Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

FDR and Truman

I had the BEST visit with my mother.  Trying to fill those awkward silences we have when there is nothing to talk about, I started talking to her about the book I'm reading ("Upstairs at the White House"), telling her that there were things about Truman I never knew (like his being the target of an assassination attempt).  I didn't expect my comments to go anywhere, but she started talking about Truman and Bess Truman and other memories she had of those years and the residents of the White House.

It was like a normal day!  I loved it!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ice Cream

I came home and was here about an hour when my mother called, saying she felt terrible and that she was out of toilet paper.  I packed up some TP and took it to her.  She said she had been feeling bad since last night, but had no specific symptoms.  Again, she refuses to see the doctor, but since she doesn't have a fever, she's not coughing now, and it was raining and I didn't want to take her out in the rain, I decided to see how she is on Monday.  She said over and over and over again how lucky she is to be healthy and how much she hates doctors.  I pointed out that if she wants to remain healthy, she should see a doctor when she doesn't know what is wrong because that's why the doctor went to medical school and that the doctor could find out what is going on inside her.  She grudgingly agreed with me. So we'll see how it goes on Monday.

While I was there I checked her freezer to see if she needed more ice cream.  Look what I found.

That's 8 partially eaten ice cream cones and the loaf of bread she asked me to buy her when she moved in in May.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Puzzle

I folded my mother's laundry, which I had washed last night   Trying a new thing this time.  Putting her laundry in a laundry basket instead of a bag and leaving it on her bed, making a big show of leaving her laundry in a laundry basket and leaving it on her bed.  Let's see if that gets all of her clothes into her closet (she won't let me do that part) and not at the front desk as clothes that don't belong to her.
I had a meeting to go to in Woodland, so I didn't go to Atria until about 3:00, late enough that I could leave from her house and go directly to the meeting, still having time for a visit.  And the visit was fine.  She told me twice about the frozen plants and first about how Niecie would be so disappointed, and second about how it was Niecie's fault for bringing them in the first place.  It's nice to have that discussion instead of the discussion about how much longer she is going to live.

Oh wait a minute.  We had that discussion too.  "How much longer do you think I'm going to live, Bev?" and then the relating about all her siblings who died because they smoked and how she never smoked.  When you do nothing all day but sit in a chair, it's no wonder that the primary thing on your mind is how much longer you are going to do it.  I was surprised when I left and discovered that every Wednesday there is a social in the lobby with lots of nice snacks (I had 3 jalapeno poppers) and wine and a chance to chat with fellow residents, but of course she isn't in the least interested in socializing.

BUT, I had a great triumph today.  When she was out of the room, I checked one again for the puzzle that Laurel and Tom had given her for Christmas.   I have been just sick for weeks because it disappeared and I thought I had checked everywhere for it.  It was a puzzle of the girls that Laurel had made and just the absolute perfect gift for her.  I finally decided that she must have thrown it out.   But every time I'm there I look around trying to see if there might be someplace I hadn't checked.

There was.  I found it in the bottom of a drawer, covered up with other stuff.  I am SO RELIEVED.  I know she worked it, but I hated to think of her having "lost" it.  Rejoice with me for I have found the puzzle I thought was lost.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"I'm Not Sick"

In the afternoon, I drove over to Atria to visit my mother.  I had actually tried to visit her on my way home from the DMV, but there was not a parking place to be had for love or money.  I'm almost tempted to pay rent on a parking slot so I know there will always be one for me, but with my luck, someone else would use it and I'd still not have a parking space.

There was no answer when I knocked on her door, but I could hear her coughing, with that cough she doesn't have.  I used my key and she was in the bathroom.  She coughed all the way through her finishing up and she looked drawn but, despite her appearance, she actually seemed better.  I couldn't hear gunk in her lungs any more and, remembering that everyone thinks I'm at death's door when I have my coughing months, I decided the thing to do was to just keep an eye on her and make sure it doesn't get any worse.  I told her she should drink lots of water, to which she says "uh-huh" and I know she won't do.  I also decided that if she doesn't have pneumonia, which I don't think she does (based on a better sounding cough and no fever), all the doctor could do would be to prescribe some medication that she won't take and she very definitely does NOT want to see a doctor, so why bother.

She wasn't very "with it" today.  She told me three times about my cousin Niecie bringing plants and how she didn't know why she brought them and how they had died in the frost because even though I told her it was going to freeze, there was no way she could have known they were going to freeze and now Niecie had to come and take back all of her pots. She seems to blame Niecie for the plants dying because she should have known better than to put them there in the first place. I suggested that after Niecie removes the pots that we get some artificial plants to put out there and she said she doesn't want any plants. She's sick of plants. Never in my life did I ever think I would hear my plant-loving mother say those words.
But it is part of her giving up on life.  I realize, now, that when she arrived at Atria, she figured it was to die and with dementia as an excuse (though she doesn't realize she has dementia), she has given up on everything that she used to be interested in.  She never missed Sunday Mass and when Walt offered to take her to mass each week, she declined.  When I told her a priest came to Atria to give communion each week to those who couldn't make it to church, she wasn't interested in that either. She used to watch all sorts of sports, but now only seems interested in sports if Ed comes to watch something with her.  She still reads the newspaper, but doesn't remember what she reads.  I don't know if she watches much TV.  
She told me today that she doesn't have a clue what the temperature is outside and when I pointed out that she could open the sliding glass door that was about 2" from her hand, she said she didn't want to be bothered to do that.
She asked me several times today how many kids Tom has and what are their names and how old they are.  When I showed her a picture of Lacie  she asked me if that was the oldest one, and then asked what the oldest one's name was and how old she is.  
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Princess Lacie
She also says she hasn't seen Tom in months, though he was just there (with the family) a little over a month ago.  I realize that she has no concept of time any more, but it just...hurts...that she can't remember her great grandchildren.
I've been reminding her for a month to get her hair cut and she keeps saying she will do it "tomorrow," but she never does.  It's longer than it has ever been and she doesn't seem to care that she is starting to look like the stereotypical old lady in a rest home.  I notice that she hasn't worn makeup in some time.  She was always so proud of her appearance.  The only pride she seems to have left is that she doesn't need a walker, though she does and doesn't understand that, but complains when we get halfway down her hall that her back is killing her, when leaning on a walker would ease the pain. She won't consider a walker, she won't take a pain pill.  She'd rather just sit and stare into space. But by God she doesn't need a walker and if she ever does, will I please kill her?
I go along with it all and try not to get upset, but when I come home, I realize that I am upset and the only thing I can do is to play whatever game I have to to keep her happy.  But at home I can let go and be upset because the woman who was my mother is gone. I am lucky that she is as good as she is, I realize, when there are visitors at Atria whose loved one doesn't know who they are, or who look like zombies in the dining room.
Tonight I am doing her laundry and then we will go through that frustration when I try to bring her clothes back to her tomorrow...  God, I hope she remembers them this time!  I think I'm going to start taking a photo of her every time she wears something I don't have a picture of her in and then when she tries to throw her clothes away, I will have a collection of photos of her wearing each of those pieces of clothing that she says she has never seen before.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hide and Seek

I made a stop at the supermarket on the way home because we seem to be out of everything at the moment.  We are still out of a lot of things, but those are things I usually buy a Costco, so I suspect a trip to Costco is also in the foreseeable future (we are almost out of dog treats, which I buy there -- oh horror!)
When I got home, there was an email from my friend at Atria saying she had not seen my mother at lunch yesterday or today, or at dinner yesterday and wondered if all was OK.  Naturally I panicked.  I called my mother, but there was no answer, so I drove over to Atria to find out if she was alive or not.  No answer to my knock on the door and I wasn't sure what I would find inside.
What I found inside was...nothing.  She wasn't there.  I snuck down to the dining room and could see her at a table dining with three other women, so I didn't let her know I was there because I didn't have time to visit. I just came on home, but much relieved.  And also very relieved to know that there are residents who watch out for her.