Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

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.
AtriaToast.jpg (78059 bytes)
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.
AtriaLunch.jpg (92150 bytes)

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.