Tuesday, March 7, 2017 – early evening
Mom has been living “independently” for over a year and as a widow for 4 ½ months. Neighbor/assistant Kevin has kept an eye on things and in recent weeks has tried to get her to attend bingo at the local senior center. In addition, he has taken on more than what he initially thought he’d be doing and he has done so with a kind and generous heart…as has his wife.
While Kevin checks in every day, he is also interrupted every day…by phone and in person. He has taken on the role of main caretaker as many know it for folks who have dementia…and he has finally had his fill. His quality of life and sense of sanity have diminished and he called this morning to say he can’t do this anymore. He loves my Mom like a grandma, but he has a wife and a life. Mom is declining and she needs more help and guidance than he is able to provide.
Understood. I’ve been waiting for this conversation. It sets the framework for the next chapter.
What’s Been Going On
From my end, I’ve spoken with Mom almost every day. She often calls me, and if I don’t hear from her I call her. We’ve had many fun phone visits and over the past several weeks there has been less crying.
What I have noticed and things Kevin has mentioned:
- Mom seems to forget that I live 400 miles away. She complains that I don’t come pick up Dad’s clothes that she has set aside. Kevin then reminds her that I live 400 miles away. I’ll call and ask, “Whatcha doing?” Her response: “Having a salami sandwich. Would you like to come over and have one?” Then I remind her that I live 400 miles away.
- I called her the other day at 5 p.m. “I think I have an appointment this morning,” she said. I explained that it was 5 p.m. and not morning. She was surprised. Most likely she fell asleep and woke up thinking it was the next day. This happens often.
- She hasn’t been driving. Kevin claimed he took the keys away, but later explained that he hid them. Guess who found them? My very own Nancy Drew. That said, she seems to prefer not to drive. Kevin takes her to bingo and often does her food shopping for her. She hasn’t had any doctor appointments, either; so there hasn’t been much need her to drive. When I’m there, I do the driving. So maybe she is easing out of it…willingly? As soon as I think that I wonder if she will insist on taking the driving test again next August. It took her eight attempts to pass last August. I need to find a way to just bring this to a close. Unfortunately, Illinois lets elder folks take the damn driving test as many times as they want. They should require her to take the written test. She would not pass.
- I called her the other morning around 10 a.m. “Oh, good!” she said. “You got home early.” “I did?” I asked. “From where?” “From here,” she replied. She thought I was downstairs doing laundry and then went home. Again, I explained that I live 400 miles away.
- She thinks she is seeing Dad or that I am in the house. Maybe she’s dreaming; maybe she’s getting a bit delusional; maybe both.
- She still talks about getting a job because she has no money. When I hear that, I go online and tell her what her bank account balances are. “Oh…then I’m okay!” she’ll say. “I don’t have to worry.” I try to assure her that she is okay financially. This is a common concern of elderly who grew up during the Depression. We have covered this subject thousands of times. She just can’t remember.
- Kevin tries to monitor her mail so that she doesn’t send off cash to all the charities that contact her. If she tries to do so, she often forgets to put a stamp on the envelope…or she’ll include a part of the pitch letter with no cash. It’s all mixed up, so he has my permission to confiscate mail that looks like a request for donations. He’s also tried to hold on to mail that he believes we’ll need for filing taxes. Lord only knows where she might stash stuff. For a while she was able to follow the instructions to put mail on the desk in the guest room. She can’t follow those instructions consistently now.
- According to Kevin, she loves her bread, hard salami, chocolate ice cream, Bavarian cream puffs, and the chicken tenders he makes for her. He also brings her meatloaf and other portions from the dinners he makes for himself and his wife, Sue. “Boy, that woman can eat! How does she go through two or three loaves of bread in a week? And all those bananas! She can eat like a horse!” She weighs 105. Lucky her.
- This morning, when Kevin called to tell me he has finally had enough, he reported that he had to help Mom dress the other day. She had clothes on inside out and backwards. Not a good sign…even if it did just happen once. We have both observed that she often wears the wrong shoe on the wrong foot.
- Mom also has no sense of time…date, day of the week, time of day. According to Kevin, she is no longer able to use a calendar.
Tentative Plans for the Next Visit
I will return to Illinois this Saturday. It’s a week earlier than I had planned, but Kevin and Sue need a break. In an email sent to friends today, I outlined my “tentative plans.” They have to be tentative because when dealing with a loved one with dementia, there aren’t many absolutes…other than a change needs to be made and then the planning for how to make that happen. Here’s what I wrote:
I hope to bring Mom back after we have her taxes done on March 22. Between now and then, I’ll be talking frankly and gently about the need for change now that she has been home alone for a while and now that we are both getting older.
This week I’m visiting Candlelight Lodge, Provision, and The Arbors. Did Candlelight today.. Arbors at 9 tomorrow and Provision at 11.
Once down here, she and I will visit them and have lunch.
With Kevin finally admitting that he can’t do this anymore, that opens the door for a needed change. If she is totally resistant and raises a fuss, I’ll call one of the elder agencies and have them visit with us in person. The bottom line becomes: she either cooperates with a change…or Adult Protective Services will force a change and could put her in a facility up there. I’m not going to mention that route. Plan to go slowly and emphasize how important it is for us to be closer during our final years…how we can help each other out when needed…plus have fun hanging out together. She can have a small apartment of her own at a senior community, and I’ll have my little place, but we can be closer and do more things together…plus she’ll have things to do in her community….etc. etc. etc.
A year ago this would have been a much harder sell. This time, I think she knows more that she’s changing…and we’ll get into the discussion after a few days of being together.
I am practicing all kinds of statements to make my case…and I hope she’ll eventually understand that it is more of a “bother” for us to be so far away and me having to travel…than it would be for us to both live in Columbia.
Kinda iffy at her age…but her choices are limited: a senior community there or here. For a while I thought in-home assistance a good option, but if she continues to live where she is, she’ll continue to call Kevin and Sue and go over there at all hours of the day and night as she is doing now.
So that’s the tentative plan. Go see her for a visit, bring her here for a visit…and see what we can make happen.
Thanks for all your support.
My traveling companion for this trip will be Cinnamon. This photo was taken during our first attempt at giving him a trim. He’s Cockapoo.
I adopted him recently from our local Humane Society. He’s 11 and mostly blind with cataracts. He’s a sweet guy and I think Mom will like him. During our drive up to Mom’s I’ll have to lecture Cinnamon on his job as ambassador. He has to help me convince Mom that she would have a good life being closer to family, which includes him, of course.