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.

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