Parental Journal 106 from Planet Elderly: “You look familiar.”

Sunday  February 16, 2020 – afternoon

When I stopped in to see Mom today, she was sitting in a chair in the TV area.  I walked up to her and said, “Hi, Mom.  How ya doin’?”

She smiled, looked at me and said, “You look familiar.”

“Well, that’s good.  I’m your daughter.”   Then she laughed.

Mental note to self read:  Is this the beginning of her getting to the point of not knowing who I am?  Maybe…but it may be a while.

Our Vacation Time with Flu, Bronchitis, Laryngitis, and a Bad Cold

I was first.  A couple days after Christmas I was coughing a lot and felt achy.  It was a Saturday, so I went to Urgent Care and was diagnosed with Influenza B like many others who had had the flu shot this year.

I took the Tamiflu, drank plenty of water, used inhalers as needed, and spooned out Robitussin regularly.

By January 6 I was voiceless.  Laryngitis big time and still coughing.

On January 11, again a Saturday, I went back to Urgent Care suspecting a bad case of bronchitis.  Confirmed.  More meds and rest.

I stayed home, away from people.  Didn’t visit Mom.  Did bundle up one day when I probably was not contagious but was coughing like crazy. Put on a surgical mask, a down jacket, a hat, gloves, and a scarf, and made a dash into Walmart for necessities. Then back home to my nest.

By January 27 I was much better, but I still had laryngitis.  I visited with my primary care doctor and brought her up to date about the flu and bronchitis.  She listened to my lungs and prescribed a second dose of Prednisone.  Then, upon my request, she referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor and had me get a chest x-ray so we could get a reading of the lungs.

Mom was second.  Toward the end of my flu/bronchitis adventure I went to see Mom. She had developed a bad cough…very loose and raspy…and she was very tired.  I did not stay long because I did not want to get what she had.

Staff kept close tabs on her. She had a fever for a little while, but that went away and she was given some Robitussin, Tylenol, and oxygen. She spent about three days in bed and wasn’t interested in much food.

I visited her on one day and she was in a pretty good mood.  Her TV was on, and at times she seemed more interested in singing along to familiar TV commercials than chatting with me. She also seemed genuinely concerned about some conflicts happening on the old TV show “Gunsmoke” that day.  But we had a nice visit and I coaxed her into drinking some orange juice.

Mom bad cold Feb 2020

And yes, she still loves the cat.  It is something she can talk to and care for.  It needs new batteries.

Today

Both of us are back to feeling pretty good.  Mom is busy watching people, listening to other people’s conversations, and loving the cat.  Her appetite is not great.  She is 112 lbs, down from 119 lbs a week or so ago.

My voice is not back to normal.  It’s raspy and deep.  The ENT doctor diagnosed me with “Laryngopharyngeal Reflux,” sort of a cousin to GERD.  Nickname:  “Silent Reflux.”

Here we go, I said after visiting the ENT doctor.  I’m at the age where I’m starting to collect specialists and learn of “conditions” that will require some lifestyle changes.

For this one, I’ll be avoiding some foods, caffeine and alcohol for the most part.  That said, when at a Mexican restaurant with gal pals, I will treat myself to a margarita on occasion. I will also be researching some recipes for “mocktails.”  Those are becoming a thing now in trendy bars, per NY Times. Anyone coming over to my place will have to bring their own.  My fridge and cabinets are empty of wine, beer, vodka, and tequila.  Okay by me.  Will be saving $$$ and calories.

Main meal of the day is between 1 and 4-ish, but that’s a routine I already had.  Nothing to eat three hours before bedtime.  Lots of water, which I love. Also, I am now the owner of a foam wedge bed pillow that will keep my upper body elevated a few inches.  I’ve used it three nights now. It’s comfortable and my nighttime coughing is drastically reduced. A personal thank you to the over 800 folks who bothered to write a review of this product on Amazon.

And that Chest X-Ray..

Turns out the lungs look okay.  However, the radiologist noted some “mild” conditions developing in my heart.  Not a huge surprise since my biological father had his first heart attack at age 39 and died at age 47…plus maternal grandmother and aunt had heart issues.  Mom has had no heart issues.

So here I go…another specialist to meet this coming week.  I bet he’ll be delighted to know of the lifestyle changes already under way.  I also bet I’m in for some interesting tests.

 

 

 

 

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Parental Journal 105 from Planet Elderly: Christmastime 2019

Thursday, December 26, 2019

It’s Sad

Looking back on the past week or so, it’s sad to know that Mom isn’t remembering any of it.  Not the area Christmas party with gifts, snacks ,and music…not the Christmas dinner we enjoyed yesterday.

She still remembers me, though, because I tick her off, annoy her, and seem to be a bother until I get ready to leave.  Then she gets huffy.

“Don’t forget that I’m here,” she said last Sunday.  Guilt trip, guilt trip, guilt trip.

New Pal

A few weeks ago, staff introduced Mom to “the cat.”  It’s a life size toy cat that can purr, blink its eyes, meow, and raise its paw.  The family of another resident left it here after their mom passed away.  Such mechanical cats and dogs are quite popular with people living with dementia.  And Mom loves, “My baby.”

Mom and cat dec 2019

 

It’s been effective in lessening her anxiety in the evenings.  She pets it, talks to it, and sometimes takes it to bed with her.  It also keeps her company when she falls asleep on the love seat.

20191225_111227

 

Here’s the irony.  The entire time I was growing up, I was never allowed to have a cat or a dog.  One time I tried to bring in a caterpillar for whom I created a home inside a glass jar and poked holes in the lid so it would get air.  Nope.  Never made it past the front door.

I made up for not having pets, though.  I’ve had dogs and cats my whole adult life, so  now I’m delighted that Mom is enjoying and benefiting from the comfort of a creature with four paws.

 

Holiday Party

Lenoir Woods brings together folks from a few neighborhoods and hosts a lovely holiday party.  There is plenty of food, music, and a small gift for everyone brought by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Lenoir Xmas 03 2019

 

Lenoir Xmas 02 2019

Princess, the neighborhood Queen of Sweetness

 

Lenoir Xmas 04 2019

 

Lenoir Xmas 05 2019

 

This year’s party was just as festive as last year’s.  Mom only lasted about thirty minutes, though.  She ate a cookie and had some water.  Then she received her present, which came in a small, square box decorated with lovely wrapping paper.

That’s when I did a huge “NO-NO.”

Mom got the wrapping paper off easily, but when it came to opening the box, she tried to open it from the bottom.  My no-no:  turning the box over so she could open it “the right way.”

What I should have done was just let her fiddle with the box and open it in her own way.  She would never ask for help and was highly insulted by my gesture.  I don’t blame her.

She pushed the box away and wore her my-daughter-treats-me-like-a-child face.

I apologized, but she ignored me.

She finally opened the box and found a cute pair of socks but did not recognize them as socks because of the fluffy material and the style.

Looking around the room, she announced that she was going to leave, and she started pushing herself away from the table.  She was in a wheelchair which we use when she attends activities outside her neighborhood.

The area was packed with people in wheelchairs, so I asked her if she really wanted to go back, and she said yes.  Then she let me drive her back and was happy to see the cat waiting for her.

She was still pissed off with me, so I just sat next to her for a while and watched TV.

Christmas Dinner

Well, it was served at lunch time, but it was delicious: pot roast, roasted tiny potatoes of different colors, asparagus, and a yeast roll.  Everyone was given two desserts…a slim piece of sweet custard pie and a dish of strawberry pretzel jello.

As usual, we were a lively group with staff wearing various Christmas hats, earrings, socks, etc.   A chorus from Peace Works popped in and sang some carols.  A few spouses of former residents came by to wish the staff a Merry Christmas.

It was delightful with people talking, joking, laughing, and enjoying a delicious meal served by some terrific angels who are always so attentive and kind to everyone.

20191225_114551

 

Lenoir Xmas 01 2019

Christmas Tree wall art made from cut out hands of residents and staff.  Thank you, Wendy!

Today

When I arrived at 10:40 Mom was sound asleep, snoring with her mouth open.

I sat in the recliner she and Dad used for years and read some CNN news articles on my phone.  She woke up about 11:10.

When it was time for me to assist her in getting up and dressed, she was fine until she stood up and tried to walk.  She talked about having pain on the top of both feet.  I gave her the option to use the wheelchair to go to lunch, but she soldiered on with the walker and my guiding her.

She didn’t each much…a small slice of pork tenderloin, two cups of coffee, and a few mouthfuls of bread pudding.

After lunch, it was back to the love seat where she enjoyed time with her cat, I read the newspaper, and we both tried to figure out what the science fiction movie on TV was all about.

Observations

*She complains more about various pains when she gets up in the morning…legs, arms, feet, the side of her head.

*She is up quite late…often not agreeing to going to bed until 2 a.m. or later.  If she naps in the afternoon or early evening, it’s her nature to be up late, and I’ve shared that with staff.

*She cannot see things at a distance clearly but seems to do okay with the TV.

*She is using her hands more to eat the noon meal.  Fine for tater tots, but she’ll pick up carrot slices with her fingers, yet tries to use a fork to eat her dinner roll (and I’ve learned not to correct her).  Today, she used her hands to eat a few bites of bread pudding.

*When she sleeps in, she doesn’t have breakfast, but usually eats a good lunch.

*Her hands, arms, and legs are extremely thin.

*Taking pills is more of an issue these days.  She tends to keep them in her mouth and sometimes takes them out.  Hers are tiny, but she’s beginning to dislike taking them and often makes a face. Sometimes she says “No.” The staff have a variety of techniques to assist with that.

*She still loves to have her hair put into a ponytail.  “Everybody likes my ponytail,” she beams.  Yep, we do.  It’s easy maintenance for me when I assist her.

*She never mentions Dad…her condo in Grayslake, Illinois…driving…friends or relatives…anything about the past or the future.  Her world is very narrow…just what is happening now.

*She always compliments me on what I’m wearing.  She was a great shopper and enjoyed the thrill of bargain hunting. That appreciation for nice clothes on sale carries on.

*She likes using lipstick.  I brought her a tube of mine that is a nice, neutral color, and when I ask if she wants to put some lipstick on, 90 percent of the time she is delighted to do so.  She can’t find it on the bathroom sink, so I hand it to her.

*She continues to become more and more unsteady with the walker.  She is never allowed to use it by herself. These days she is not able to get up off a chair by herself, so it’s unlikely she’d be found using a walker by herself. In her mind, though, she believes she walks a lot, cleans the floors, needs to pick up after others, and that I make terrific coffee.

Sure, I do.

coffee cup

 

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Drifting Toward Planet Elderly – Poem: Crumble of Jello Cake

December 13, 2019 – evening

Last week Jello cake was served for dessert.  Mom said she was full and didn’t want any, but when she saw the small piece given to me, she changed her mind.

It was fun to see her totally consumed with the pleasure of eating that piece of cake.  When she was almost finished, she said something that became the seed for this poem.

 

Crumble of Jello Cake

I slipped off her fork

just as the bite I was baked with

approached her open mouth.

 

It wasn’t a rough landing onto

the beige Formica tabletop–

just a gentle plop behind her cup of tea.

 

From where I landed

I could see her appetite energized by

the sweetness of red jello blended with

made-from-scratch yellow cake

and topped with a thin white blanket of fluff.

 

She loved it.

I could tell.

She chewed quickly,

her blue eyes wide with

the anticipation of each bite.

 

“This is really good,” she said,

stabbing the air with her fork

pointed at the remains on the plate.

 

But I wasn’t on the plate.

I sat hidden behind her cup

of tea until she reached for it

and took a sip.

 

Then she saw me.

 

“Oh, there you are!” she smiled,

tapping me with her fingertip

and sliding me onto her cream coated tongue.

 

And there I went,

joining my confectionery counterparts

as I slipped my way toward her

delight of what was sweet and soft

and made her smile.

 

 

 

JJ Mummert ©December 2019

 

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Parental Journal 104 from Planet Elderly: Breakfast? What Breakfast?

Monday, November 25, 2019 – mid-morning

I am fortunate that things continue to be stable now that Mom has been a resident in the Woods Central neighborhood of Lenoir Woods for a little over one year.

“Stable” means that she continues to get around with a walker plus assistance from a staff person or me….that she feeds herself, understands what’s on the menus and chooses what she wants, brushes her teeth and washes her face, still likes her pony tail, continues to eavesdrop on conversations and makes comments, can still flirt, loves any type of music, knows me, can get testy (ok, “mean”) with others, easily shows affection and appreciation when others do something nice for her…and she is eating quite well.  More than she remembers.

“Breakfast?  What Breakfast?”

When I arrive on my visiting days, I often ask, “Did you have a good breakfast?” Her typical answer is, “No, I didn’t have any breakfast.”

In recent weeks, I’ve learned that if she’s been up a while before I arrive, she has had breakfast.  She just doesn’t remember.  And sometimes it’s not “breakfast.”  It’s “BREAKFAST!”

“Boy, did your mom have a good breakfast this morning!” one of the kitchen staff said to me a week or so ago.  I glanced at Mom because she had just said she hadn’t had any breakfast and I was thinking, “Gee, she’ll eat a big lunch then.”

“Yeah,” the staff member continued.  “She had a nice portion of biscuits and gravy, and then she asked for a second helping!  On top of that she had cinnamon rolls–four of them!”

I slowly turned my head to look at Mom.  “Well, looks like you did have breakfast this morning, Mom.  A trucker’s special!”

“Well, I don’t remember it.  In fact, I’m hungry right now.”

“No problem, Mom.  They’ll be serving lunch in about 15 minutes.”

Truth be told, there are many times I feel like the character Dorothy on the old “Golden Girls” TV sitcom, and Mom is like Sophia.

Mom and coffee nov 23 2019

Some Sweet Conversations Lately

With this being Thanksgiving week, I am quite thankful that Mom and I have had our close relationship with me being her care manager for a bit over two years now.

A lot has changed because her brain has changed.  With her memory way out of wack, she pretty much just lives in the moment, be it good or bad.

A particularly sweet moment for which I  am grateful happened last week.  I think I was helping her get dressed or something.  I know we were alone, so we were probably in her room when she looked directly at me and asked, “Are you happy where you are now in life?”

Her question almost took my breath away and I quickly assured her that I was…my health is good, I love my little nest of a duplex with the woods in back and good neighbors all around, I have friends…but most important, I have her here in Columbia living near me.

Then I asked her, “And are you happy here?”

“Oh yes, it’s nice here.  I’m comfortable.”

“Here” is an interesting word.  Mom is confused often enough to think we live in the same place, that she does some of the cooking and will make sloppy joes for me anytime I want, and that if she wants, she can just get up and walk around the mall for hours.

I have spent most of the past several weeks just being in the moment with her, wherever she is in whatever role she takes.  I enjoy our talks, our joking with each other, our changing soiled disposable underwear and cleaning up together, our Tuesday and Thursday music exercise time together with a sweet facilitator named Honey, our lunch discussions with friends Paul, Robin, Peggy and Tom.

I try not to spend too much time thinking about the reality of what is happening to Mom’s brain.  I am very much aware of it, but I choose to put it aside most of the time and focus on what is positive for us at this point in her journey with dementia.

And Those Hairdos!

To best manager Mom’s hair, we just let it grow.  She wants it long, and because it is long we usually put in into a pony tail.  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a “do” Mom loves.

I do okay putting it into a pony tail at the nape of her neck, but we have talented staff who manage to get the pony tail up high and that looks really cute.

Then there are the hair specialists, staff like Shamyra, who can do French braids and even an upside down braid creation like the one Mom was sporting the other day.

Mom and braid Nov 23 2019

Pretty cool, huh?

Thank you, Shamyra!  You are one of the many staff at Woods Central who give so much of yourself attending to Mom and her neighbors.

Mom and Shamyra Nov 23 2019

 

A side note to those of us who may grow elderly and develop dementia or to those who are or will be caretakers of loved ones with dementia:

For the ladies, letting their hair grow and keeping it in a pony tail is very low maintenance and means no bills from a hair stylist.  This may be something they agree to on their own, or it can wait until they are no longer able to make decisions about their hairstyles.  Just a thought.

And about that Trip to New Mexico…

It actually happened.

While Mom was in good health, had good care from staff, and received loving visits from a special angel friend, Mary Kaye, I spend six days with gal pals on a road trip to New Mexico.

It was the first real vacation I had had in many, many years. I surprised myself and enjoyed it without dealing with much guilt.

One evening, however, we were at a restaurant and a young lady was playing a variety of songs on her guitar as she sang.  She was terrific.  At one point she sang an older song, one I knew my Mom had probably enjoyed when she was a young woman just beginning to experience romance and a life in full bloom.  I cried.  The reminder of what advanced aging with dementia can do to a person was a bit too much for me to deal with for a few minutes.  When I have moments like that, I remind myself of what Mom has so often told me in recent years:  “I want you to be happy.”

So here are some photos from the trip.  I look forward to going back again so I can spend more time with my friend Elly who lives there and learn more about the area from her.

A. Susan driving into NM Oct 18 2019

Proof it was a road trip…with Susan at the wheel of her Toyota truck that had a nice back cab area.

 

03 backyard of Eldorado NM house (2)

Our Airbnb rental house in Eldorado NM.

 

cocktail time Eldorado NM house 0ct 2019

Susan, me and Lynette…happy hour on the patio of the Airbnb rental.

 

01 Jenny landscape NM Oct 2019

View from a highway  scenic stop

 

02 Bandelier National Monument Oct 2019

More scenery

 

Selfie White Rock NM Susan Lynette Jenny Bonnie 102219

Selfie taken near White Rock

Susan, Lynette, me and Bonnie

(Note the hats.  Susan and I became fast friends with wide rimmed fedoras…a popular accessory in that area.  A bit of style and some sun protection.)

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Parental Journal 103 from Planet Elderly: Part Mom Part Child

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.

Sweet Times

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.

Mom ponytail 092919

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.

New Mexico

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.

roadtrip

 

 

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Parental Journal 102 from Planet Elderly: Mom’s 93rd Birthday

August 22, 2019 – late afternoon

On August 16, 2019 Mom turned 93.  Early that morning, I sent an email to pals announcing the occasion and what was planned:

Lenoir will make her a small, beautiful cake (she ordered chocolate) and since she misses her watch which went missing, I bought her a Timex, even though she might not be able to see it too well or tell the time.  I will be putting a little bouquet at each of the six dining room tables.

Adam and Kaylin will stop by around lunch for a visit and cake.  Mom will be thrilled.

This evening mom and I will dine at the nice restaurant at Lenoir, invited by Paul, the husband of mom’s neighbor, Robin.  They have a date night dinner there every Friday at 5:30 and Robin always enjoys her favorite: steak.

I knew Paul and Robin when they were political science professors at MU.  She has Parkinson’s and dementia now.  He is 88, remains an expert in northern India and world terrorism, plays tennis with older pals several times a week, has a guy pal group he eats with once a week, lives independently, and he is editing a book about India with contributed chapters from various experts worldwide, most from India, I believe. 

 I am in awe of his optimism and acceptance about life.  He has lunch and dinner with Robin nearly every day, greets her with a kiss and “Hello, Sweetie!”…drives an older model Kia, loves good food and wine, and has such a sense of wonder and surprise about life.  They have good family support even though most live in California and Oregon.

Paul speaks with a loud voice and wears hearing aids.  And he is a talker, so I don’t have to say much during visits.  I ask an open question, and off he goes…politics, movie recommendations, books, favorite restaurants, childhood memories, recipes he tries, etc.

 It is a delight to have them as good acquaintances at this stage in the journey Mom and I are on.  

Lots of laughter and chatting now.  Plenty of tears ahead down the road.

A Two-Part Birthday

Part One:  A Really Nice Celebration

Mom was in a good mood that morning, although she was a bit surprised when I reminded her that it was her birthday.

Her cousin, Carol, send me a check and asked me to pick out a nice flower arrangement.  I did and I also bought some bouquets of astromeria (“Lily of the Incas”) so that I could set out small bouquets on each of the dining tables.  The blooms last an incredibly long time in plain water.

Mom was delighted with the flowers.

20190816_102419

The Watch:

In recent days, Mom was talking about not finding her watch.  I was honest.

“It went missing several months ago, Mom, and I haven’t been able to find it.

Do you miss wearing a watch?”

“Yes, I do!”

“OK then.  How about I buy you a watch for your birthday?”

“My birthday?”

“Yeah.  August 16 is your birthday and it’s coming up.  Any idea how old you will be?”

Pause.  “Not really.”

“Well, you will be 93 years old on August 16.”

Another pause.  “Wow, I’m old.”

On her birthday, I gave Mom a simple Timex in a style I thought she would like.  She loved it; however, the adjustable band was way too big.  I took it to a jeweler for assistance and he showed me how to fit it.  When I went to see her today, we fitted the watch and she was pleased.

Grandson and Great-granddaugher

Adam and one of his children, Kaylin, were able to join us for lunch.   Mom was all smiles when she saw them.

20190816_113500
20190816_113511

We had lunch in the conference room where it was quiet.  Adam told us all about his trip to North Dakota where he and three friends were invited to attend a regional powwow.  Mom and I were intrigued by his description of the ceremonies, the communal meals, the weather, and the elder who befriended him.  Our eyes were wide open, and we frequently said “Wow” at the same time.

We were given a huge apology because the bakery ovens were down and Mom’s cake would be delayed.  We arranged for it to be delivered to the restaurant after dinner.

After Adam and Kaylin left, I sat with Mom a bit and we just relaxed.  When I got up to leave I told her I would be back later because we had an invitation from Paul and Robin to join them for dinner at the lovely restaurant on campus, Lavinia’s.

She had no memory of the invitation, but was happy when I told her I’d be back later and we would go out to dinner.

Part Two:  A Visit from the Sundown Demon

One of the reasons I visit Mom between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. is because I don’t do well with the Sundown Demon.  It brings back ugly memories of a few years ago when I was dealing with Dad’s dementia and Mom’s own increasing symptoms.

During a recent care management meeting, I asked how Mom was doing in the afternoons and evenings.  Overall, our visits have been terrific so I wanted to know how she was at other times.  In unison, two staff members said, “She’s mean.”   I just nodded my head with understanding, grateful that Mom is in the care of these well trained and experienced staff members who have a terrific sense of humor and team spirit.

So at about 4:15 p.m. on her birthday, I came back to see Mom and get her ready to enjoy a nice dinner.  I found her fast asleep, slumped toward the side in a recliner.  When I gently woke her up, I knew.  This was not going to go well.

Mom was extremely groggy and said she didn’t feel well.  When I reminded her of the birthday dinner, she made a face.  “I don’t care.”

When I asked her if she wanted to put a new top on, she winced as if in great pain.

“Do you hurt anywhere?” I asked.

“NO!  I just don’t feel well.  I’m tired of people telling me what to do!”  Then she lifted her arm as if to warn me with an ”almost slap.”

“Were you going to slap me?” I chided.

“Yes, I was!” she replied with angry eyes wide and confused.

Interestingly, when Mom is in a bad mood, she is quite articulate and has no problem expressing her anger and despair.   One would never guess that she has times when she points to try to explain a situation or a say something about a person or an item, and words just don’t make it out her mouth.

“If you don’t want to go to dinner, we don’t have to go.”

“You go.  I don’t feel good.”

I stayed quiet.  I just let her shift in her chair, look around the room, and get her bearings.

After a while I asked if she had to go to the bathroom and she said yes.  She needs assistance using her walker now and the two of us shuffled our way down the carpet lined hall to her bathroom.

When we entered the bathroom, she turned to me and said, “Something’s wrong with my mind.”

“I know.  Maybe it’s because you feel so tired right now.”  She was not convinced.

She agreed to change her top and sit in a wheelchair just in case she decided to go to dinner.  But she was sad and seemed lost.  We sat in the bathroom, me on the toilet seat lid facing her in her wheelchair, and I listened to her sighing and mumbling about not liking her life. I didn’t say anything.  I just let her express herself until she stopped.

“How about if we go back out to the TV room?” I suggested.  “Paul will here soon and we’ll see how you feel.”  She didn’t respond, but she did let me steer her forward.

Robin was waiting.  Staff make it a point to dress her up, do her hair, and put on a hat from her world travels.  Robin knows Friday night is date night and she looks forward to it, as does Paul.

While waiting, Mom started a why-bother-it-doesn’t-matter-anymore-poor-me monologue.  She spoke slowly and quietly.

“It’s up to you, Mom.  It’s okay if we don’t go to dinner.  Paul and Robin will understand.”

Shortly after I said that, Paul walked in, greeted Robin with a kiss and “My you look so beautiful,” and then he greeted Mom and asked if she was ready to go celebrate with a birthday dinner.

I started to explain that she wasn’t feeling well, and when I turned to her to ask if she felt up to it, she said, “I suppose so.  I’m hungry.”

So we went to dinner and we had a very nice time overall.  By that I mean, there was no loud anger or acting out on Mom’s part.  At first she looked as if she were a prisoner being forced to choose a final meal and she did NOT want my helping looking at the menu options.  When Paul suggested the petite steak that Robin has every week, Mom said, “That sounds alright.”  After that she seemed to relax a bit and listened to Paul and me chat about various topics.  Occasionally she would say a participatory, “yes” or “I know” and even laugh when we laughed.

She did well, trooper that she is, and Paul and Robin were gracious hosts.

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But as far as that chocolate cake…a team of staff arrived with profuse apologies because the bakery ovens were still out…BUT…they presented Mom with their signature hot brownie dessert made in the restaurant kitchen and served with ice cream.  It was presented on a large plate with “Happy Birthday Pearl” written in chocolate along the rim.  Now THAT made Mom smile.  She and I shared the delicious dessert and another was brought out for Paul and Robin to share.

As we headed back to Mom and Robin’s “neighborhood,” we admired some artwork painted on windows…a rooster and two Snoopy scenes. I also decided that I was going to sit with Mom for a while until she got sleepy.  I just didn’t want to leave her alone.

There weren’t many folks sitting in the TV area.  Paul situated Robin, gave her a kiss, and said goodbye to everyone.

Mom was in the wheelchair and our task was to get her into a nice, comfy chair.  Problem was, I wasn’t sure how to manage that and when I would make a gesture to try, she shooed me away and told me she could do it herself.  Of course she couldn’t, but I just stood nearby and kept my mouth shut while she tried to figure things out.

A staff person approached and I mentioned that we might need assistance.

“Well, sure, Honey.  I’ll help you get into that chair.  Put your arms around my neck.”

And with that Mom was lifted up with a yelp from her and set down.  She smiled at the staff person and said, “Thank you very much.”

I sat in the chair next to her and within five minutes she was nodding off.

“Are you sleepy?” I asked.   She nodded.

“Okay, I’ll let you rest.  I’ll be back tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered.

“Happy Birthday, Mom.  I love you.”

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Parental Journal 101 from Planet Elderly: Naming Mom’s Toilet and Other Realities of Dementia

Morning, June 17, 2019

For the past several months, Mom has been coasting along quite well in the Woods Central neighborhood of Lenoir Woods.

Walker?  What Walker? 

Mom is the only resident who does not use a wheelchair, although she has one for getting to activities in other neighborhoods.  She uses a walker, but always needs to be reminded to use it…AND…she requires guidance using it.  Staff regularly use a safety belt to guide her as she uses it.  When I walk her to different areas, I don’t use the safety belt.  I probably should, but I keep my hand on her back with one hand and help her steer with the other hand.

She can’t steer very well because she thinks she has to carry it over doorways and over areas that change from hard flooring to carpet.  If I accompany her to her room to use the toilet, she is not able to follow directions when I say, for example, “Ok Mom, we’re going to take a left to go down this hall.”  She will turn right and I will gently guide her to the left.

Another obstacle she has with the walker is her feet.  She walks with both feet facing outward, which then interferes with the walker legs being able to glide smoothly.  She can’t figure out why she keeps getting “stuck” and believes there is something wrong with the walker.

Honestly, I am amazed that she hasn’t had several tumbles and a broken hip, but that’s because she is closely watched and is not left to fend for herself with the walker.

And when it’s time to use the walker to go from the bed to the bathroom first thing in the morning…or from the bathroom to the TV areas after getting ready in the morning…or from the recliner to the dining area…she’s often surprised to be told she needs to use the walker.  A walker?  Like it’s a new concept never before mentioned.

Thankfully, she is pretty compliant 90 percent of the time.  If she is in a bad mood due to sun downing confusion, I have seen her push the walker away and attempt to take off on her own.  With one such situation, she fell onto the carpet, was thoroughly checked, and was fine.  I haven’t seen her push it away since that incident.

Naming Mom’s Toilet

When I’m visiting and Mom has to go to the bathroom, I take her myself.  We’re still a good team with this, regardless of whether we are dealing with Number One or Number Two.

One day this past spring we were having a fun visit…just chatting and laughing about stuff.  She was in a good mood and very lucid.  Suddenly she looked at me and said, “I gotta go poop!  Really bad!”

“Okay, I’ll help you,” I said.  We locked arms so I could assist her in standing up from the recliner, and once she was vertical and fairly steady, we made our way toward her room with her walker.

It takes a while to walk to her room and she is always surprised and distressed that we just can’t use any toilet close by.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” she said.

“Well, don’t worry.  We can clean up anything and put on a new outfit.”

But we made it, and as we turned into her bathroom I said, “Hey, Mom.  You should give your toilet a name!  It’s one of your best friends.”

She laughed and said, “Ok, I’ll call it Jeanette.”

Not wanting to have her toilet named after me, I offered another suggestion as she earnestly shuffled toward the toilet seat.  “How about naming it after your sister?”

By this time, we were both buckled over with silliness and she had the additional emergency of having to poop N.O.W.

“Ok,” she said.  “We’ll call her Marty.”  And with that, she plopped onto the toilet seat just in time.  No change of outfit needed.

Meet Marty:

mom toilet 050219

 

The Great Eavesdropper 

Mom’s favorite activity is eavesdropping, and she is still quite good at it.

There may be all kinds of things going on…an episode of “Golden Girls,” a chair exercise activity, residents getting their blood pressure checked and their meds, the guy on the riding floor cleaner swooping by…but whatever is going on, Mom can still zero in a conversations.

Her hearing is superb, thank goodness, because eavesdropping is one of her major forms of entertainment.

We might be sitting together, looking at a magazine with me commenting about the content, and Mom will zoom in on what other people are saying.

KAREN

“He wants Karen.  He keeps calling her name.”

“Yes, that’s our new neighbor.  Karen is his wife and she isn’t hear right now.”

“Oh. Doesn’t he know that?”

“Well, he can’t remember that she isn’t here, so he keeps calling for her.”

“Oh.”

WALKING

Last week a visitor was talking to me about a vacation and going out west. I mentioned that I had heard that the western states were quite beautiful…that a friend visited the big sky country of Montana and liked it.

Mom looked at me and said, “Well, do you think we could go to Montana together?”

“I’m not sure, Mom.  When people visit Montana, they have to do a lot of walking because there are wide open spaces and mountains….”

“Well, I can walk!  I walk all the time around here!”

“Okay, well…we’ll think about it.”

Then she rolled her eyes at me.

BIKING

Mom was listening to some of us talk about biking.  I recently tried riding my women’s size bike and discovered that my center of gravity had moved to another universe.  I took three very gentle, graceful tumbles; then decided to sell the bike.

When Mom heard me talking about selling my bike, she frowned.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Well, you could give it to me.  I bike.”

“You still ride a bicycle?”

“Yes, all the time…and I’m good at it.  I don’t fall.”

“Oh…okay.  I had not idea you still rode a bike,” I said.

“Well, I do!”

 

What To Do About That Hair?

Mom has always worn her hair short and layered.  She would set it in sponge rollers and then wrap a scarf around it.  She can’t use rollers anymore and never evens mentions them.

Her hair is also quite thin on top and it has been for decades.  Her scalp can easily be seen, but she has never realized that.  She just thinks she has “thinning hair.”

Since arriving in her present community, she has let her hair grow.  Suddenly, she does not want a haircut.  She likes it longer.

I made a hair appointment for her one time here at Lenoir Woods, but I was not there to see the results.  As expected, though, there wasn’t a trace of any hairdo when I saw her the next day.  I just saw the almost shoulder length, somewhat frizzy, straight, white hair that gave her a kind of witch look.  So I made a note to bring in some hair bands to try putting her hair in a ponytail.  At least that would keep it somewhat neat.

To my surprise and delight, I walked in to visit Mom last week, and at first I could not find her.  Then I saw her sitting in a recliner, sporting a high ponytail, and enjoying a Netflix movie.

When I walked over, I said, “Hi Mom.  You have a ponytail!”

“I do?”  She reached up to touch the top of her head.

“Oh, yeah!  And it looks so cute!  Plus I see someone painted your fingernails a pretty bright pink.”

She lifted her hands out to see.  “They look good, don’t they.  I like the color.  I’m getting used to it.”

She let me take a picture of her new look while she watched the ending of  “Mama Mia”:

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All my gal pals gave this photo a thumbs up because she looked so relaxed and content.

 

Mom and KK

Unless I am able to bring Pearl’s great grandchildren for a visit, I am the only person who visits her.  Needless to say, she is so delighted when I  bring one of the kids, ages 14, 9, and 5.

The two older ones live in another nearby city so I don’t see them very often, but the youngest one (“KK”) lives here in Columbia and is happy to go see “Grandma Pearl.”  We usually bring drawing supplies.

Mom may not know their names or their ages, but she knows they are family and she is so happy with their visits.

Mom and KK 061619

Mom with Shamyra (a super angel aide) and KK.

 

Observations

Mom has been in a great place during recent visits these past couple weeks.  She is lucid, can respond to jokes and joke back, and engage in conversations with others.

She is now on a half-pill of anti-anxiety medicine, usually given at or shortly after lunch.  Her sun downing often occurs in the early afternoon, and this eases the anxiety a bit.

Her appetite is good in general, but I notice that when I sit with her at lunch, she often does not eat everything.  Then again, there are some days where her plate is polished.

She often does not know what the items on her plate are or she claims she didn’t order what was given to her.

Lately, she attempts to eat her dinner roll with a knife and fork…and pieces of meat or vegetables with her fingers.  Sometimes she will dip a forkful of cake in her cup of tea.

Her weight is about 107 and that is fine for her.  She is aware that she has always been thin and sometimes brags that she can eat anything.  I surprised her with a root beer float one evening, and she finished it.

She does not get physical therapy because she doesn’t like it and is often rude toward therapists.  She is unable to learn new things, so she and I participate in chair exercises in the living room area when offered.

I am quite surprised at her lucidity recently.  Not long ago she would have days when she could not make a clear sentence…the words just would know show up.  For the past few weeks she has sometimes not been able to find a word or two, but otherwise has had no problem expressing herself during my visits.

She rolled out of bed a few nights ago.  It was 3 a.m.  They checked her over, she was fine, so they decided to wait until I arrived to let me know.  “So.  You rolled out of bed last night, huh?” I said.   “I did?” she asked.   Later she tried to cover why it happened:  “Well, I saw this other fella roll out of bed, so I did the same thing.”    Sure, Mom.

General health seems fine.  No current concerns with blood pressure or heart rate.  She should be drinking more water.  And her butt sometimes hurts because, “I’m sitting too much.”  If I take her for some walks outside or around the building, I’ll be sure to use the the safety belt.

FORTUNATE

I am quite fortunate that my mother knows who I am, participates in our discussions, enjoys singing along to music, is in fairly good health, hasn’t had any serious falls or illnesses, eats fairly well, and sees a lot of humor in living to one’s elder years.

I have not doubt she will be enjoying her 93rd birthday this coming August 16.

SAD

As fortunate as we are, I am also often quite sad.  I live with clinical depression and have managed quite well over the past few years…getting Mom moved here, selling her house, and enjoying time with her in memory care assisted living.  Now she is in a skilled nursing neighborhood and is the highest functioning patient on board.

We have had some neighbors die in recent weeks.  Mom is not aware, but I am.  New neighbors have moved in, and the daily schedule goes on.

My difficulties with depression suddenly became more pronounced a couple of months ago.  After discussions with my psychologist and my primary care physician, I have done two things.  First, I am taking an additional medicine for depression after decades of taking only one kind.

Second, I am visiting Mom four days a week instead of six or seven.  I see her on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  This gives me more time to focus on things I enjoy doing by myself, with friends, or with grandchildren.  I now have days that are not overshadowed with the ravages of advanced aging and the emptiness of death.

At first I was anxious about being away from Mom so often, but she has no memory of when I’m there and when I am not, and she is doing well with my new schedule.  She sees me, smiles, and often says, “Oh, it’s so good to see you!”

I am also doing well with the new schedule.  And I am planning a road trip with some gal pals:  New Mexico in October.  Four of us are going, and even though I might not be able to go if Mom is in the hospital or suddenly quite ill, at least there is a plan to take a real vacation.  Plans are good.  Plans are hopeful.  Plans can bring joyful anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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