October 13, 2019 late afternoon
Adult children who become caretakers or care managers of their elderly parents with dementia know that the reversal of roles can be quite challenging, especially when the parent has no clue of his/her limitations.
Looking back on the past several weeks, I can say I’m quite surprised that Mom and I continue to have lots of what I call “sweet times.” The only change I notice during my visits is what seems to be an immediate loss of memory. Something can be said, and five minutes later it’s gone from her memory. Other than that, she is in pretty good health.
Our sweet times consist of the following:
*Her delight in seeing me sitting next to her on days when she sleeps in
*Her appreciation for my assistance in getting her up, dressed, and cleaned up from toileting. “I don’t know what I would do without you,” she often says. I tell her I’m happy to help and remind her that on days when I’m not there, she gets wonderful assistance from the staff. “Yes, they are nice.”
*Her ability to wash her face and brush her teeth. It may seem trivial, but so few of her neighbors can do those simple tasks anymore. Honestly, she is much more diligent about getting those teeth clean than her great-grandchildren are. She brushes with vigor and doesn’t skimp on time. She loves the feeling of clean teeth but cannot remember to brush them. I’m now the parent who does the reminding, but I always put it as a question and let her decide. “How about if you brush your teeth, Mom?” Ninety percent of the time she agrees. I stand back and just smile…taking in this time that will some day go away and be just a memory.
*Her love of eavesdropping. Unless she is napping, Mom is very aware of the sights and sounds around her. Snippets of conversations, phones ringing, staff laughing, a neighbor shouting, commercials for a product that will help with memory loss, a neighbor whispering in a tiny child voice that she needs to go to the bathroom, all kinds of things. She is curious. She is concerned if she thinks someone is suffering or needs help. And she wants to make sure nobody’s talking about her.
*Her pouting face. This can easily make me feel guilty, but it’s still sweet. If I talk about going to a movie with some pals, she sometimes asks if she can go, too. If I mention the need to do errands or work in the garden, she wants to know if she can help. My responses need to be worded carefully, but when she hears she is not going to be included “this time,” I get the pouting face.
*Her mischievous smiling face when a man (resident or staff) talks to her or touches her on the shoulder. She thinks they “want something” from her, i.e., romance. Or when a man speaks to me. She leans forward as if to tell me a secret, and with a smile warns me, “he probably wants something from you.”
*Her active participation in chair exercise time. She sits there waving her feet around, swinging her arms, and singing along. I’m usually participating right along with her and I love to see her smile and make funny faces when she is encouraged by the staff person leading the exercise time.
*Her love of music. It can be a commercial, a visiting duo, songs from a “The King and I,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” or the theme songs from TV shows like “The Golden Girls,” “Gunsmoke,” or “The Brady Bunch”…Mom sings along. Like so many people living with dementia, music is recognized. It is responded to with voice, tapping hands or feet, bobbing heads, and smiles. I had no idea she knew the words to so many hymns.
*Her ponytail. She still likes it and she loves the compliments that come with it. The sweet time is when I get to slowly comb her hair and gently maneuver the small band to create a ponytail.
But Legally Blind?
A while ago a visiting optometrist checked her eyes. He said she was legally blind, and we could get her some “readers” for seeing up close.
Legally blind? But she can watch TV and read words in the commercials. She watches her neighbors and all the goings on every day. At every visit, she comments on what I wear, or how my hair looks, or if I look rested and energetic or tired.
Mom had very bad eyesight as a young person and until she got contact lenses in the 60s. In her 70s or 80s she had cataract surgery in both eyes. She saw perfectly for distance and used glasses for reading or sewing on a button.
I googled “legally blind” and the explanation made sense. I bought her a cute pair of reading glasses and an eyeglass chain so she can have the glasses handy when she needs them. Problem: she doesn’t know when she needs them. She will wear the reading glasses all day, claiming to see everything fine.
If I’m there I’ll gently ask her to do me a favor. “Look at the TV with your glasses on, Mom.” She does. “Okay, take them off and look that the TV.” She does. “Can you see the TV better without the glasses?” “Yes.”
Bottom line: Her brain doesn’t can’t help her recognize when she needs to wear the reading glass and when she doesn’t. If someone gives them to her, she is perfectly happy to wear them all day. They feel comfortable and she looks cute in them.
Road Trip to New Mexico
The road trip with three other gal pals will be taking place, meaning I am going along. Mom is not having any serious health issues; she eats well, has good care, and a friend of ours, Mary, will visit her now and then while I’m gone.
Mary knows Mom well. She is the activities coordinator where Mom lived before and she knows exactly how to make time with Mom fun and meaningful. Mary visited with us Saturday, and Mom recognized her from her voice. We had a fun time.
I get to go on my first real vacation in over 10 years. It will be a needed break from care management and an opportunity to explore “The Land of Enchantment” with good pals.
I made it a point to mention the road trip to Mom and said that I was invited. We talked about it a couple times in the past week, and although she said she thought it was a great idea, I knew she would not remember our conversation. Mary was with us the last time the trip was mentioned, and out of the blue Mom asked the question I was dreading: “Am I going, too?”
But before I could respond, Mary leaned in and convinced Mom that the two of them would have a lot more fun “partying” here. Mom beamed with her mischievous smile.
Note to Mary: Thank you, Sis.