Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

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.