Posts Tagged mother

Something scary has happened again…

My original intent of this blog was to follow the timeline of my life as a caregiver but we know that plan went to hell in a hand basket.  But isn’t that just like dementia and Alzheimer’s?  You never know what is going to happen from day to day and you just have to deal with it as it comes at you; plans will get screwed up!  Today I am dreading next week not because of something that is actually coming up but more so because of an anniversary that is coming that always brings tears to my eyes.  It’s been 10 years now but it still gives me a kick in the gut each year.  Will share with you next week about this…

But what happened today was that as I was working away at my desk I paused to let my poor tired eyes rest and I turned to look at the cork board I have on the wall next to me which is filled with a potpourri of items – notes, greeting cards, old work ID badges, a movie ticket stub (why is that one there by the way???), a ten dollar bill I found once in a mud puddle and photos.  There are photos of the kids, the grandchild, me and the spouse, me and my father and one of mom walking down the hallway with a smile on her face in the locked Alzheimer’s unit of her first nursing home.

I came to really hate that place but that’s another story for another day.  What scared me was that with all of those photos up there the ones of mom and dad had the opposite effect on me.  I look at the one of me and dad in his wheelchair and I get misty eyed and miss him but the one of mom?  I find myself staring at the photo and trying to connect some how and all I feel is this lost and disconnected feeling; almost as if she is a stranger or at best a distant relative.  And that is scary!  Dad passed away 10 years ago but mom passed 5 years ago.  So why do I feel more connected to him than her?  That robbing bastard Alzheimer’s!

Up until he took a turn for the worse, I could still talk to my father even if it was in short sentences and he still knew who I was.  But I dropped off mom’s radar some 14+ years ago.  She was always mom – nothing could ever change that – but the reality was that she was just this little old lady with Alzheimer’s that I was taking care of and took care of for many many years.  Somewhere in there that mother daughter relationship took a up in the nosebleed section back seat to the caregiver/dementia patient relationship; that is if you could even call it a relationship because there was no give and take, there were no conversations (she went into word salad mode very early in the disease), and there was no recognition from her side of the fence of anything other than basic feelings and emotions.  She smiled at things we couldn’t figure out what the hell she was smiling about.  She smiled when you gave her chocolate to eat and she would yell and once in a while curse if you touched or grabbed her the wrong way and let’s not talk about the commotion when it was time to do any lab work.  If you didn’t watch out she could punch you pretty good.

But even with all of these memories I still look at her picture or think about her sometimes and feel this lost emptiness, a failure to “feel” her.  My mother left me a long time ago and I don’t seem to be able to find her…and that’s scary.

 

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Today is the day…

Today, five years ago, is the day that many of us who are caregivers either dread or are happy that it has finally come.  Today was the day that the battle of mom vs. Alzheimer’s came to an end.  We all know who won that fight and until they find a cure Alzheimer’s will always win that fight and take with it the person we once knew but will always love.  They say that when someone is ready to pass on that they either hold on until everyone they care about has come to say their goodbyes or they hold on until those who they are about to leave behind have made peace with the whole thing and are ready to let them go.

In the case of mom and dad I waffled around with letting them go or not.  There were some days in fits of frustration and anger that I cried out for God to come and get them and get them now!  I’m glad the almighty chose to just shake his head at me and let them live on awhile longer.  Because once I got past the frustration phase of being a caregiver (well, not entirely past there were moments when I still got pretty damned bent out of shape) I found my way through and learned to live in each and every moment I still had with them.  Take note of that!  It is important to live in the moment with them because that is all you will have.  In dad’s case because he could still talk to me up until his sudden downturn; I held on for dear life with him.  With mom, because the disease had taken her away from us all years earlier I wasn’t clinging as hard.

Mom decided when she was ready to check out by slowing down her intake of nutrients until she stopped entirely.  Her advanced directive stated that she was not to be tube fed nor resuscitated if her heart were to stop; you may chose differently.  So when she stopped eating and drinking we all knew it was just a matter of time until her tough old broad body finally stopped working.  I am very thankful for the magnificent hospice people who took care of her (and me) during this time.  I don’t think I could’ve made it as well without them.  They bathed her, spoke softly and kindly to her, and made sure that when her time was near that there was pain medicine for her.

I came every day that last week of her life and could do nothing more than pat her hand, kiss her forehead and tell her she was good to go; I was cool with whenever she wanted to leave.  I will admit to some moments of panic when I would call the hospice folks and beg them to send someone out to sit with her at some times when I couldn’t be there.  For some reason I had this fear of her dying alone without anyone there who cared about her.  Not that some of the nursing home staff didn’t care it’s just…well it was this paranoia I had.  As it turned out on this day one of the hospice ladies was there to bathe her when she noticed the shallow breathing and then the last little exhale.  She didn’t die with me around but she didn’t die alone.

The phone rang that early morning and I knew right away what it meant before even answering it.  I threw on my clothes and rushed to the nursing home where they kindly pulled the curtains around her and gave me the privacy I needed to say goodbye to her.  They even brought me in a muffin and some juice; not that I had any appetite then.  I touched her hand one last time and noticed it was still a bit warm and then I said goodbye and proceeded to deal with all that was needed for the next and final phase of being a caregiver to her.

Funny thing, I never really had a good cry over her.  Well, maybe sometime later I did I don’t really recall.  That moment when you have that soul purging cry can come at any time and not always when you expect it!  As Alzheimer’s had taken what was “Mom” years and years ago, this was just her body leaving to go be with her mind.  I had been grieving for 15 years by this time so I guess I was almost grieved out…almost.  Losing a loved one to Alzheimers/Dementia is never easy and I would suppose that depending on the relationship (spouse, parent, child, grandparent) how one handles it and grieves varies.  Just know that you can and will get through this stage of caregiving and that you will never forget and always love that person.

(I know I’ve jumped all over the place with this blog.  My original intent was to stick to the timeline of my time as a caregiver but we all know how that’s turned out 😉  Will try to get back on the timeline with the next post.)

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Mother’s Day and Dementia

Mother’s Day is just a few days away and while some of you are pondering what to give mom it made me think about A. how I still miss mom and B. what can someone whose mother has dementia/Alzheimer’s do for them for Mother’s Day.  It really all depends on what stage they are in.   In the very early stages you can go about celebrating with mom as you always did; perhaps with a bit more patience if she has gotten foggy in the memory bits.  But this is the time to treasure with her because it will only go downhill from here.  Sorry to say that but we all know this is a disease that while we may keep it at bay for awhile in the end it creeps in and over.

As she progresses you might have to be very careful if you are a family that celebrates by taking mom out.  She may have reached a stage where anxiety about being out in a crowd can be daunting or she may be aware of her “shortcomings” and prefer to celebrate at home instead of being out some place.  I truly believe that those with dementia who are self aware have moments where they know what they are and aren’t capable of and would rather not have to have a moment out in public.  I know my mom was embarrassed about not being able to do something as simple as look up a phone number in her own handwritten phone book so instead of dealing with the frustration she would call me and frustrate me instead to look up the number for her.

If you normally celebrate at home or have to do it there (or in a nursing or assisted living home) then keep things simple.  As time and the disease progress, having too many people around and a lot of stimulation can be a double edge sword.  On one hand it is good to be around those who you love and love you and in some cases it brings the loved one “out” again but over stimulation can also lead to anxiety and potential behavioral issues.  As the disease gets into the later stages your celebrations may be limited to just a few people or just you and mom.  Which leads us into what to give a mom with dementia?

Again, it depends on what stage she is in.  Flowers are always nice as are balloons and cards but don’t be shocked if the woman who once loved these things looks at them with disdain.  Behaviors and likes and dislikes change with the disease.  I will say that candy is always a winner no matter what the stage unless of course they are in the late stages and cannot have candy or they never liked it in the first place.  Up until mom was no longer able to chew and swallow, she loved chocolate!  So I always brought her chocolate and fed it to her in small little bits.  Seeing her smile and chew away happily always made me smile even though I knew she hadn’t a clue about who was feeding her.  I also would buy her the wildest t-shirts I could find when I went traveling.  She had no idea what they said but the staff knew her daughter cared about her and had a weird sense of humor.  Your mom might like a favorite meal or to hear music she’s always loved instead.  Thoughtful creativity may have to come into play.

In mom’s early stages I gave her cards and – surprise – chocolates.  She would smile and thank me and dive right into the chocolate.  Once she was in a nursing home I brought her cards and balloons but they were mainly for me; to show others that she was not left in the home and that she was still cared for.  They made me happy even though she never noticed them.  Of course we know the chocolate was still a winner until…  That last Mother’s Day when she was on hospice I still brought her some balloons to tie to the foot of her bed.  I needed something cheerful in her room at that time and I wished so much I could feed her chocolate one more time.  She died a few weeks after Mother’s Day and I packed away all of the cards we had taped to her wall and put them in a safe place – sigh.

Whatever you do for your mother for this day depends on you and where your mom is with the disease but I can say this with 100% assurance – the best gift for her is for you to be there for her and with her and to show her love.  Even if she doesn’t or can’t respond I firmly believe that in there somewhere she feels it.

 

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You will be missed – But you are now free

This week a sweet cousin of mine passed away from complications due to Alzheimers.  And while we were not a pair of almost like siblings close cousins, I did know her.  Our family is the type that if you are family then you get a big hug anyway when first meeting and ultimately get invited to dinner.  I knew her when she was a sharp as a tack woman who dressed well and could get to anywhere she wanted like guiding me from my hotel to our Aunts house that first time I was in her town visiting.

When I got the news some 7 or so years ago that she was on Aricept because she was at the beginning stages of Alzheimers my heart just sank.  No! I exclaimed…not another family member.  At the time my mother was in the end stages of the disease.  The once vibrant woman was now less so and had to have one of her nieces live with her to help take care of her.  At that time she could still have a conversation with you – to an extent – but only for a short time.  Then she would either not really converse or do the usual for this disease repeat herself.

Eventually she had to enter a nursing home because her condition had declined to a level her niece could no longer care for her at home.  She held in there for some years until she eventually stopped talking, walking and ended up on a feeding tube in hospice.  This week she decided it was time to go home and while she will be missed – especially by her twin – we are all thankful that she is now free from this damn disease.

When someone dies from Alzheimers or dementia it is a mixed bag of feels.  Your heart aches because this person you knew and loved, no matter what their condition was at the time, is gone.  No matter how many days a week you took care of them or went to see them at a nursing home, when they are gone your emotions go every which way.  In my case I was happy I never had to set foot in that nursing home again! I was happy I didn’t have to see mom suffering!  I was happy I wasn’t tied to being responsible for her and all of the paperwork, etc. that was involved with taking care of someone sick who was never going to get well!  I was happy that mom was free from existing (it was NOT living) like that!

But I also had this strange ache that said no matter what condition she was in she was still my mother and while she was gone years and years ago from the disease, this “shell” that was still there that resembled her and liked chocolate who I called mom, was gone.  I have a feeling my cousins twin, other sister, and the rest of the family is feeling various degrees of this too.

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Shame and Embarrassment

About not having done a post in entirely too long (I am sorry about that) and remembering a time when I was so embarrassed about my mother and her Alzheimer’s.  I think to some extent we all have moments of being embarrassed by/about our parents – especially during the teen years – but when they become ill that takes on a new form.  Why was I embarassed? My mother was sick, she had a disease that there still is no cure for, it wasn’t her fault, she wasn’t the only one with Alzheimer’s in the world, she was old…and there were too many times I was ashamed (yes I said it) and embarassed to be seen in public with her.

Well, for one, when out in public with her I was always freaking out that she might wander off but more so I was ashamed of how she looked and acted and by the stares from others.  If I could reach back in time and smack some sense into myself I would.  Mom went from being a woman who had a regular you could set your watch to it appointment at the hair salon to looking as if she didn’t know what a brush was.  She went from keeping herself and the house clean to both being a total mess.  And of course she went from knowing how to have a conversation with people to heaven only knows what would come out of her mouth!

And I was ashamed to be seen with her.  I was embarrassed that she was sick with a disease that at the time I had no idea what the hell was going on and like too many ill informed people considered it a mental illness of the type where “we don’t talk about that family member” type.  When I did go out with my parents (by this time mom and dad were pretty much glued at the hip) I would walk some steps behind or in front of them because I didn’t want to be associated with this old sick couple.  I didn’t mind if people thought I was with dad – he still had both legs and the diabetes hadn’t taken over yet – he looked and acted “normal” but mom? Ugh!

Her hair was often not brushed, she wore clothing that was too big for her sometimes and often you could read their breakfast menu by the stains on her shirt which often was on it’s 3rd day of wearing.  I was ashamed, embarrassed and hurt.  I know about the hurt now because, well, you know how hindsight is.  I was hurting because my mother was sick, I didn’t know what was going on, I felt powerless and I needed to have my mom be my mom!  I wanted to have a mom like everyone else I knew – not sick.  As the dementia progressed and she began to become violent sometimes when we would try to go out with her or have people come in to help, I gave up trying to go out with them unless I really had to.  It was just as well because it was shortly after that that they both became too ill and had to go into homes.

If you are a caregiver who is dealing with a loved one who has dementia or any other disease you will feel moments of shame and embarrassment.  You can count on it happening! Why? Because we are humans and we have our shortcomings and because when we have someone we love who is sick our emotions will and can run the full spectrum of emotions.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.  Learn how to deal with it as best you can.  First and foremost learn about your loved ones illness so that not only you will understand what’s going on but also so that if the need arises you can inform others that your loved one has such and such disease.  It’s entirely up to you if you wish to do that last part.

They are sick and need your help and trust me, inside they are fighting the twin monsters of shame and embarrassment too!  I wish during those times with my mom I had shown her more kindness or at least tried to.  It took me a long time before I learned to go where she was and find some joy in the midst of all that ugliness that was her Alzheimer’s.  I wish I could’ve said “My mother has Alzheimer’s” when met with quizzical stares with my head up and now down.  It took me a long time before I reached that point.

This week their annual grave blanket with candy canes (mom’s fave candy next to chocolate) was placed on their grave.  Merry Christmas Mom and Dad.

 

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Oh those bizarre habits!

Why it happens I don’t know and I’m not even sure the “experts” know either but besides screwing with the ability to remember things, dementia messes with the person in many other ways. They can become more paranoid or they may go from being mean to lovey dovey and vice versa.  Some change from being neat to being super over the top neat or conversely – very sloppy.

My mother went from being neat and clean and nice (but never warm and fuzzy unless it was with the grandkids) to being so terribly messy, unkempt, and eventually she went through a phase where she wanted to hug and kiss everyone. Oddly, that lovey phase just was weird because for my entire life she was never like that and it just made me uncomfortable. Sad but true.

I’ve seen where the one with dementia would gain weight not because they were that hungry but because they couldn’t remember eating and would eat again thinking they hadn’t eaten or that someone had refused to feed them.  Mom didn’t have that issue.  Fortunately something in her told her to stop cooking and dad took over that task (although I’m not sure how well they were eating as he was getting sicker too) but even with that she began to exhibit odd behavior with meals.

If she ate something and got the hiccups or a bit of gas she would refuse to eat that food again!  Funny, she could remember that something gave her an upset stomach but the rest of her memory was misfiring.  Or maybe it was that she was saying all of those things upset her stomach and she limited her diet to the few things she could remember.  Either way, her diet dwindled down to bottles upon bottles of Pepsi Cola (that was the only cola she would touch) and peppermint candies.  Dad did manage to get other food in her but their trashcan would be filled to the brim with empty cola bottles and the floor around the indoor wastebasket was littered with the peppermint wrappers.

When they had to go into nursing homes and we cleaned out their old house there were so many bottles and wrappers in there I had to resort to using a snow shovel to scoop them all up!  Another behavior change was that she would get confused about temperatures; either over dressing in layers when it wasn’t that cool or she would fiddle with the thermostat and turn the furnace up to just this side of Hades even in the summer!  That last habit proved to be very dangerous later on.

As a caregiver – be it living with your loved one or having to stop by often to check up on them – your work will be cut out for you and my best advice is to get help!  If your loved one doesn’t threaten to clobber you and the person/s you hire to come in to help out (like mom did to me and an agency I enlisted to help – that was one ugly scene!) and you can afford it – do that!  Enlist the help of other family members if you can and they will actually help you.  When all else fails, prioritize!  You can’t and you won’t be able to win them all; work with what you can as well as with what is most important.

Remember – if it comes down to your loved one eating the same thing every day (as long as it’s not unhealthy for them) versus an outright battle, let them eat the same thing!  You might even be able to sneak in some other food if you can disguise it enough;  think how some parents have to try and get veggies into their children.  With bathing if they refuse to get into the tub or shower then go with sponge bathing.  If all else fails gather up your strength for a mighty once or twice a week bath or shower fight.   You will both be less stressed if you attempt this once or twice a week instead of every day.  There’s grubby and there’s GRUBBY!   You will learn to differentiate.

That reminds me of something.  Mom hated taking a shower in the nursing home to the point that they had to give her a mild sedative (how I hate the memory of that) to get her in the tub but one day an aide decided to take her and put her in the whirlpool.  She liked that so much that they no longer had to give her any medication to take a bath.  So maybe switching from bath to shower or the other way around could work for you.  All you can do is try and realize you aren’t a failure at being a caregiver if something doesn’t work out…you just found something that didn’t on the way towards what will!

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Now what, mom? Funny about money

Oh the things she would do when dementia first started in on her.  Some of them were funny as heck and others were scary and downright dangerous.  I have a friend whose mother had Alzheimer’s too and her mom would put things like the dishes in the freezer.  My mother never did that but she developed other weird quirks.

I’ve mentioned the calling me to look up a phone number for her but she had others.  She was afraid of direct deposit of their retirement checks into the bank and HAD to take the check straight from their mailbox to the bank and then take out a wad of money to keep in the house and on her for whatever reason she had.

I begged her to do direct deposit for their safety sake but she never did it.  She would lay in wait for the mailman when it was time for the checks to arrive, would grab the mail, and then make poor daddy drive them to the bank, do business there and then back home.  Only to go right back out again to pay their utility bills – with cash – at the grocery store as soon as those bills arrived.

It was like something in her head was telling her that if she didn’t pay the light bill on the day it arrived they’d cut off their power.  But that money thing was terrible!  She always hid some money in the house; like with some old TV programs where they kept the money in the mattress, she would hide it wrapped in foil in the flour canister or even wrapped in foil again (what was it with her and foil?) and buried in the crisper under the veggies.  Part of that was because she was a child of the great depression but that was compounded by her increasing dementia.

Mom and Dad never had a checking account or a credit card and they paid for everything in cash or money orders.  It wasn’t until her dementia had really progressed that I was able to get dad to do direct deposit but that was as far as I could get with them.  We never knew how much money mom carried around on her (yes! on her) in that wallet of hers that she either had in a front jeans pocket or tucked in her bra (that used to embarrass the heck out of me and my sister) until she had to be admitted/committed to a psych ward because of something she had done (more about that one later).

It took me and two big burly orderlies to wrangle that wallet away from mom when she was admitted and once I took the myriad of rubber bands she had wrapped around it off, I discovered that she had been walking around with almost $500 dollars on her all in twenties!  I nearly freaked out thinking that mom had been walking around with all of that money on her and “what if” someone had tried to hurt her as she was out and about.

Here being put into that psych ward and separated from dad for the first time since he was in the military was heartbreaking for me and Dad and I’m sure in some kind of way Mom was hurt by it all too.  It wasn’t a pleasant or beneficial experience and another that I shall delve into later.  But it was yet another thing we had to worry about and deal with with my parents until they both entered homes.

Finances are a big sticky thing to deal with when the person is your parent and it can get very complicated when your loved one has dementia regardless of your relation to them.  There can be so many variables at work at any given time.  They can lose the ability to manage funds and either over spend, fall prey to con artists (and some of those might even be other relatives), or hoard the money in some interesting places.  When you try to help they may vacillate between appreciating the help to accusing you of theft all in one breath.

If you can get the legal papers to let you help or fully take over their finances then life will be so much easier but up until that time all you can do is continue to try – exasperating as it may become – to help them as best you can and to watch out for warning signs that something might be wrong.  But however you deal with your person and finances try to be kind with them even if you want to scream sometimes because losing the ability to do things that they have done for a very long time is embarrassing, depressing, and scary to them.

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