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”:

20190613_112354

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About jjmummert

Just another voice in the wilderness from someone who's lived on this planet for over 70 years and faces permanent residency on Planet Elderly. Update: As of March 2, 2017, I turned 70. I'm now an official resident of Planet Elderly. Dad passed away September 22, 2016. In late March 2017 I was able to move Mom closer to me where she resided at a memory care assisted living community until being downsized to a skilled nursing senior community in October 2018 in Columbia, Missouri. I view the Parental Journal entries as part therapy, part family history, sort of a case study of our family's journey with dementia. It's quite an adventure. Recommended readings for others who have loved ones who live with some form of dementia: The 36-Hour Day; the website: https://www.agingcare.com/ ; https://www.alz.org/
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2 Responses to Parental Journal 101 from Planet Elderly: Naming Mom’s Toilet and Other Realities of Dementia

  1. Julie Krupp says:

    You’re doing a great job!

    Like

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