January 8, 2018 afternoon
Mom has been at her assisted living memory care community for almost 10 months now. I am so fortunate that, although difficult in the first few months, she acclimated better than I thought. I owe a lot to the staff at The Arbors at Mill Creek Village. They have always been ready to listen to her when she was confused or upset and to reassure her. They understand that when she is “cranky” (her word) or “difficult” (my word), it is part of the disease.
Except for Mondays, I continue to visit every morning and enjoy coffee with Mom and her neighbors. Some mornings are rather quiet; other mornings a topic comes up and we gab and laugh.
But I’m noticing changes that indicate Mom’s vascular dementia is going south a notch, if not more.
She will sometimes take soiled Depends and try to wash them out in the sink. When I visited a few days ago she told me not to come in. She had a mess to clean up. I had an idea of what it was, but I left to visit with other friends and returned a little later. She was trying to wash a pair of Depends, but I also noticed feces smeared on the shower curtain and on the toilet bowl.
“Oh, those panties, Mom…the great thing about them is that if they get wet or soiled, we just throw them away. Nice, huh?” Then she remembers and I help her put it in the trash and clean up shreds of paper lining off the floor. I keep a container of disinfecting wipes in her bathroom so that I can wipe soiled areas. She is not even aware of soiled areas, but she always thanks me for helping.
It used to be she wore two pairs of knee hi nylon stockings. And because she likes to be very warm and toasty, it is not unusual for her to be wearing three or four tops of one kind or another…sometimes more! More recently I am noticing multiple bras on occasion and multiple pairs of pants. This morning I noticed that she had two pair of pants on. She was mystified. I asked if she wanted both on and she said no. When she took one pair off, I noticed that the seat area was a bit damp. “Oh, this feels a little damp. How about if we just put a fresh pair of slacks on?” I asked. When she took off the second pair of slacks I saw that she had her Depends on inside out, thus the reason for wet pants.
She is increasingly willing to be assisted with dressing by me…and I hope by staff that see the need and offer. I gave her a fresh Depends, clean slacks, and asked if she wanted to put a clean top on. She did and we picked one out to put over the purple Alzheimer’s fundraising tee shirt she likes to wear.
“You know,” she confided, “people around here keep trying to get me to change my clothes all the time.”
“Well, they just want you to feel nice and clean. It’s fine. They suggest that to everyone.”
Nowadays it’s not unusual for Mom to drift off to sleep during one of the coffee chat sessions we have with friends. She is often up very early, eats, and then has a morning nap…or two. She is often restless, so I doubt that she gets a full night’s sleep anymore. Not sure how many people over 70 do.
Sometimes when I visit, I find her in bed snoring. She’s in a deep sleep and I leave her alone. I have coffee/chat time with others.
The other day she fell asleep while visiting with her old friend, Jerry, on the phone. He’s 91, restores old tractors and cars, gardens, and lives alone on 3 acres in southern Illinois. He also likes to talk….and talk and talk and talk! She just drifted off, so I took the phone and explained that “Mom is sleepy.” Then he tried to engage me in listening but I dodged the opportunity. He had been talking for 20 minutes and I didn’t want to listen to another 20. We’ll call again sometime.
Mom’s confusion is more pronounced, and she is not as quick at correcting or justifying herself as she used to be.
It’s still difficult for her to remember where her room is.
She isn’t sure if she had breakfast, or she simply says, “I don’t remember.”
She is often unsure of where she lives, sometimes thinks I live in the same place, and still spends time “trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.” A response I settled on a month or so ago was, “One thing to be doing now is being such a good friend to Elaine and Eunice and Joyce. They really appreciate your friendship.” And then we move on to talk about some of the outings they had and the activities they enjoy together.
Recently after agreeing to go brush her teeth, she came out holding two small bottles of Revlon liquid make up. “These are toothpaste, aren’t they?” she asked. I followed her back into the bathroom and showed her what her toothpaste looked like.
On at least two occasions, one discovered by me and one by a staff person, Mom was wearing a knit top as a bottom, or trying to. She had one leg in the sleeve of a top and the rest of the shirt kind of pulled up when I came and found her waking up one morning. Also, she had on no Depends. She hasn’t needed or wanted help getting ready for bed, but that will be changing. When she tried to get up and go to the bathroom, she had difficulty walking. “Oh…” I said, “It looks like you tried wearing the top as a pajama bottom. Here, let’s get your leg out of the sleeve and I’ll get you some slacks.”
“Well, I knew something didn’t feel right,” she said.
I gave her a pair of Depends, fetched clean slacks, and we went on with the morning.
A similar incident occurred with Della, one of the CMA’s. Pearl came out saying she needed a safety pin. She was trying to wear a top as a bottom and couldn’t figure it out. Della escorted her back to her room and helped her dress correctly.
Some days I drive home rather sad seeing my fiercely independent mother lose skills and abilities. I have sort of put grieving for my stepdad at bay and take it out once in a while. With my increased sadness as I watch my mom struggle and become more confused, I know that my grieving process for her is beginning. We have become very close over the past two years. I love her in a way I never have before, and I feel a great deal of compassion for her. Even as I write those words, I weep a bit.
The sadness, however, is part of the journey and it will deepen. I accept that and try to enjoy this time when she knows me and can still banter…still complain…still accuse me of stealing her comb…and still thank me “for coming over. I love you.”
I love you, too, Mom.