once I noticed that "slow" and "went" were the only two words with the letter w in them, the whole thing fell into place instantly.  I wasn't going to show my mother how to do it, but I did explain that she should look for the letter that was in only two words.  It took her awhile to find it, but she did.  I told her she was right and explained about placing those two words and that would make it easy to put the other words in.

It wasn't three minutes before she picked it up again, as if she had never seen it before.  I tried explaining the whole "w" thing to her and she couldn't understand "letter" vs. "word."  When I told her to find the letter that was in only two words, she was pleased to find the rhyming pair "pent" and "went."  The whole exercise she had struggled to understand from 3 minutes before was just gone.

(I should add that the second exercise for us to do is something that totally defeats me.  It's along the lines of trains leaving stations at different times, or something like that.  No way can I figure it out, so my mother shouldn't feel bad that she's "so dumb" because on this exercise I'm just as dumb as she is!  I have been invited to be a regular member of the group, not just to accompany my mother!)

I'm hoping she will make friends with the people in Brain Gymnasium so that when we are on our vacation, someone will remember to remind her about coming to class.  I have already made arrangements with Atria's General Director so that I can send e-mail for her to him each day and he will print it off and deliver it to her, which means that not only will she get a letter from me almost every day, but someone will actually check and make sure she's doing well while I'm away.  This is a huge worry off my mind.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sing Along

Today it was a sing-along.  I knew that my mother would have fun because they sing the songs she knows and she always enjoys singing along.  Also, the change of address cards I ordered for her had arrived, so I thought I would go over an hour early and we could get some address cards addressed to send to her friends and then go to the sing along.

Well, best laid plans and all that.

She thought the cards were cute but had zero interest in sending them to anyone.  She said she would look for her address book.  I knew right where it was, but she was still totally uninterested, so we didn't do that.  It's not urgent, but that meant we had an hour to kill.

And nothing to say to each other.

She told me a dozen times that she had to get something to go in the big blank space on her wall, maybe a picture with some flowers on it.  I reminded her a dozen times that Ed is going to bring up the picture of a floral arrangement which belonged to her sister and which she loves.

She got started with all the stuff in her house in Terra Linda and said she needed to go back there one more time.  I asked her what she wanted to go for.  She got angry and said that I didn't understand.  She had lived ther 20 years and she has important things that she needed to go through.  I reminded her,as gently as I could, that when she was there last time she didn't find anything that she needed to bring with her and that she had a return of her dizzy spells, her back pain, and all she could do was hold her head in her hands and say that she should not have come back.

She got angry and said she doesn't remember anything like that, but if I say so she'll have to believe me, but she was very petulant.  The nice thing about dementia, though, I've discovered, is that if you wait long enough, she'll forget about it, which she did.

Yesterday, I found her with a stack of old letters in her lap, complaing about "all this crap" and "why did I save stuff like this?"   Turned out to be letters written by her sister, the writer, all of which are little gems, and they date back to when my mother was still married to my father.  In fact, there were some letters written to my father, which were very funny.  I threatened her with death if she threw them away and told her that if she didn't want the letters, I would take them.

I have the idea that she won't be truly happy in that place until there is no piece of paper anywhere. She says that she doesn't feel at home yet and that she still feels like she's living in a motel.

We eventually went off to check her mail and to go to the sing along, where I managed to distinguish myself.  We got there early and sat at two chairs that were a good design for her back.  They had a table between them.  We each had a glass of water.

Eventually the musicians arrived.  Ida Sue, the pianist, is one of the residents and she is helped by her daughter Carol and our David's former kindergarten teacher, Judy.  

Carol suggested we move our chairs closer to the piano.  When I went to stand up, my hip bone caught and I couldn't stand up right away.  (This happens periodically and rights itself within seconds.)  Carol told me she would take the chair for me and when I went to help her, I spilled my cup of water on the rug.   I got the feeling that she wondered if I, too, was a resident!

The sing along was fun, and all songs that I knew very well.  As I suspected my mother entered into the fun and sang every song along with everyone else.

While we were singing, I saw Kendra, who is the wife of Ned's lifelong friend Greg, at the front desk.  I knew that Kendra's grandmother was moving into Covell this week and I left my mother singing and went to talk with Kendra.   Turns out that her grandmother just moved in and when I mentioned that Ned was going to come and have lunch with his grandmother this weekend, Greg said he would check with him and maybe they could include Greg and Kendra's grandmother (who is just a kid by my mother's standards, in her mid-80s),

When the sing along ended, I stopped to thank Ida Sue for her piano playing and my mother spied a woman she recognized and went to talk to her.  I was thrilled!   They seemed to have a nice chat.

I'm having breakfast with my mother tomorrow morning while Walt puts the finishing touches on getting the house ready for Ashley and her furry friends to move in while we are in Santa Barbara.  My mother is feeling sad that I am "leaving her alone."  ("Fine move me all the way to Davis and say you'll always be around and here you are leaving me alone right away.")

But I have made arrangements for a friend of mine to come and visit her while we're away, and Ned will be there too.  And I will call her every day, to make sure everything is all right.  She's scared that if something happens to her she won't know who to call.

I found out later that she told Jeri I had only been to see her twice since she was in the place.  But I guess that's OK because she thinks that she has only been there three days, not a week-plus.  I won't remind her that I have been there every day since she moved in!

We may be heading into the "difficult" part of settling in.