Journey Through Dementia

Journey Through Dementia

Thursday, April 30, 2015

...and life goes on...

"Life goes on, whether you want it to or not..." It seems to be my mother's favorite saying these days.  It's kind of what she uses to fill an empty space where conversation should be.  This is usually followed by the inevitable "I'm old, Bev" monologue, running thru her family members who have left her and whether she's going to live to hunnert.  Today was the first day that she actually said she wasn't sure she wanted to live to hunnert.

She seemed very tired today.  I woke her up when I came, after lunch, to deliver her laundry.  But I almost always wake her up.  She seems to spend her time napping.  Today, however, she seemed just more worn out than usual.

In fact, it kind of scared me into taking a series of photos of her today, since I hadn't taken any in awhile.

Again, she didn't recognize the picture of Brianna and Lacie on the back of my phone and asked who those girls were when she saw my phone.  The other day she asked me where Paul is these days because she hadn't seen him in awhile.

She asked many times what I was doing tonight and said that there is "nothing new here." and that there is "nothing exciting going on here."

She did, however, say, for the first time not only that she is happy at Atria (she always tells me that now), but that she had made a "few friends" that she had chosen carefully.  Usually she tells me she doesn't know anybody there, which is not true.  She just doesn't know anybody by name.  But apparently she remembers now that she has a couple of friends.

I had done her laundry, but I'm going to have to steal clothes from her.  I used to have a full basket every week, but for the past 3 weeks I have only had underpants, not even bras.  Since she wears the same 3 or 4 outfits every day, surely she needs something washed by now, but ever since Atria apparently told the residents that clothes could not be washed (presumably on the day they were shutting off the water for the day), so not to leave clothes out to be washed, she has not given me any clothes, though I remind her that Atria doesn't wash her clothes; I do.

The thing that gives her the most pleasure is the garden area outside her door.  If we aren't discussion what I am going to be doing at night, she is telling me how beautiful the garden is, how she loves it that the spring leaves have popped out on the bare trees (which apparently they did overnight, to hear her tell it). She finds more beauty in the green of leaves than anybody I have ever known.  Whenever I take her out anywhere, what she notices the most are the colors of the trees

When she talks about the garden, her eyes sparkle and she doesn't have that tired look any more....and I am so grateful that we never moved her into the place in Petaluma, where her apartment would have looked out on the parking lot and no greenery.

Days like today make me realize that her days are growing shorter...and there is a part of me that hopes she makes it to hunnert after all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bev 1, Mom 0

Sometimes you win.  It's a good feeling.

When I left Atria the other day, I stopped by the front desk to make a reservation for brunch on Mother's Day.  For once I was in time to get a spot and I felt good about that.  (The last two holidays I tried to get a reservation for they were full up and weren't taking any more reservations.)

Then Sandra, the girl at the desk with whom I have become friendly, told me that my mother had brought another bag of clothes that "didn't belong to her" to the front desk a few days before.

Well, of course they belonged to her, so I spent an hour yesterday going through photos and found the one at the left.  It's her wearing one of the shirts she says don't belong to her (it's from a Cousins Day in 2011).  She had also brought two pairs of pants and I found a picture of her wearing one of them.  I printed both pictures off.

The last time this happened it resulted in a very angry argument between us, her insisting she had never seen the clothes she brought, me telling her that I bought some of them for her, her insisting she had never worn them.  I told her I didn't see what a big deal it was because even if they weren't hers, all of her clothes were second hand anyway, purchased at the thrift shop where she worked, so she is used to wearing second hand clothes.  But she was adamant.  She didn't want anybody at Atria seeing her wearing their clothes and think she had stolen them.

It was classic dementia talking and I got caught up in it, trying to bring rationalization to it, which was, of course, impossible.  I ended up giving the clothes away, after trying to sneak them back in a couple of times.

After that I started bringing her laundry back in a laundry basket, rather than just piling it on the bed for her.  I made a big deal about "here is your laundry and I will pick the basket up later."  Since that time we haven't had any problems.

Until this week.

I figured that the problem was that her last load of laundry was small and so rather than bring it in a basket (which makes my back ache when I carry it), I brought it in a bag and maybe that was what caused the mix up.

Anyway, I was prepared this time.  I took out the sweatshirt and said that she had returned it to the desk, but really it was her shirt.  She spread it out and said "I don't ever remember wearing this shirt."  I whipped out the photo and showed it to her.  She could not deny it.  Then I showed her the photo of the pants.  And as she stood there with a blank look on her face, I suggested that the next time she doesn't recognize her clothes, she should realize that her mind is playing tricks on her again because nobody is going to be bringing strange clothes into her house.

I don't know if it worked, but there was no argument.  She took the photos and she kept the clothes, but whether they will get back out to the front desk or not, I don't know, but I figured I had handled things much better this time.  And from now on I will never bring her laundry back unless it is in a laundry basket!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tired Out

I really don't mean to keep harping on my mother's memory problems, but I was in much better spirits and much more patient today and this whole "losing your mind" thing, other than being tragic, is fascinating to me, from a clinical point of view.  I just worked in doctors' offices for too long and saw too many medical shows throughout my life!

I don't know if she was any more forgetful than usual (though it seemed so), but it just seemed that her brain was too tired to remember anything.  We sat down and started to talk, as usual, and she started looking at the pictures right across from where she sits.  From what she says, I get the idea that she spends most of her non-sleeping time sitting in that chair looking at those pictures, or at the leaves overhead on the trees outside.

I had brought my iPad so I could show her a video that I found on Facebook a couple of days ago.  It's sort of a commercial for my cousin Niecie's beauty salon in Petaluma, but it is mostly Niecie talking about her family and her mother and her work ethic and I thought my mother would enjoy it.  But though Niecie is the only one in the family to ever visit her and had just been there two days ago, she didn't recognize her.

She had put the two pictures of Brianna and Lacie I had brought to her two days ago on the cabinet with the other pictures of Jeri, Ned and Tom she and she pointed in the direction of Lacie's new picture and said "that's a cute little girl.  Who is she?"  I told her and she asked whose child she was.  Then she asked if Tom had any children and when I said he had two, she asked if they were boys or girls.  I said they were girls and she said how nice it was that Niecie (who has never met them) got to spend so much time with them. 

It was like even looking at the pictures, she could not make the connection between "those cute little girls" and which of her grandchildren was the parent.

A bit later, she walked over to the pictures, picked up the one of Lacie, checked the back to see if it had a name on it and then asked me who it was.  She then said that she hasn't seen them, so she doesn't know who they are.

It's at times like this when I try to imagine what it must be like to be her and what is going on in her brain when she is in such a heavy fog.

She must have asked me 20 times what I was doing tonight.  Each time I would tell her I was just going to sit home and watch TV and then she would ask me if I had to review the shows on TV.  Each time I would tell her that I don't review TV shows and then she'd ask me again what I was going to do tonight and we'd have the conversation all over again.  But it really seemed that her brain had just shut down and didn't feel like working today but that she had to fill the silence and that was all she could think of.  That's about the best explanation I can come up with for why it was somewhat different today.

As I told Walt later, nobody really understand what it's like.  Visitors come looking for the best in her, they come filled with all sorts of things to talk with her about and she is very good at filling in the gaps where she is supposed to speak (usually with "well, life goes on, whether you want it to or not" or "life is change" or "I'm getting old") so they don't see the long gaps that exist when you see her almost every day.

The problem is that I have never been a person to make small talk.  I so admire my sister-in-law, who can walk into a room filled with strangers and within an hour she has talked with everyone and can tell you things about people you've known for years that you yourself didn't know.  I can't do that.  And Walt can't either.  But my mother was more like Alice Nan.  She always sparkled, was the consummate hostess, the person who could get you to reveal your secrets by asking you questions I was too polite to ask.  When we would go on trips to Santa Barbara, in the days when she still traveled, she could keep the conversation going for eight hours because she just didn't want to leave a silent space.

So now I still can't make small talk, and neither can she any more, so we sit and stare at each other until she tells me she's old.  She's been telling me about the new walkway outside her apartment that they put in "last week" (it was done last year) and what it was like to watch them build it.  (It only took an hour, she took 3 days)  That's an almost daily topic of conversation.

And every time I see her she says that it's a weird day because she feels she should be doing something, but she doesn't know what.  "Do you ever have days like that?" she will ask.  She has them every day, but doesn't realize it.

As I say, some days I cope better than others.  Earlier this week, I didn't cope well.  Today I coped well, and even stayed longer than I usually do.  Maybe it's because Walt and I saw a HILARIOUS show last night, Buyer and Cellar, a one man show about a guy who is hired to be the caretaker for Barbra Streisand's basement.  I have never laughed so hard in my life, nor, I suspect, has the Sacramento Bee critic sitting across the aisle from me who was convulsed with laughter.  If you ever get a chance to see this play, by all means do.  It will make you much more pleasant to be around the next day!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bad Memory Day

It was a bad memory day at Atria.  I had new pictures of Brianna and Lacie that I had framed for her.  She was  thrilled with them and said "oh...what cute little girls" but then said "who are they?"  I pointed out that they were her great-grandchildren and she said she didn't remember ever seeing them before (though she sits across the room from several photos of them and tells me every day how cute they are).  She then suggested that I write their names on the back of the frame to help her remember.

I'm afraid I was not in a good mood today.  My cousin Niecie was there and my mother made that disgusted sound when she said "what do you think about her hair?" and then when we went into the dining room to sit with Margaret, she rolled her eyes and turned to Margaret and asked "what do you think of her hair?"  I'm getting tired with her disgust over my shaved head.

Her back pain is getting worse and as I watched her wince while getting out of her chair, I suggested that maybe we should go see the doctor again.  "NO!" she shouted at me.  She won't take pain medication, and she won't try using a walker, though she tells me "you don't know what I dol"  No.  I just know that she tells me nearly every day that if she ever has to use a walker, I should just shoot her.

I was glad Niece was there.  Niece is perpetually upbeat and only sees the good and positive in her visits with my mother, but then she only sees her every month and a half or so.  I'm afraid that today I could not share her joy in being there.

It's not her fault.  Of course it's not her fault and I'm a bad person for being upset about it, but some days my tolerance is just a little bit lower than other days.  I should always keep my father in mind.  As his father got more and more feeble, my father's anger at him got worse and worse.  He hated that he had to help his father walk.  He hated when it took him a long time to do anything.  When he was in his last hour in the hospital, my father went out to get a haircut for the funeral and my grandfather died in my mother's arms, while my father was not there.

After the funeral there were copious tears and stories about what a great guy his father had been.  Just not when his body began to fail him (though he didn't add that).  My mother has been my hero most of my life.  I should think of that on days like today, and not the things that frustrate me.