Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

Friday, December 12, 2014

Get Me to the Couch on Time

I didn't stay long at my mother's this morning.  She had called in a panic because she was going to have to wear her underwear for a second day.  I told her I had all her clean laundry and was bringing it to her this morning.

On the way to her apartment, I passed Elise's apartment.  Elise is 98 and doubled over from that old age hump that I am in the process of getting.  Her door was open and I could see she was sorting her laundry, getting ready to take it a few steps to the washing machine to wash it.

My mother was delighted to see me and apologized over and over again for making me do her washing, but she just didn't want to wear dirty underwear.  I told her if she got desperate she could walk a few steps to the washing machine and do the washing herself...or I could get the crippled 98 year old to show her how to do it.  She pretended she had not heard me.

I'm afraid my 3+ weeks at Mallard Point did bad things to me.  Many of the people there seem to be in worse physical condition than those at Atria, yet you met all of them, sooner or later, washing their clothes.

My mother is 95, physically in better shape than I am, and does nothing all day long.  It's not that I mind doing things for her, but I am starting to get angry for doing her laundry when she could do it easily herself.
Later, we were talking about something and I mentioned the rain yesterday.  She was surprised.  It rained yesterday?  She knew nothing about it.

She sits in a chair all day long staring out a window, she says she watches the news, and the stormageddon has been banner headlines in the paper she reads "cover to cover" every day, but she had no idea it had rained all. day. yesterday.

I know that's her dementia, but washing her clothes isn't necessarily tied to her dementia.  I am angry with myself that I am starting to be mad at her for her refusal to take responsibility for anything in her life.  

I pointed out to her that she really needed a haircut.  She got that coy smile she uses when you know she isn't going to do anything and she said "I'm thinking about it."  I told her she looked terrible, like the Wicked Witch of the West.  

I decided I'm not going to bug her about her hair.  I'm going to leave it to her to decide when to have it done.  This is the woman who had her hair done every week before she moved to Davis.  Who always looked like a model, with never a hair out of place.  Now it's long and stringy and fly-away.  She looks like my only memory of my great grandmother, whose appearance terrified me.  And it makes me angry that she doesn't care.

If I make a big deal out of it she will just sign and say "you know...when you're pushing hunnert...." and use that as her excuse for doing NOTHING.

My appointment with a therapist is on Monday and believe me it can't come soon enough.  I have to reach mental peace with my mother or our last years together are going to be terrible.  I need a place to get out all the anger and frustration I feel about her in a safe environment and learn coping skills.  

I thought I had them and though I got frustrated with her, things were more or less OK until I went to Iowa.  But seeing all those old people caring for themselves made me look at my mother in a different light and I don't like the light I'm seeing her in.

I need help if I'm to get through her last years without ruining our 71 year relationship.

In other news, I took my desktop computer to my guru, who did NOT make me feel like an idiot (yet), but he did talk to me about something called "virtual computer," which would make it possible for me to get a newer computer and still run the programs I rely on which aren't compatible with the newer operating systems.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Used the "D" Word

I was going to take my mother to Kaiser to get her flu shot and a blood test her doctor had requested and I wanted an early start.  It was another of "those" days.  She apologized for feeling "confused" today (why is this day different from other days?)
First there was the now frustratingly familiar Search For the Kaiser Card.  She always goes to find it, can't find her purse, I tell her where her purse is, she searches her wallet, can't find the card, I tell her where it is in the purse itself.  She can't find it.  I take her purse and show her where it is.   She is relieved. 

Then we go to the car.  In the car she says "now I have to have my Kaiser card, right?" and the fruitless search begins again until I take the purse from her and show her where the card is again.

This time we had a side trip first, to a jeweler to get a new battery put in her watch.  She has been lost without the watch, though she doesn't really need it, but she's worn it all of her life, so I found a parking place near the jeweler and we went in.  We talked about the watch and the need to have it back by Friday (or I couldn't pick it up for a month).  All the while I'm talking with the clerk, my mother is looking in her purse for her Kaiser card. 

While we are there, I ask about her wedding ring.  She has been complaining about it for a year.  It's much too tight and she can neither get it off or turn it on her finger.  She can no longer bend her finger because the ring is cutting off the circulation.  I have been offering for a year to take her in to have it cut off and resized, but after I finally have her convinced, she decides she wants to wait awhile.

But we were there and the jeweler looked at the finger and said the ring needed to be cut off.  My mother said that was funny because she never even noticed that it was too tight.  She wanted to wait and have it done after I got back from Iowa, but it had taken me a year to get her there and we were going to have it done NOW.  Fortunately, she does respond to things like that positively.

ring1.jpg (51587 bytes)
ring2.jpg (70859 bytes)

They promised me the ring could be resized and picked up on Friday too, but when they got it off, the dent in her finger was so deep the jeweler said there was no way he could size her finger and he wouldn't size a different finger.  She has to massage cream into her finger while I'm in Iowa and then go back in December to get the finger sized so they can enlarge the ring.

Next we went to Kaiser and she could not, of course, remember why.   When we got in the building she didn't have a clue where she was or why she was there.  But we got our flu shots and I took her to the lab for her blood test.   Before we left the testing room, I checked to make sure she had her Kaiser card, which she did.

ApplebeesSm.JPG (69741 bytes)We got in the car and head to Applebees for lunch.  I decided it would be nice to take her somewhere other than Atria and she used to eat at Applebees frequently with a friend of hers.  When we looked at the menu, it was immediately apparent to me that there was nothing there that would not be too much for her, so I ordered an appetizer platter for us to share that that was an excellent decision.  Good me.

When the waitress was ready to give us the check, my mother went for her credit card (which is in the same pouch as the Kaiser card) and could not find it.   It had disappeared.  We both looked through her wallet and purse three times and it was not there.  She thought maybe she could pay the bill with her Social Security Card.  I paid the bill.

I KNEW we had the card in the blood-letting room at Kaiser because I saw it.  We went out to the car to see if she had put it in the pocket of her jacket (no) or if it had fallen on the floor again (no).  I took the purse from her one more time and found a zippered pouch I had not checked before.  It's part of the design on the front or her purse and I've never seen anything there.  But there was the pouch with the two cards.

I cannot tell you how many times she was confused and how many times she kept telling me she hated being dependent on people because she had always prided herself on her independence.

That's when I used the "D" word.  I have always talked about her "memory problems" but have never actually said "dementia."   I told her she had dementia, like her mother (not Alzheimers like her sister) and talked about what the dementia does, that it's not treatable, and that it was time for her to accept that she has this condition and just let people who love her take care of her.   

I don't know why I was afraid to use the "D" word.  I know that she is divorced from her emotional reactions to things (like news of Peach's cancer), so why did I think she would be upset to hear me talk about her having dementia?   She didn't bat an eye.  But the word has been spoken and I can now feel comfortable saying "dementia" around her.  (Of course she won't remember!)

On the way home she said, as she always says when in the car, "If you let me out here I wouldn't have a clue where I was or who I should talk to or what I should do."  I tried to put myself inside her brain and try to figure out how scary it was for her to have no ability to recognize landmarks or to have a clue where she was at any time.  She can finally recognize the driveway to Atria, but we have to be turning into it before she recognizes it.  

But it did help me to try to feel what she must be feeling in her head.  I need to do that more often because when I do it helps me to be more patient with her.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Miss My Mommy

I went to Atria yesterday, because I wanted to give the latest news about Peach to my mother personally, not over the phone.  I've said this before and will probably say it again, but one of the most difficult things for me about her dementia is the disconnect with her emotions.  It is so hard for me to deliver sad (or happy, for that matter) news to her and have her have almost no reaction.

Our dialog yesterday went something like:

ME:  "Peach heard that she has stage 3 cancer and will have to start chemotherapy."

HER:  "Oh dear.  Well life goes on, whether you want it to or not." Then she looked over a a cabinet where there was a bouquet of roses that had been given to her this week, and totally dismissing the news about Peach she said, "Look at those flowers.  They are dying.  They were beautiful, but now they're dying."

I'm not sure whether my tears were for Peach or for the fact that my mother and I could not discuss Peach's upcoming chemotherapy treatment and her fears about it.  Once she had digested the news, she was no longer interested.   We sat there for awhile longer, talking about how old she is, how all of her siblings are gone, and how it can't be cold outside (it was) because the leaves on the trees were not moving, so it must be hot and how she didn't watch the World Series because she somehow forgot it was on in between the time I called her and the time she walked back to her chair after hanging up (so I didn't bother to call her yesterday).

It was one of those days where I needed to have my mother to talk to, and couldn't bear to be with this person who looked and sounded like my mother, but who wasn't the mother I needed.  I know it's not her fault and I will be fine when I see her next time, but I cut my visit short, went out to the parking lot, and sat in the car to have a little cry.  (I seem to be having these "little cry" moments this week.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

She'll be the death of me

I went to pick her up for her doctor's appointment and not only did she not remember having an appointment (though I sat in front of her so she could hear me making it...but that doesn't surprise me) but she feels absolutely fine and does not remember ever feeling nervous, so she doesn't know what she would tell a doctor.  Maybe I should make sure she has a vodka tonic every day.

I don't know if canceling her appointment was the right thing to do, but given that she is fine and doesn't ever remember being so frantic about being so nervous, it probably was.

I wrote Ned, Ed and Jeri to check in with her, at least by phone, over the weekend while we're in Santa Barbara.

I'm sure she'll be just fine.

I'm not so sure I will !!!!

Sunday, October 5, 2014


My mother called and asked me to come over, that she had "some things to talk with me about."  I wondered all the way over what she perceived I'd done wrong, or what she could possibly want.

Turns out she's been having anxiety attacks for the last 2 days (I saw her on Friday).  She can't stop shaking.  Gets up and doesn't know where she is what she's supposed to be doing. She wanted me to fix her, but obviously she needs some kind of mild sedative, and definitely needs to consult a doctor.  We talked a lot and she agreed.  I called Kaiser in front of her and made the appointment (which she doesn't remember my doing, but still agrees to go).  I tried to get her laughing by laughing when she tried to pull the sleeves of her shirt down to cover the couple of old age spots she had and said everyone will think she's old.  I told her she tells everyone her age and everyone KNOWS she's old.

I got the bright idea to fix her a vodka tonic, which I think was a good idea.  Then I said I'd stay for dinner and then changed to taking her out to dinner.  I suggested that she hadn't had Chinese food in awhile.  My god she had FOUR helpings of chow mein.  I haven't seen her eat that much in months.  I think she was OK when we dropped her off but I will be curious to hear what the doctor has to say. 

I told her I can't imagine how terrifying it must be to be HER and talked openly about the worsening memory loss.  I have never yet used the "D" word with her.  I don't know if she could handle it.

This is not a good time for this, with us being ready to go to France (in 2 weeks).  I'm going to have to count on Ned to keep tabs on her while we're gone.  But I'm waiting until after we see the doctor before talking to him about it.

The nice thing is that as soon as the plane lifts off, I have no choice but to leave it all behind.

But a part of me is beginning to feel like this is a "bad idea" trip!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Today at Atria

Today was one of those days I have every so often, where I felt like crying when I left Atria.  I went there for lunch and we "visited" (such as visits are these days) beforehand.

A week or so ago, I had disturbing news about the health of someone we both love very much.  The wife had found a breast lump and was going to see the doctor.  After her appointment, the doctor said he was pretty sure it was cancer.   I hesitated about whether to tell my mother or not, but ultimately decided to tell her, even though the extent of the cancer and the expected treatment had not yet been decided, mostly because I wanted to share my own feelings about the sad news.

It hurt a lot that I was feeling so bad for my friends, the wife and her husband, that they are going through this and that my mother treated it as if it were something trivial. Now it has been decided that a mastectomy will be performed next week and my heart is aching for my friend.

My mother can't seem to process the news in any emotional part of her brain.  She had a momentary expression of sadness, but then went on to ask if the weather was hot outside. I know it's her disease and I know that if she were in her right mind she would be much more concerned, but she treats it with all the interest she has for anything these days.

Maybe it was a bad idea to take her to San Rafael for lunch and experience that one brief moment of normalcy.  It's definitely gone and much as I want to talk about the medical condition with her, she just can't grasp the seriousness of it, the potential danger, or anything else about this cancer.  Or that in a matter of just one week, our friend has gone from being just fine to having her breast removed, but my mother can't process what a trauma this must be for her.

Add to that our lunch.  We sat at a table alone.  I don't know where Margaret, who usually eats at that table, is.  She hasn't been there the last couple of times we have been there.  I watched all the tables of people around me chatting and I realized that I was feeling like a mother whose kid isn't one of the cool kid, the kid who people don't seek out for conversation at school.  People would come by our table, glance down and move on.

But then my mother told me that if I weren't there she would just take her lunch to her apartment.  Then she sat there criticizing everyone in the room.  She commented on how everyone was chewing and made it sound like a negative judgement on people chewing their lunch.  She always comments that there are so many people with grey hair there and sneers about the people using walkers.  This becomes a litany when there is nobody else at the table, repeated over and over again.  She doesn't want to be "one of them," so she'd rather eat by herself.

She is complaining a lot about her back, but of course a walker is out of the question.  I normally don't even mention it any more but she complained about pain so much today that I did, but I think a walker would be the worst thing ever for her.  If she had to use a walker, I think it would literally kill her.  Her pride in not needing one (even though she does) is what is keeping her limping along to "hunnert." And of course seeing a doctor about her pain is out of the question.  She doesn't need a doctor.

So it was just a sad day.  They are usually somewhat sad days (which is why the not-sad days are so special!), but most days I handle them better than I did today. I want her to feel something, dammit not just sit there musing about whether the leaves rustling in the trees mean that there is a cool breeze outside, but unwilling to open her door to find out.

She told me for the umpteenth time about the new pathway they created just steps from her door.  "Have you tried it out?" I asked her.   "What for?" she said.  She could see it just fine from her chair and didn't see any reason why she needed to go and actually walk on it.

She's now hoping that she does live to hunnert because she thinks that would really be a neat thing to do.  If she does, I might be in a home myself by then!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Just Like Old Times

I have had the best afternoon, and I came home from San Rafael on a real high.  I also came home again wishing I knew more about the process of dementia.

After how vague she was yesterday, and how she was at first today, I wasn't sure how this was all going to go.  I called her 30 minutes before I was going to pick her up, to be sure that she was up and dressed.  She was, but didn't remember about lunch at all, and was delighted that we had this lunch date with her old friends.

I picked her up at 10 and when she got in the car, she asked where we were going.  I told her San Rafael.  She asked if it was just going to be the two of us for lunch, I told her that her friends were coming.  She was thrilled and said that she wished she had known and she would have gotten dressed up more.  Sigh.

On the hour and a half ride down to San Rafael, I tried to talk about things I thought would interest her, but she only wanted to talk about three things:  how pretty the trees were; how dead the grass on the hills was and how we needed rain so they could be green again; and how they needed to plant stuff in the harvested fields.  Occasionally she would ask where we were going and who was going to be there, but mostly I realized that the only thing that really interests her is nature--not animals or birds, but growing things.

We were the first to arrive at the restaurant and sat waiting for the others.  Four of the five expected showed up (Jeff, the last one to arrive, didn't come for about half an hour because he'd been stuck in a meeting).  It was like a lightbulb switched on.  She was excited, happy, bubbly.  The sparkle was back in her eyes.  Not only that but they talked about mutual acquaintances that she remembered.  (I have seen her say "yeah" to questions asked when she has no idea what the person is talking about, but in this instance not only did she remember the people, but also remembered personality characteristics about them.)

Everybody but me ordered a drink (my mother had two) and a toast was made for her 95th birthday.

MomToast.jpg (188778 bytes)
With Cinni

We ordered lunch and, on Cinni's recommendation, I had their lamb salad, which was fabulous.

MomSalad.jpg (169686 bytes)

My mother didn't order a cup of soup, like she does every day, but actually linguine with clams, which she ate almost all of!

Paula kept everybody laughing by telling jokes.

MomJoke.jpg (185741 bytes)

Jeff finally arrived and everyone had a good time visiting with him.

MomGrp.jpg (186710 bytes)

He and my mother have always had a very special relationship and it is obvious how much the two of them like each other.

MomJeff.jpg (171899 bytes)

The restaurant brought her a bowl of ice cream with a candle in it.

MomCandle.jpg (145078 bytes)

At the end of the lunch, the women told us they were treating us to the meal because it was my mother's birthday and because I had brought her down.  It was very sweet of them to do that, and I had to take a picture of the group (minus Jeff, who had to get back to work).

There were hugs all around and I told them that whenever they wanted to include her in their lunch dates, just e-mail me and I'll be happy to bring her down.   Heck, to watch her be so "normal" for a brief time was worth the 3 hour drive.

When we got in the car, I said something about how nice it was that the women had treated us.  "Who treated us? to what?" she asked and then for the rest of the drive, she discussed the trees, the dead grass on the hills, and the barren fields.

That's why I wish I knew more about she can turn it on and then lose it so quickly.  But I am still on a high, remembering how happy she was and how much fun she had visiting with her friends. It was nice seeing my mother again.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Hairdresser

The day started out taking my mother to the beauty shop at Atria for her 10 a.m. appointment.  The beauty shop is not open on Fridays, but Lucy, the beautician, made an exception and came in especially for my mother, so she would look good when I take her to lunch with her friends in San Rafael tomorrow.

The transformation was striking.  She's been looking like the Wicked Witch of the West for weeks now.  Her old self would be appalled at how she looked going to meals at Atria.  But once she got her hair washed and set and her curls brushed out, I loved how happy she looked.  Sadly, it is obvious that she will never be able to do this by herself again.  The beauty shop has moved upstairs and it involves (a) knowing that it's upstairs, (b) finding the elevator, (c) knowing which button to push, and (d) navigating TWO hallways to get to the place.  It was blatantly obvious that my mother was incapable of doing any of those things, so I guess I'll be taking her for hair appointments from now on.  It takes about an hour from start to finish and I read in the shop for awhile, but the chair was uncomfortable, so I moved to the couch outside and that was better.  Now that I know how long it takes, next time I might get something done while she's in the shop.

She can't retain the fact that we are meeting her friends tomorrow, so each time I mention it to her, it's like a fun new surprise all over again which, other than being tedious for me is kind of fun watching her get excited about it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

So Depressed

This is my conversation with my mother about Peach today:

I had some bad news yesterday.


Yeah.  Peach found a lump in her breast and she went for a mammogram and the doctor thinks it's cancer.

When am I going to see them again?

They were just here.

Oh, right.  How is Bob doing?

You just saw him.  He seems to be doing OK.

Oh.  Well, life is change.


If she makes it to hunnert, I'm going to be a blithering idiot by that time.  There was NOTHING that she had any interest in, and no emotional reaction to Peach possibly having cancer.  Everything I said she would answer with "well, life is change" or "Well life goes on."  I really want to engage her in SOMETHING, but it gets harder and harder.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Chat with my mother today.

So where is your next trip?

To France

FRANCE???  (we have discussed this numerous times)  What are you doing in France

I tell her.

How long will you be gone?

When do you leave?

and then in the very next breath she says "I may have asked you this before, but -- where is your next trip?

It is also sadly clear that she will never be able to go the hairdresser alone again.  They have moved the place, which used to be right next to where my mother worked her puzzles, upstairs and it involves takin the elevator, knowing which direction to turn and then going down two different corridors.  There is no way she can remember that, so I will have to take her to all of her hair appointments now.   We made an appointment so she can look presentable when I take her to lunch with her old friends in Marin County and when we left the salon, she turned to me and said "If you were to leave me here right now, I wouldn't know how to find my apartment."  She didn't realize she was on the second floor and when the elevator came, she started to push the button for the third floor.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


91414.JPG (35399 bytes)There wasn't much unusual about my visit with my mother today.   I had gone over to drop off her laundry, which I washed last night.  I settled in as usual and talked about our upcoming trip to Boston.  "You're going to Boston?" she cried, though we have discussed this every day for the last two weeks.

She followed that with her usual question when she knows I will be out of Davis for a few days.  "What should I do if I die when you're gone?"  She's very concerned that she knows what is supposed to happen when she dies and if I'm not here, obviously she can't die because she doesn't know what's supposed to happen and she wants to make sure "things" are taken care of.

It was an hour and a half discussion about her death and its aftermath, but the difference between today and other such discussions (which we have often) is that I guess my head was in the right place today because I was able to make a joke about it just about every time.

"If you feel you're going to die and I'm not here, just run down the hall waving your arms and screaming 'I'm dying! I'm dying!' and somebody will notice you," I told her.  She laughed a lot and told me that was a good one.
I usually tell her she won't have to do anything because the housekeeper will find her on house cleaning day so she wouldn't lie there all that long.

I also tell her that I've made arrangements with the head chef and he will just hang her in the meat locker in the Atria kitchen until I get home.

Then she wants to know what is going to happen with all her stuff when she dies.  I told her today we were going to throw it all in the box with her body and have it cremated with her.

I was surprised when I left Atria to discover I'd been there an hour and a half (a typical visit is an hour).  We really had talked about very little else but her death, living to hunnert, how she'd like to live to hunnert, how her husband is waiting for her, how she's the oldest one left in the family, and what will she do if she dies when I'm in Boston.   But we had gone over those topics many times and I was able to make things sound so ridiculous that we had a really good laugh for a long time.

That felt good.

Monday, September 15, 2014


I wrote this several years ago and wish it were still true today:  " is a woman who, at 88, still volunteers for the Hospice of Marin thrift shop (which she has been doing for some 20 years or so), still drops what she's doing to help a friend or a family member in trouble, is the person that everybody takes their troubles to.

She is slowing down a little now, but she still does more in a week than I do in a month.  She lights up any room she walks into.  She knows how to talk to people, to make them feel special.  She is a gracious hostess who still hosts large dinner parties from time to time, always with beautiful table settings and food perfectly prepared.  Plants positively light up under her care.  More than one dying plant has burst into luxuriant bloom thanks to her.

She is always impeccably dressed, coifed and made-up, but is neither vain nor a spendthrift--she gets all of her clothes and shoes at the thrift shop where she volunteers."

...I'd be happy if only one of those things were still true today.  But at least she is still here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


When I was at Atria earlier in the week, I was going through all of her printed material--they pass out endless lists and notes  and calendars and menus and my mother never looks at them, so periodically I go an discard the outdated ones (this time notes dating back to May).  I found a note from the dining room that they were running low on plates and asking if people could check and see if they had any plates from the dining room in their apartments.

Today I was looking for a glass to get myself some water and I opened one cupboard and there were twelve plates from the dining room.   My mother doesn't know how they got there, but I got them all stacked up and put outside her door, and then called the front desk to let them know they were there.   When we went to lunch, my mother saw the dishes outside and wanted to move them in front of someone else's apartment so nobody would know she had kept them.

I didn't.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A family gathering

I took my mother to a family gathering over the weekend.  At 9 a.m. she remembered we were going, but when I called her at 2:45 to let her know we were about to leave to pick her up, she had forgotten, didn't know anything about it, and had to change her clothes.  She "covered" so well at the party (with me in the background reminding her who each person who greeted her was) that someone told me that he felt she could still beat him at pinochle and that she was "as sharp as she ever was."

I watched a 60 Minutes report on Alzheimers and Dementia last night.  It all looked very familiar.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Who are those kids?"

 For an update on my mother, I went to put cream on her arms this morning and she had no clue why I was doing it, or any memory of ever having been itchy.   She also -- and this is the saddest part of her dementia, for me -- didn't recognize Brianna and Lacie.  I showed her a video and she asked "what kids are those?"  I expressed surprise that she didn't know and said "they're your great grandchildren."  She got very defensive and said "Well I don't know them.  I've only seen them a couple of times" and then when I got the video started, she looked at them and said "now who are those kids?"

After waiting so long for grandchildren and feeling like I can't really be an obnoxious grandma to people around me whose grandchildren are now in high school by bragging about how adorable my grandchildren are, it makes me very sad that I can't even share joy at the girls with their great grandmother.

Dementia is a terrible disease.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Day at Kaiser

I may or may not get to Logos in this entry -- it was a pretty boring day.  But it started with a day at Kaiser.  Actually the "day at Kaiser" really started the previous morning.
I had gone to have lunch with her and she complained that she had what looked like bug bites on her left arm.  She said it itched badly and she kept hitting her arm and saying "stupid! stupid! stupid!" because she didn't know how to make it feel better. I thought some critter must have it her in bed and figured it would be OK the next day because they had changed her sheets that day.
That night someone from Atria called me to say she was in a lot of discomfort and should go to Urgent Care NOW. I explained that we would have to take her to Kaiser ER in Sacramento and asked if they thought it could wait until she could see her own doctor this morning. The LVN said that she really needed to be seen that night.

I called the Kaiser advice nurse and she said she would set up a telephone consult with an ER doctor for 6:50. I got there at 6:25 and he had already called. My mother didn't know why he was calling, and said I would be there shortly. She told me he would call back. 45 minutes later, he still had not called, so I called the advice nurse again.  He said that the doctor made no notes about calling back, and the Advice guy talked to Momma to get her permission for him to read me the doctor's notes. Apparently she told the doctor she had no problems except she was a little dizzy.  Never mentioned her itching. (arrrggghhhhh!)

The upshot, after I talked with the advice person for awhile is that he made an appointment with her doctor for this morning.

Well, I missed the time and had to call my mother and hope she would figure out how to meet me outside. Thank God she did. We had less than 15 minutes to get to Kaiser (thank God, we made it!) She got in the car and, with all the anticipation of a kid going to Disneyland, she said "well, where are we going and what are we doing there?" I told her that she had a doctor appointment. She asked what for. I said for the bumps and itching. She said "I don't have any itching" and said she didn't want to see any doctor. I checked her arms and you could barely see what was so violent yesterday. I nearly cried. But then she decided that she DID feel a bit itchy. I checked her more closely and where the raised, flesh-colored patches weren't there, what replaced them were red patches that she finally admitted were itchy.

But she still didn't want to go to the doctor. ("You know I hate doctors.") However, thank God she has the retention of a sieve. It probably took 13 minutes to get to Kaiser and as many times in 13 minutes that you can say "where are we going and why are we going there?" is how many times she said it. It's like taking a little kid somewhere.

We finally got into the office, though she still didn't remember why she was there, but when she took off her shirt, I could see that she has several places where she has red sections and she admitted that her back was very itchy, so I'm glad that we went.

Because she lives in a facility, the doctor decided to give her a scabies treatment (which involves lathering her all over with cream, leaving it on for 8 hours, then showering it off and starting benadryl cream), though she didn't think there was any sign of scables. We went to the lab to get blood work and to the pharmacy to pick up $30 worth of meds and then home. :"Where are we going and what are we going to do next?" she asked as we got in the car.

Interspersed with where are we going were profound apologies for putting me out and letting me know that she is so stupid she should be able to do this herself and she feels SO BAD that I have to do it for her.
She was still complaining about itching, asking what it was and how she got it, and slapping her arms to say "stupid, stupid, stupid."  I pointed out to her that Walt's mother had whole body itching for years and managed to put up with it.  She had to have lotion applied all over her body a few times daily.  That actually kind of shut her up for a bit.

I got her home and lathered up with scabies cream and I added benadryl too since she was so itchy and the pharmacist said that would be OK. I told her I'd be back at 8 after she took her shower (she was supposed to wash the cream off after several hours) and would put benadryl on again. She forgot to take her shower, I called to remind her and gave her 15 minutes to do it, since she said she was getting in the shower  "right then" but while I was on the way to Atria, she called Walt to tell him she was just getting into the shower. I arrived while she was in the shower and when she got out she asked "now why was I supposed to take a shower?" I told her why and then said I would put cream on her. She asked what the cream was for. I told her it was for her bumps. She said she didn't have any and had forgotten that she was ever itchy.

I have to put benadryl on her 2x/day for the next 5 days. I may go crazy by then.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Lost Art of Conversation

Today I had lunch with my mother.  I was going to do it yesterday, but she was asleep when I got to her apartment, so I left a note saying I would be there today.

I feel ... I dunno ... selfish, maybe? ... that I was so depressed by the time we spent together today.  She has lost the art of conversation.   I was pleased that I hadn't seen her in several days because I had lots to talk with her about ... there were my two hearing appointments, my crab lunch, lunch with Grainne and the others, reviewing Brigadoon, and working yesterday.  I tried to draw each incident out to make it sound interesting, and to fill more time and when I finished, she looked at me and said, without having made a comment on anything I'd said so far, "so what else have you been doing that's interesting?"

The thing about my mother that I noticed many years ago is that she can't let empty space stand.  Driving her to Santa Barbara, she would talk the whole way, finding little things to talk about if there was empty space.  That's 8 hours of talking.  So she hasn't lost the need to fill empty spaces by saying something, but she doesn't have anything to say any more.  She probably asked me two dozen times (at least) what exciting thing I had planned for the rest of the afternoon.

At lunch, she looked the menu over carefully and then decided on the same lunch she has every day -- vegetable soup and fruit salad.   Before the waitress arrived, she had to check the menu again so she could remember what she was going to order.  And then when the waitress came to take her order, she looked at the menu again because she couldn't remember what she had decided on.

This is all normal and I'm used to it by now because it pretty much is how we have lunch every time we get together.  But I wish I could talk to her again, and I can't.  I can, and she will respond, but there is no "communication" going on.  I notice that almost nobody comes to visit her any more.  Ed hasn't been there in a month and he used to visit her several tiems a week when she lived in Marin County -- but he's discovered what a long trip it was that I made for years.  All the family claim to love her a lot, but only one cousin visits regularly.  Her friends came once, months ago.  So if there is to be any socialization, since she won't leave her apartment to talk with anybody, it's all on me. And while I love her dearly, dear God I wish we could just once have a conversation again.  About anything.

Exciting things are coming up, though, because Jeri will be here to visit her in two weeks and Peach will be here the week after that.   She's good at faking it when new people are around, so it will be fun for me too because I won't have to carry the conversation.

Friday, August 1, 2014


I started my day with lunch with my mother.  She was very disoriented today.  She said she had slept until 11 and so she was really confused and didn't know where she was or what she was supposed to be doing.  I found her in the dining room at 11:15 and she didn't know if she should order breakfast or lunch, couldn't find the breakfast items on the menu and then after ordering said she should go back to bed so she could wake up, thinking she had already eaten.  Loretta, one of the other women living there, who is about as confused as my mother sat with us.   They are good friends (though neither knows the other's name), and always have a good time teasing each other, so by the time the meal was over (lunch for me, breakfast for her), she was a bit more "with it."  Loretta apologized to the quiet woman who sat with us for the fact that the three of us were "nuts," she said, and the woman smiled for the first time and said not to apologize, that she had enjoyed listening to us.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This was a first

I went to see my mother in the morning and was regaling her with tales of the shows we saw this weekend (I don't know how much she comprehends, but it's something to talk about other than her being old!) and she seemed to be enjoying my stories.  She asked "do you write a report after you see them?"  I said (for the 100th time) that I did.  And she almost told me that "my daughter does that too," but then caught herself and realized that I was her daughter.   That hasn't happened before.

She also told me about having intermittent bilious fever, which she had as a small child.  I know this story, but she doesn't tell it all that often.  She was about 4 or 5 when she had it and she was bedridden for several months.  However she started the story today with "this happened before I was married" and then that she was about 13, she thought.

Just a bad day for memory, I guess.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Something Exciting

"What are you doing exciting for the rest of the afternoon?" she asked.  I had already answered that question more than half a dozen times in the apartment.  Now it appeared it was going to be the topic through our weekly lunch too.  And it was.  Sometimes she would interrupt me while I was telling her for the xxth time that I was going to finish writing my review and take a nap to ask the question again.

Her brain these days is funny.  Sometimes it amazes me with what she remembers.  She remembered to tell me that Jeri had called her earlier in the day I was visiting.  When she was talking to Jeri she remembered that Phil had been to visit her two weeks before. She remembered that she had been sleeping when the cleaning lady came this morning so her bed wasn't made and the cleaning lady was going to come back later to make the bed.

When it came time to order lunch, she couldn't remember how big the bowl of fruit salad was (though she has eaten it every. single. day. for the past year) and the waitress had to show her how big the bowl was.  Then she wasn't sure if she could eat that much.  Though. she. has. eaten. it. every. single. day. for the past year.

When we got back from lunch, I went to use the bathroom and discovered she was out of toilet paper.  I told her that I noticed she was out of TP and she said "Oh that's right--I was going to call you about that.  I need to start making a list" (of course she has been saying she is going to start making a list ever since she got to Atria, but I was impressed she had remembered she was out of toilet paper).

I told her I would run up to CVS and get her a package.   She said she would have to pay me, but she didn't know if she had checks and she would have to call Ed and ask him to bring her checks.  I reminded her that he had brought her checks and that they were in her purse.  She said she'd get the checks out while I was gone so she could pay me when I got back.

When I got back, she was amazed that I realized she was out of toilet paper because she meant to call me about it and she needed to start keeping a list.  She told me she needed to pay me but she didn't know if she had any checks and she would have to ask Ed to bring her some.  Then she asked me what exciting thing I was going to be doing for the rest of the afternoon.


I'm not depressed about these visits, really.  They just make me sad.  I love it when family come to visit her because it gives her a new audience and she actually can carry on a conversation that doesn't involve their exciting activities for the rest of the day.

One positive thing today, though, is that I don't think she mentioned "hunnert" once.  Now THAT makes it a good day!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A good day!

Wow...yesterday was a great day.  My mother told me Jeri had called her.  I mean she REMEMBERED that Jeri had called her.  Jeri said they had a great talk and that my mother remembered Phil had visited her 2 weeks ago.'s like a little hole broke through that great dementia cloud for awhile and let a ray of sunshine peek through.

I wish I had those moments with her.  I got so tired of hearing her say "I'm old, Bev" and "Do you think I'll make it to hunnert" and hearing that she didn't want to live that long but didn't want to die, I finally cut our visit short and left.  It seems these days that all we talk about is her age, her death, how she wants to die and how she does not want to die.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


There is another anniversary this week, only this one isn't a wedding anniversary.  As of today, my mother has been at Atria for a whole year.   I told her that today and she looked kind of blank and asked where she had lived before Atria.  On the one hand that is sad, but on the other hand, since she has no memory of Terra Linda, it's a good thing that she is so content at Atria.

I brought the video of T-ball that Laurel made to show her.   It's about 10 minutes and I knew it was probably a bit long for her, but thought she would like to see the cute kids.  She seemed to like it, but asked me several times if that was "Tom's kid," if it was an all-girls team (Bri is the only girl), and when the kid who wears black horn-rimmed glasses came on (the cutest kid to photograph, I might add), she asked if Bri has to wear glasses all the time, or just when she plays ball.

Sigh.  But I think she enjoyed it, even if she didn't follow it at all and wasn't quite sure what she was watching.
And at the end, she asked me -- I kid you not -- if I thought she was going to live to hunnert.  At least she's consistent!

We went to lunch and sat with a woman who just moved in a few days ago.  She said she had met my mother the other night and knew her name.   To my surprise, she also knew where she had moved here from, so she must have hit my mother on a good memory day.

As she does whenever we have lunch, my mother scans the menu intently, then orders the same thing she orders every day (vegetable soup and fruit salad...and she never eats the copious vegetables, only the broth), then 2 minutes later she asked if we had ordered lunch and picked up the menu to try to remember what she ordered...and couldn't so she decided she'd just be surprised.

But as I said, she is content there and that's the main thing.  It's a good thing if you have no memory, because it's like Groundhog Day, one day is identical to the next.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dementia Day

Today was a dementia day, but in a good way.

I have come to look forward to our dementia/Alzheimers support group meetings.  It's a small group, but the discussions are very helpful.  The group was a little smaller than usual this week because the spouse of one of the members had died.  We knew the end was near and I'm sure that in many respects the death was a relief, but our hearts go out to all the family.

Sometimes the subjects discussed give one pause.  A new members was there about a parent who had a stroke (which nobody knew until there was an MRI) which has resulted in symptoms of moderate Alzheimers, to the point where family members, even the spouse, are not recognized any more. What is scary about this is that the victim is not that much older than Walt and I are and this thing came unexpectedly, from out of nowhere.  It always makes you think about how fragile this life we have is.

I suspect that when one develops Alzheimers, whether gradually or more suddenly, the victim him/herself has the easiest time of it.  The more the disease progresses, the more they retreat into their own little world and it is left to the well members of the family to deal with all of the problems surrounding the disease.

One of the members of the group and I stood in the parking lot and talked for awhile after the meeting.  First time that has happened.  She looks forward to returning and learning more about the conditions and how to help herself.

I was home for an hour after the meeting and then had to get to Atria to pick my mother up for her doctor's appointment.  It amazes me how little (i.e., none) resistance she had to this appointment. Everytime I have suggested she might want to see her doctor for such-and-such, she gets that coy, flirty tone and says she'll go to the doctor when she's feeling better (or when she really has a problem).

But Atria gave her a form that had to be filled out by her doctor for her annual exam and so she didn't complain, except many times in the exam room about how much she hated doctors, how she hated putting on a gown, how she hated pills, how she hoped she didn't have to come back again for at least a year, etc.
But she got along well with the doctor who, of course, didn't believe she was really 94 years old.  (That always starts any first meeting out well.)   Unlike the gerontologist I took her to, she took her time did everything I hoped she would do, and filled out the form.  And other than hating doctors in general, my mother seemed to like this one.  The best thing about having my mother with the same doctor I am, is that I can actually send her e-mail, which I had not been able to do because of the SNAFU in setting up her e-mail account which apparently nobody up the food chain had ever been able to fix for me.  Even going to the "big guy" (God) was no good.  Apparently even He can't tinker with Kaiser e-mail accounts.

But now I can direct questions (if any) to her doctor via e-mail using my account.

We're going to try a better system of making sure she takes her meds.   Dr. A. suggested turning the task over to Atria, but that would involve another thousand-plus and she only has to take four pills a day.  There is no reason why I can't make sure that happens. 

I didn't go back to Atria with her, but just let her off when we got back.  I will go back in a couple of days to pick up her laundry and bring it home to wash.

Even though dementia was the subject most strongly on my mind today, it was a good day and the day is ending on a good note.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Brianna's Birthday

I had been up late the night before making a cake for Bri so we had cake, balloon, presents (two--one from my mother and one from us) and party plates to bring.  I decided to make two trips and went over at 10:15 to drop off the presents.   I left the big box from us on the floor and gave my mother the bag of her gift on the kitchen counter.  "I'll sign the card in a minute," she said.   When I left I reminded her to sign the card and said "Do it now before you forget."  She got up and headed toward the bag as I went out the door.

When we returned half an hour later, dropped the cake stuff off in the dining room and went to the apartment.  The big box from us was gone and the bag was still sitting there with unsigned card.  When I asked her where the box had gone, she said she knew nothing about a box and if it was gone, someone must have come into the apartment and taken it.  Sigh.  Fortunately Ned found it sitting on her bed.   I asked her to sign the card and she only wrote "love GaGa" and I know it was because she couldn't remember Bri's name.

Friday, March 28, 2014

New Friends

When we were looking for a place for my mother, just about this time a year ago (if you can believe it!), I remember walking through the place in Petaluma where we almost signed a contract.  We were going through the dining room and since it was about 1 p.m., most of the place was deserted, but there was this one table with three women at it.   They had finished their meal and were just sitting there talking and laughing.
I thought to myself at the time, "this is what she needs.  She needs friends in her life again."

At that time, some of her close friends had died, one had developed Alzheimers, one was in a facility and too far away to see.  Her best friend, several years younger, still had the stamina that my mother no longer had.  So she sat in her house all day long and it seemed she never saw anybody but her hairdresser.

I felt so hopeful that getting into a facility would bring her friends again.

Well, that didn't happen right away.  She talked with people at mealtime, but had no interest in forming friendships, a good deal of that, I'm sure, being that she couldn't remember them once she returned to her apartment.

Over the months, her resolve not to get involved has strengthened, and mine to get her involved has weakened, so that I now accept what she is, where she is, and how she is.

Today we went to lunch and chose a table where nobody was sitting.  The table nearby had three people at it, including Loretta (my mother doesn't know her name), an artist who recently had some of her paintings on display in the state capitol and was interviewed on TV.

But Loretta barely remembers that, and my mother doesn't remember it at all.   But they are friends.  They don't know each other's names, but they laugh about what they can't remember.  They insult each other and laugh together and they are like the women I saw at the other facility.  They will probably never visit each other's apartments, or make plans to do anything together, but they recognize each other, they recognize that they like each other, and when they get together, it's like they are old friends, who understand each other in a way that I can't really understand each of them because I'm not there yet.

I left Atria today feeling very good about how far she has come, socially, in a year...when I thought she wasn't progressing at all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Hunnert

My mother hasn't asked me in several weeks whether or not I think she's going to live to be "a hunnert" but today that was all she was worried about.  That and the "old plants" that Niece decided to dump on her because she (Niecie) didn't want them and figured she could just give them to Aunt Chubby.   The story of THAT, now, is that the plants died the night after Niecie brought them to her.  Can't remember how many times I heard that story today.

But it was definitely overshadowed by the "hunnert" discussion.  (She has finally decided that living to hunnert would be kind of nice.)

I'm always trying to find things that might interest her that I can tell her, because there is nothing interesting that I am doing most days and nothing interesting that she is doing any day, so this morning I had watched an episode of "Extraordinary Women," the story of Audrey Hepburn, who was truly an amazing lady.

I figured my mother would remember who she was, and she did, so I gave her a capsule summary of Hepburn's life, growing up in Holland under Nazi domination, unable to become a ballerina, her dream, because starvation had changed her body and she no longer had the body of a dancer, to getting cast in Roman Holiday, her first picture for which she won an Oscar, to her quitting show business to concentrate on helping the starving children in countries like Bangladesh, Somalia and other countries, and the sadness of her getting cancer and dying within a year after her diagnosis.

I finished my story, she looked at me and said "do you think I'm going to live to be a hunnert?" (which is always followed by "why am I still alive?" and "why did all my siblings go off and leave me?"  I can't relate to the last question, since my sister hasn't been around for nearly 45 years, so it never occurs to me to wonder why I'm alone.)

Today I chose a different tool to help myself respond to her endlessly repeating questions.  I remembered her mother's last days.   I've described her before as the gentlest, sweetest woman who never said so much as "damn" in her life, but she was kicked out of a nursing home for cursing like a sailor (apologizes to sailors), and tripping people walking down the hallways with their canes.

So they had to move her to the mental hospital at Napa and my mother has talked many, many times about how frustrating it was to visit her because she suffered from aphasia (a term my mother doesn't know but only says she would try to talk with her mother and all her mother could say was blah-blah-blah-blah).  My mother would stay with her as long as she could and eventually her mother would ask to go back into the building and my mother would return home so frustrated that she couldn't get through to her.

Every time she asked me if she was going to live to hunnert today, I told myself how grateful I am that she could ask me that question and that I could understand her.  I also remembered her sister, my Aunt Barb who, before she died, could not recognize any of her children.  The last person she recognized was my mother and the day she lost that recognition was the last time my mother visited her.

So I'm lucky.  She knows me.  She can speak and be understood.  And if she doesn't realize she has asked the same question a dozen times already, that's better than my having to leave without the two of us sharing anything at all.

Atria gave her a form that her doctor has to fill out at her annual exam.  I'm amazed at how docilly she has accepted that.  I've been trying to get her to the doctor for several minor things that have come up but she digs in her heels and says absolutely positively she is NOT going to the doctor.  But today I told her I would make an appointment and all she said was "OK."  So she will finally get to meet her doctor...and maybe, just maybe this doctor will do a mental assessment more comprehensive than asking her if she knows what day of the week it is when she wakes up in the morning, which is all the last doctor (a gerontologist) did!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Our Weekly Lunch

I try to have lunch with my mother once a week, usually on Wednesday, though this week it was Thursday because of the dementia support group yesterday.  She was in good spirits and our conversation mostly centered around what I was going to do for the rest of the day.  After asking me several times what I was doing the rest of the day, we went to lunch where she asked me again several times what I was doing the rest of the day, though at least once she said "I may have asked you this before, and if I have forgive me, but what are you doing the rest of the day?"  I was surprised that she realized that she might be repeating herself.

When we left the restaurant, she passed a woman and they had a friendly exchange, like old friends do, and that made me feel very good.

All in all, this was a good visit.  I like days like that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lessons to Learn

This morning was my monthly dementia support group.  I didn't have any concerns or anything really to talk about this time, but I always get a big lift from being there with people who have gone through it (two of the today had buried their loved ones with Alzheimers) or are going through it.  One of the things I picked up today was this moving poem which, I think, says a lot.
Do not ask me to remember
Don't try to make me understand
Let me rest and know you're with me
Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.

I'm confused beyond your concept
I am sad and sick and lost
All I know is that I need you
To be with me at all cost.

Do not lose your patience with me
Do not scold or curse or cry
I can't help the way I'm acting,
Can't be different 'though I try.

Just remember that I need you
That the best of me is gone
Please don't fail to stand beside me,
Love me 'til my life is done.

-Author unknown
It says so much.  I think I'm going to drop it off on the dining room table at her apartment.  She'll find it some day and not know who put it there (even if I tell her I'm bringing it to her), but maybe it will help her...a little.   It helps me to read it over and over again and try to feel what she is feeling.   The line I'm confused beyond your concept in particular gets to me because when I get frustrated it's because I expect her to make connections in a certain way and I have to remember that she can't.  Like even though I remind her that if she wants to know what the air is like outside, she just has to move her hand 6" and open the door. Whenever I say that her face has a bland expression on it as if that was the most ridiculous thing in the world for me to suggest, and, of course, she does not do it, but waits for me to give her a weather report.

In this whole process I am getting a different picture of the mother I've always known.  I have done some reshuffling around here and have moved some books from my overstuffed office onto the shelves in the living room.  It involved moving my mother's diaries.  She has kept a diary all of her life, hardbound books that she would record her day in every day.  When she left my father, she threw away the books she had kept for 37 years because she didn't want to remember any of it.   So what is left is everything from after she left my father.

She wanted to throw those away, but I kept them, with the idea in mind that I would read through them and find out what was really going on with her all these years.  But I have found that it is like reading something from a court reporter.  Totally devoid of emotion, just recording her day.  The diaries stop before Paul died, but David's death gets two pages, because we were with her for two days.   Other than saying she can't believe he's gone, it is a clinical description of what happened and because she happened to have guests from Holland staying with her at the time, the next several days (up to the funeral) were filled with the places they went, how she entertained them, what she cooked, etc.  It was as if Dave's death was just a blip on her radar.

When I read over these books, I realize that this is what has frustrated me my whole life.  She does not relate emotionally to most things.   Even before the dementia, I tried to let her know how frustrated I was at always being put second behind her husband's family, about being excluded from family photos at her wedding, about the times I begged her to come and see the kids in performance, but she had something to do with his family, about the holidays when we had to be "fit in" whenever they had a free day,but never ON the holiday.  This has consistently washed over her like water over a bridge.  It has never once penetrated her brain that I was hurting for so many years at being always "second."  When she married I thought it would become a blended family, not a "yours" and "mine" with "yours" taking precedence.

So a lot of what is frustrating to me in her dementia is just an extension of how she has been acting, I guess my whole life.  I remember having one emotional conversation with her, many years after my typing teacher Sister Anne died.   She broke down in tears and told me how it had hurt her that I preferred to spend time with Sister Anne than with the family.  At that time my father made life at home so unpleasant, and Sister Anne was a safe haven, and I had zero notion of how my mother was feeling, because we never discussed feelings in our house. The few times feelings erupted were so disastrous that it made you hide them even deeper.

I don't know if this descent into dementia is a learning experience for her, if she is learning anything about her continuing loss of memory, but trying so hard to be with her and support her and make things easier for her is very definitely a learning experience for me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St. Patrick's Day

I took two Guinness cupcakes I had made, in a container, up to Atria to give to my mother, who covered them and left them on her kitchen counter.  I know they will be there still when I go back in a couple of days and she won't remember who brought them to her, but owell, it was a nice moment giving them to her.  We had our usual one-sided conversation, with me trying desperately to find something interesting to tell her (and today it was all about all the silly problems I had during the day).  When I finished she sighed and said "well...nothing exciting is happening here.  Is it cold outside?"   Sigh.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meanwhile, Back at "The Home"

What with shows to review and the Oscar telecast, it had been about four days since I was last at Atria.  I knew that my mother was close to needing laundry done and, as today is the last "free" day I will have this week, I decided to go and have lunch with her.

As I walked down the hall to her apartment, I was happy to see a note on my friend Nancy's door, saying that she was having lunch with our friend Peggy and if someone was looking for her to check the dining room. Nancy was taken to the hospital 2-3 months ago and then recovered at the University Retirement Community, and finally came back to Atria, but with a note on the door saying that she wasn't ready for visitors.   That note has been gone for awhile, but I still haven't seen her out of her room.   I was missing her.

When I got to my mother's, she was happy to see me and I noticed something that I have noticed the last couple of times.  Her apartment has acquired an "old lady" smell.  She seems clean, so I'm not sure what is causing it, but I made a mental note to get some inconspicuous air fresheners to place around the apartment and see if we can get it smelling better.

We sat and talked and she asked me, for the first of about 2 dozen or more times that day, what I was doing this afternoon.  I told her I was going to be writing the review for the show we had seen last night.  That lead to chats about the shows I've been reviewing and it was the repeated topic for the afternoon.

I mentioned that I was glad to see that Nancy would be in the dining room.  She said she didn't know who that was.  I reminded her that she told me a few times that Nancy was her best friend at Atria.  She snorted and said that if she said that it was because it was her only friend at Atria and that she didn't know anybody else.  I reminded her about Peggy and the other two women she eats with regularly and she said "oh yeah," but in a tone that let me know she didn't have a clue who I was  talking about.

We sat at an empty table in the dining room and shortly thereafter Nancy and Peggy arrived.  I greeted Nancy with a big hug and then started to talk with Peggy while Nancy went to chat with my mother, who seemed to recognize her, at least.   Peggy and I compared notes and apparently Nancy isn't in much better shape than my mother.

We finally went to our respective tables when the waiter came around.   We were joined by Ralph, from Alameda, who has been here six months.  My mother told him that's about how long she's been here too (I know she can't possibly believe she's been here nearly a year).  He was an interesting, very soft-spoken man who obviously was interested in talking with my mother and not at all with me until he found out was a critic, when his eyes lit up and he began to ask me questions.

Our waiter took our lunch order.  My mother had her usual, vegetable soup and fruit salad and I ordered mushroom soup and a turkey sandwich.
I worry about whether my mother is getting enough to eat because she orders the same thing every time we have lunch together.  She takes about a dozen spoonsful of the broth from the soup and leaves all  the vegetables, and then eats the salad, which is about half a cup of sliced fruit and then orders her ice cream cone.  Today she couldn't remember the words "ice cream cone" and had to ask me what it is called.  She eats half of that, now (she used to eat it all) and takes the rest home to put in her freezer.  I checked the freezer today and it seems that maybe she actually IS eating all those yucky half-eaten cones, so I didn't clean it out, as I had planned to do.

I don't know if they have cut back on the kitchen staff and/or the wait staff, but my Lord! is service slow lately.  Granted these are all old people who probably don't have anything to rush off to and many are enjoying conversations with the others at the table, but how long does it take to make a turkey sandwich?  I waited forty-five minutes, while my mother got and finished her lunch.   Shortly before my sandwich finally arrived, I heard our waiter apologize to people at all the other tables, and saying that his food "had not come up yet."   It's not like the place was full.  It's been like this at least the last two times I was there, so this was not just a "bad day."

We finally finished lunch and went back to the apartment and I went to collect her laundry to bring home with me.  I found that she had hamper full and that she had tossed all of her underwear in the garbage.  I'm glad I saw that.   I retrieved it and added it to the rest of the laundry.  I hope that I will be lucky again, bringing her clean laundry back in a laundry basket so she remembers that it full of her own clothes.

Friday, February 21, 2014


This comes from that little corner of my brain which still expects my mother to show signs of normalcy, since she looks and sounds so normal so much of the time.

But, that said I may kill her!!!!!  There.  I've said it.

To recap, you may recall that the latest thing that has replaced "am I gonna live to hunnert" concerns the plants my cousin Niecie brought to her a couple of months ago.  Now when I arrive for a visit, she sits in her chair and the very first thing she says is "look at those pots.  Niecie brought all those plants up here -- I think she was going to throw them out and then thought maybe she could dump them on me -- but one morning I woke up and they were all dead because it froze during the night.  How did I know it was going to freeze (just because I told her it was going to freeze.)  She's going to have to come and bring a box and take all the pots away.  She should have known they would have died..."  etc.   Every. time.  It has become like nails on a blackboard she complains about the "damn plants" and how Niece is going to have to come and get the dead plants so they won't clutter up her patio.

(My offer to take them away myself meets with her desire that I not do that, because they were originally Niecie's and she should come and take them away herself, because it's her fault, after all, that the plants ultimately died because she should have known that my mother couldn't take care of them.)

Again, that corner of my brain that hopes to get a "normal" response is surprised that she didn't bring the plants in when I told her it was going to freeze in the night.  But the woman who can't reach 6" to open the door to find out if it's warm or cold outside and who can't seem to extrapolate potential action from information given couldn't be expected to think about bringing plants in to save them from dying from the freeze.

So yesterday I received word from Niecie that she was going to come and give my mother a mani/pedi (she's a cosmetologist) and I wrote and told her about the problem with the plants and suggested she bring a box so she could gather up all of her pots and take them home.

This afternoon, Niecie called from Atria to let me know my mother was out of toilet paper, so after I conducted a telephone interview with a guy who is starting a new theater group, I drove over to Atria to bring her some more toilet paper.

Niecie had just finished the mani/pedi and they were both very happy with the new look of her fingers and toes.

pedicure.jpg (74249 bytes)

We had a nice visit and when Niecie started to pack up her things I asked her if she had brought a box to take all the pots home.  She said she had not because her car was so full but that she would come back at some point in the future and get them then.

"Oh, that's OK," said my mother, with a casual wave of her hand.  "There's no rush.  They don't bother me."

When Niecie was out of the room, she told me again how the plants had died because they were "covered with snow."

The part of my brain which understands that she can't be expected to think or act rationally, even though she looks normal, understands.

The other part of me still wants to run screaming from the room.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

OUR Journey

I decided to make this OUR journal through dementia, because I feel as if I am at the edges of the start of dementia myself.  This way I can trace my own progress (hopefully slow!) as well as my mother's (also hopefully slow).

Yesterday was my birthday and we met Ned and Marta at Atria for lunch.  My mother wasn't sure whose birthday it was, all of the time (she did give me a check for a gift but later asked me whose birthday we were celebrating). it was a very nice day because I could spend a couple of hours with her without the usual awkward silences.  In watching her interaction with all of us, I realized why our times are so awkward.  It's because she has given up on everything, so she not only has no interest in anything, but if you talk about something she doesn't understand, she gets angry.  She used to have intellectual curiosity and wanted to know about things so she would have something to talk with her grandchildren about, but now when Ned and I talk TV or computers (or cell phones) (as we usually do), she is irritated because she doesn't understand what we are talking about. But if you try to draw her into a conversation about anything she says "so what is exciting in your life" or "what exciting thing do you have planned for the rest of the day."

I would LOVE to share my life with her, but so much of it involves technology that even if I try to describe my day in the most simple terms, the minute she hears anything having to do with a computer, she totally shuts down. And if I try to talk about her history, she waves it away saying it was so long ago she can't remember anything.  It's very frustrating.

But as for ME last night, we went out to a Japanese restaurant for dinner.  I ordered tempura.  Later, I could not remember the word "tempura" to save my soul and even after I looked it up two minutes later I had lost it again.  This happens frequently.  Yesterday, when I was setting up this blog, I went to my journal, found a passage I wanted to move over to here, took note of the date and by the time I had switched to this screen, I had forgotten the date and had to go back and find it again . Every. Single. Time!!!!!

I said something to Walt last night about already noticing symptoms and he said "Yes, I know."  We got distracted and I never did ask him what he meant by that.  But I figure if this is a "dementia journey," I might as well add things about myself so I can see my own progress as time passes.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hearts and Flowers

FlowersSm.jpg (40167 bytes)Today was Valentine's Day at Atria.  
I decided to go over and have lunch with my mother, so as soon as Walt got back from running an errand, I took off, stopping first at a store where I could get a ridiculously priced vase with 3 roses in it.  The roses look beautiful today, but from the look of them (cracked petals), I suspect that they won't last long, but it's the immediate gratification that works, and she was thrilled to have such a beautiful bouquet.
(I was thrilled to see that she had remembered to get to her hair appointment and looks SO MUCH BETTER than she has looked for weeks!)
I also brought her a box of those terrific Trader Joe truffles.   In truth, I wanted a couple, but didn't want to buy myself a box because I'd eat them all, but if I gave them to my mother, I could still have a few.
She had forgotten it was Valentine's Day, of course, and I'm not sure that she remembered what that was, but we sat and had a nice chat (and she didn't once mention the dead plants on her patio, which was a lovely Valentine's Day gift for me!)

We went off to lunch and sat at her "usual" table.  She is usually the fourth person to a trio that sits together every day, but my friend Peggy and one of the other women were not there, so we sat with the two who were. It was nice to see that she and this woman were very comfortable with each other and obviously ate together often.

LunchPrtnr.jpg (50352 bytes)
Interestingly, before we left, my mother commented on how she really didn't know any people at Atria and then added that she supposed if she went to some of the events she would know them, but she didn't want to.  So her only social circle appears to be these three women with whom she eats regularly.  She used to talk about always sitting with someone new each time; now she says that if there is no space at that table, she sits by herself.  She also is adamant that this is her choice and that she is not interested in mixing socially with all these old people (she doesn't say it quite that way, but the disdainful look at the walkers and the comments about how old everyone is leads me to believe this is the reason she prefers solitude to attempting to meet anybody new)
Peggy has been a godsend.  She knows everybody by name and mostly can tell you their life story.  That includes the staff and the waiters and waitresses too.  But she is moving next month to a newly opened facility that is closer to her daughter.  She has taken my mother under her wing, they seem to have a very good relationship and a bit of the spark is going to go out of my mother's life when Peggy is no longer there.
The dining room was all tarted up in lots and lots of balloons, hanging things, and hearts on the walls.  It really looked very nice.  There was even a barbershop quartet singing.
quartet.jpg (51389 bytes)
My mother liked that they were singing so softly that they didn't interfere with conversation.  I was glad of that too because they weren't very good and if they had been singing louder it would have been painful!  
But they sang a long time.  The guy on the left end is in a walker and it has to be a bit of an effort for him.  They made the rounds of the dining room and sang to as many people as they could.
serenade.jpg (51902 bytes)
They called themselves something like the Harmony Blenders and I have to say that was a bit of a misnomer, but everyone loved them, and it was a fun addition to a Valentine's Day celebration.