Adventures in Alzheimer's and Conversations with Mom

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I can't remember if I told you this (I'm pretty sure I didn't), but earlier this year I went to an art show and reception with my mom. Our art teacher had talked us both into entering something, which was a first for me. My dad had a meeting that afternoon, so he couldn't go with us (though he did go with mom later in the week to see our work "on display"). As someone who is completely non-competitive (can a person be anti-competitive??) I wasn't very excited at the prospect, but I did it for our teacher. And oh my, but Jen does a marvelous impersonation of a basket case. Oy. I'd never been to a juried art show before, so I had no idea what to expect. I had visions of people standing around criticizing my painting (it was only my second), laughing at it hysterically and wondering aloud who let the third grader in, or maybe I'd just trip over my own two feet at the reception and go sprawling; another of my call me grace moments (remember this post?). And silly me. Seems I needn't have worried about any of that. I was so doggone busy chasing mom around in circles that I didn't have time to even think about anything else. During the brief time we were there, mom managed to:

1. Dump an entire stack of cups in the punch bowl, then stick her hand in the punch to fish them back out;

2. Spill the cup of punch she finally managed to pour herself down the back of our art teacher's skirt when she gave her a hug;

- And (my personal favorite) -

3. Spend ten minutes digging around in a purse - pulling everything out repeatedly - before announcing in stunned surprise, "Heyyyy... This is not my purse!"


Thankfully, said purse belonged to a woman in the art class after ours, so at least it was someone we sort of knew. Even more of a relief? She had a really good sense of humor. I am telling you, by the end of that (mercifully short) reception I was wiped out. Alzheimer's, like so many of the trials we face in this life, often boils down to a laugh or cry scenario (and it's definitely a prayerful one!) In hindsight it's pretty funny, although now that I am facing a second show and reception next week I find myself reevaluating my sense of humor. On second thought...

Anybody want to go with me? 'Cause methinks I'm just a leetle bit scared ;o)
[Photo Inset: The watercolor painting I entered, "Ecclesiastes 3: Summer (Rose of Sharon).]

The conversations I have with my mother throughout the week (normal ones aside) range from tedious to hilarious. It is not always easy to speak in the same calm voice when answering a question for the 33rd time during a single conversation, but I sure do try (though sometimes I take so many deep breaths, I probably sound like an obscene phone call ;o) People with Alzheimer's are easily agitated, and sometimes this agitation can blossom into a major meltdown if you're not able to defuse it. It is incredibly helpful to have a bent sense of humor in such situations, so you can entertain yourself and calm the storm at the same time. I am, of course, a huge fan of multitasking (particularly when it works ;o)

I had the following entertaining conversation with mom the other day on the way home from art class:

Mom: [suddenly agitated] "Jennifer, I don't know where I am."

Me: [calmly] "Of course you do."

Mom: [panicking] "NO! NO! I don't! I don't know! I don't know! I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHERE I AM!!"

Me: [still calm] "You're in my car, Mom."

Mom: [annoyed] "Well I know THAT."

Me: [raising a brow] "See? I told you you know where you are silly."

Happily, mom found that observation hysterically funny, and for the rest of the ride she was just fine. Dodged a bullet there, eh? Whew!
[Photo Inset: Not terribly relevant, though it did put me in mind of the song "Bad Moon Rising" which is sort of apt when it comes to the volatility of an Alzheimer's patient. Ha. Taken with my "old" camera. The one I have now doesn't seem to be able to get the job done; I think I need some kind of filter - but quite frankly, I haven't a clue ;o)]

Guess that's all for this week - I'm off to try to shovel out the rest of our guest bedroom (the holidays will be here before we know it - ACK!) Thanks for reading this far, and have a blessed week everyone!

Why Do Thing 1 and Thing 2 Inevitably Lead to Things 3 and 4?

Monday, September 7, 2015

**Coffee and a Doughnut post**

Have you ever noticed that when one thing starts to go wrong, it's often followed by another and another until you find yourself feeling like you're in the middle of a veritable landslide? Methinks I've been avalanched. Again. Maybe I should say Again, Again. Ohhhh the frustration of it all. ARGH! In recent years I've tried, with varying degrees of success, (or failure, depending on your perspective, eh? Ha) to make things as simple as possible for myself. Not always an easy feat, that, since I seem to have a tremendous talent for complicating pretty much everything. I've been told repeatedly by doctors to eliminate stress. Happy to. Piece of cake. Just one itty bitty problem there doc - exactly how do you avoid those stressful situations that are unavoidable? Eh? Of course sometimes (oftentimes?) you just can't. So I go visit my galpal Sandy and decompress :o) Anyhoo, right after school let out DH asked me to postpone my scheduled summer trip to Sandy's until the last week in July, as he had some vacation time that week and wanted to go with me. Faculty was due back on July 31st this year; which is considerably earlier than last year. Although I knew that going to visit my friend so close to the start of school would make things more hectic, I wouldn't have traded that visit for anything! I spent a little (okay, a LOT) more time scrambling when the "big day" (first day for faculty) arrived, but the important thing is that I made it; albeit thoroughly frazzled ;o)
Photo inset: Although the color of the horse may vary, this is my most favorite view in the whole, wide world! We'll call it my happy-happy-happy place *laugh* ;o)

About the time I went back to work/school, DD decided to come home for another (other) visit. Pretty sure I see more of her now than I did when she lived here ;o) Sometime near the end of her stay, during casual conversation, she made a comment along the lines of, "Oh, and I need to give the electric company some money, too...". It was with extreme trepidation that I chose to explore that particular sentence a little more deeply. Taking a deep breath, I asked her if she had actually paid her electric bill. "Wellllllll... I didn't really have enough money to pay it, but I will." "Oh, child of mine..." I thought, "This is NOT going to end well." I explained that the power company would probably not be as nice and understanding as Mr. Landlord has (he has been wonderful, allowing her to split her rent between checks when she didn't have enough to cover it all at once). I told her they would simply cut off her electricity, and it would cost her a small fortune to straighten it all out. I pointed out that having her power cut off in 100 degree weather would be more than inconvenient. For one thing, she would have to pay a hefty fee to have it turned back on. For another, she would lose everything in her refrigerator and freezer; not to mention how disgusting it is to have to clean out a bunch of spoiled food - learned that one compliments of Hurrican Opal who blessed us with 11 days without power and raspberries to that). "Ohhhhhh, wow.", said she. Well.

Didn't I get a text message saying that very thing upon her return home? *facepalm* The long and short of it? (though I think I'm mostly long here ;o) is that after two years of stubborness and self-inflicted stupidity (not to mention a boatload of monetary transfusions from her folks), DD has finally figured out that perhaps she wasn't quite as ready as she thought to move out. Why do we all seem to learn that lesson the hard way? Yeesh. I was happy to learn she wants to live closer to home again though - Hooray! SO, we've been house-hunting. It'll have to be some kind of major fixer-upper project in safe area (nearby, of course) that, hopefully, we can (almost) afford. In other words, we are praying for a miracle. The house hunting is, of course, being done in my spare time (of which I have none *rolls eyes*).
Photo inset: This photo has nothing to do with DD per se (other than the whole "baby bird having left the nest" thing - HaHa) but I thought I'd introduce "Gabe", a juvenile Cardinal, who has been hanging out in the Redtop near the feed room recently. I named him after one of my favorite pint-sized pals who happens to have a soft spot for Cardinals (you know who you are ;o) Juveniles are easily discerned from adults by their bedraggled appearance. Poor guy looks like he was chewed up and spit out at least once, don't you think? *laugh*

As if the snipe hunt for housing was not enough, just as school kicked into high gear in week two with students returning, my Dad told me that my Mom had been diagnosed with Dementia at her checkup. He was devastated, though I was not at all surprised. Actually, that was considerably better than the diagnosis I had been expecting. Quite frankly, I had been expecting to hear the "A-word" - Alzheimer's. Since I don't think I've really said a whole lot about Mom here, I need to give you some background first. I have found myself becoming increasingly concerned over certain things with my Mom over the past few years, some small - some not so small. I call my parents pretty much every day to make sure everybody's okay and we'll chat for a bit. I also see them all the time as they live only 4 miles up the road. Somewhere along the line, I started noticing that Mom was beginning to repeat herself quite a bit. She'd say things that were completely untrue or misrepresent things that someone said (like conversations she and my dad had while I was there). She'd lose track of where she was in a conversation and go down a rabbit hole (which could go on for miles). Sometimes she'd pull a comment from out in left field; or just sort of ramble a bit about things that made little sense before trailing off oddly. (Sidebar: If any of this is freaking you out from a personal perspective - don't worry - I can ramble and/or be irrelevant with the best of them, but there's a definite difference here ;o)

For the past two years, I would ask my dad to talk to the doctor about it every single time she had a checkup, but every single time he did she was able to answer all of the doctor's memory questions and was determined "just fine". I really got scared about a year or so ago when she asked me for directions to the bathroom - the one at my HOUSE - the same house we have lived in for 25 years. I started pointing out more and more things that concerned me to my Dad left and right, but he would just kind of shrug them off. Sometimes during our morning chats Mom would talk [literally] nonstop and then yell, "LET ME FINISH!" even though I hadn't said a single word during the entire diatribe. She became increasingly testy, and would snap and snarl at everyone. She became suspicious of everything, to the point of paranoia; accusing us of all manner of underhanded things. Most un-Mom like behavior.
Photo inset: The "science experiment" growing inside a cookie jar in my parent's kitchen. I have NO idea what it was in its former life, (Rosemary? Pine?), but I do know that in its current state it is just plain Scary. Yikes! I pointed it out to my Dad, who immediately threw it in the trash.

I spent quite a bit of extra time with Mom this summer, and began to notice more and more things that disturbed me. What really terrified me? That so many of the things I noticed closely resembled the behaviors exhibited by my grandmother (my Dad's Mom). Nana had Alzheimer's, and she lived with us during what I sometimes think were the worst six months of my entire life (even after chemo and company). Not a very thing nice to say out loud, perhaps, but oh so true. At the time I agreed to care for her, I was under the impression that Nana was early stage Alzheimer's (according to Dad and the doctor) and she had been kicked out of the assisted living facility where she lived due to her diagnosis. With a job, a family, and ten horses (at the time) to care for, I really didn't want to do it (but my Dad pleaded with me so I did). Their house was two stories; my Mom would not be able to handle it; along with various and sundry other reasons that they were unable to care for her so it fell to me. Please don't misunderstand, I loved my grandmother but it was a frightening responsibility to take on (and little did I know just how completely it would overwhelm my life). Turned out that Nana was more like middle/end stages and the situation rapidly dissolved into a nightmare. Though we had a sitter while I was at work, once I got home I was IT. Nana didn't know who I was at all, but hated me with a passion, She hated DD as well.

Nana refused to "stay" anywhere. If I so much as turned my back for a moment (even to stir something on the stove), she was gone. Trying to feed the horses was awful - I was constantly running in and out of the house to check on her whereabouts (she had a lovely picture window in her room and a place to sit and watch the horses, but she would not stay there). She would repeatedly refuse to use her walker, then fall. She kept me up all night long "Sundowning". Sometimes she would try to leave the house; we had an alarm on her door and a baby monitor in the bedroom so I could listen out for her. It was awful. I can remember calling my Dad (who thought I was greatly exaggerating) in tears begging for a night sitter just so I could get some rest. It was quite expensive, so we ended up with a sitter once a week on Thursdays. That was pretty much the only decent night's sleep I could get. Although I had been ready to toss in the towel after the second week, I toughed it out for six long months until I could take it no more. How to put this delicately? I drew the line when Nana started playing with her food, after it had passed through her digestive system. If you're not quite following that, trust me when I tell you, you really don't want to know. In any case, taking Mom shopping and watching her look for her wallet in her purse by pulling everything out (including the wallet) only to put it all back in again then take it out over and over was something I'd seen before. So was the testiness, the rambling, and a hundred other little things. I don't even have the words to describe how badly seeing these behaviors in my own Mom frightened me.

The doctor referred my mother for an MRI, which is standard procedure for a Dementia diagnosis, and Mom asked everyone in art class to please pray for her because the doctor suspected she had a brain tumor (see what I mean?) One week later my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. My father is absolutely beside himself and has not taken the news well at all. He finally admitted to me the other day that somewhere, deep inside, he wondered but he just couldn't bring himself to go there. He'd taken the checkbook long ago, was doing all the cooking and even the laundry. She asks him five times a day what day it is (she also asks me the same question - over and over - during our morning chats). To be honest, I don't want to go their either (at all - EVER) but I'd much rather be proactive than reactive. Wouldn't you? He is adamant that she is "just" in the early stages, but I'm not so sure. From what I've read, I'm fairly certain that Mom is already in the middle stages of the disease (here). I am trying to ease my Dad into reality, without causing him any more stress (I'm worried he'll have a heart attack) but it's not easy. Right now I'm trying to talk him into getting her a really pretty bracelet (that she can't take off) with his name and cell phone number on it. Why? Because as I was watching for my Mom to come home after a "Circle Meeting" at the community clubhouse this summer (it's catty-corner directly across the street from their home), I caught sight of her as she walked right past their house and started off down the street. Stepping outside, I called out to her and asked where she was going. Without missing a beat, she looped around and walked back through the neighbor's yard saying, "Oh, you know, I just thought I'd go this way today." Man-oh-man, are we in trouble... Big, BIG trouble. *sigh*

So, now you know all the dirty details behind the missing posts (and why I think I've consumed about 50 pounds of chocolate in the last month ;o) Thank you so very much for reading this far, and I sure do hope you got to eat that doughnut. Have a blessed week and a happy Labor Day. Hugs!

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