Dementia Dilemma

I have a friend who has been taking care of her in-laws who have multiple health and mental issues, yet still insist on staying in their own home. Their son, has promised to keep them in their home. He made a promise, “my word is my bond” pledge.

Have you  ever promised a loved one that you would do everything in your power to follow their wishes, then have angst about actually being able to do that? We of course, want to keep true to our word, but, at what cost? Safety ? Happiness?

And one can view their trials and tribulation by wallowing in sadness or laughing at the circumstance. It helps to relieve the tension by laughing.

So Suzie brought a meal to her inlaws and and realized that Dad needed a shower. A symptom of his dementia was that he no longer felt or realized the need for a shower. Or maybe he remembered as having just taken a shower although the time that past had really been days instead of hours. Suzie explained that a shower was  a good and necessary activity. She retrieved some clean clothes for him and took him to the bathroom and turned on the shower. Then she verbally explained that he needed remove his clothes,showed him the soap and and the motions to explain what it meant to shower. She was so intent on respecting his privacy but also wanted to make sure that he took care of his hygiene. Then she showed  him his t-shirt and shorts and showed him how to put them on. Then she exited the bathroom and waited, occasionally calling in to him? “How are you doing? ” He replied, very compliantly, “I think I am ok.” So she waited a few more minutes and then heard him mumble a bit. She carefully opened the door and tried so very carefully to check on him and discovered he had  put his t-shirt sleeves through his legs and his shorts through his sleeves . She closed the door, startled and returned to help get things on straight. As she shared the story with me, she had experienced a mix of emotions including embarrassment for him because he had been a modest man, a bit of embarrassment for herself  because there are some things we never picture ourselves doing for our parents or in laws. And she also had to laugh at the hilarity of the picture of what just happened.

Sometimes we have to find the humor. Not because, we are making fun of things, but because, we are overcoming the discomfort of the things that we have to do. In ordinary circumstances, we are not comfortable. But with dementia, laughter might be the best medicine!


A Grateful Life

bloggeenviewI had the honor of teaching skin care to 9 “experienced” women at the Greenview Assisted Living in Uniontown, Ohio. This activity always makes my heart happy because I get to see residents, whose lifestyles has slowed down over the years, look at themselves in a little different way. My hope is that they feel pampered and pretty.

Sometimes they say”oh, I never wear makeup anymore. No reason to…” But yesterday this group of women were like a little social support system. They complimented one another on their lipstick shade or offered assistance if they did not blend their cheek color sufficiently! One woman in  particular– I will call her Irene–was cute as ever.

When one of the women complimented her new “look,” she joked “I think you are ready for a date!” Irene smiled and said, “I have already had the love of my life.” And  it was the WAY she said it that struck me. It was not with a bittersweet tone or sadness, but a grateful acceptance. She loved, and loves, her deceased husband but is happy for the 60 plus years they had together. And she spoke her story lovingly about how her grandfather had been killed in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, they moved to Ohio and her family taught her to appreciate and enjoy the moments., more than things.

And her outlook on moving to an assisted living facility was remarkable. Her husband had developed Alzheimers so they moved to Greenview two years ago and when he lost his battle with that disease, she stayed there and regrets not one day. “I feel so safe here, and it is like paradise on earth” My immediate thought was of admiration and inspiration. You hear stories of the elderly dreading the thought of moving out of their homestead, or expressing anger. But here is a woman who is grateful for everything she has, children who live nearby and her children, who have to travel to see her. She is grateful for  being near a freeway so they can get there easily when they are able.

This is a woman who has lived her life well. And  appreciates all that she has . “And the food is really good too! ” She chirped happily.

The stranger danger talk—with my parents

As I was thinking of a what to write about, the electricity went out and the cable, obviously had to be reset. It reminded me of an incident that occurred a few years back and it might be a good reminder for caregivers to have the stranger danger talk– with your parents.

The cable went out. No cable– no phone. I was not home.  So my parents tell me this tale of woe they experienced sans electric….. Dad goes outside and walks around. Kind of yells to the neighbor’s front door. Nobody answers. Sees a neighbor walking on the sidewalk. Strolls down the driveway to strike up a conversation. “How’s it going?” the unknown neighbor asks.
My dad says “Well, not so good, phone’s not working and the TV won’t go on. The Indians are playing on TV.” He invites the man in to look at it but cannot figure out the cable so he leaves. But not before my dad gives him my son’s cell phone number. I have instructed my parents to NEVER give out my cell phone number.  But I didn’t mention my son. Oops….
“Dad,” I said. “is it that important to have your TV running every waking hour and inviting someone that you don’t know into our home?

“But I think I have seen him in the neighborhood,” was his reply.

Granted it turned out to be a neighbor who strolls by the house on a daily basis. But we live in the era of people taking advantage of the elderly, where unthinkable events have occurred and neighborhoods are broken into. It happens.

On another occasion, my dad  answered the phone and the man on the other side identified himself as my son. He proceeded to explain that he had been in an accident and needed money. My dad came over and I saw the look of concern on his face!

He said Matt was in an accident. My mother’s instinct went from panic stricken horror to reality. Something was really off. I would have been the first contact for my children. And I was home so I grabbed the phone from my dad and the person on the other end hung up. When my father said it did not sound like my son,  the caller answered that he had a broken jaw from the accident, was in a lot of pain and went on to say he needed money to hire a lawyer because the police were saying it was his fault. So many red flags were raised, it seemed so obvious. But when it comes to family matters, we just want to do as much as we can as quickly as we an and that was how my dad was responding.

Sadly, we live in a world where cautionary tales like this abound and we cannot remind our older family members often enough to beware.




Sparkling lights

The white lights of the Christmas tree shining make me feel calm and soothed. The glow illuminates not just light but warmth, the warmth of having loved ones close to you. My children do not live in town so I want all the time with them that is possible. I find it difficult to not measure how much time they spend with this relative or that relative. Have you ever done that? I remember my mom getting upset that my out-of town sister spent more time with her in-laws than with my parents when she visited.

Well now that my kids live between Columbus and the west coast, I try to find peace with that , finding my own way, my friends, living with the quiet. Funny, I can’t help but think of the times during those shared parenting moments that I was alone. For the last 10 years Mom and Dad lived with me. So Christmases were not quite alone. I could wander in and out of their in-law suite. This was the first year they are in assisted living and that was another adjustment.

My dad has become very minimalist. He wanted no part of a Christmas tree. What no Christmas tree! Christmas trees bring me to all those years as a child remembering my mom carefully retrieving the ornaments that she had since they were first married in 1951. All the times she yelled at my dad or us because we weren’t hanging the tinsel carefully enough or what about the years he cemented the tree into a pail so it had no chance of falling over.

Now, tinsel, what tinsel! When I brought a 2-foot tree to their little apartment, my dad scoffed at the idea. “How will I turn it on?” “I will trip over it!”  “Too Much trouble”. “Takes up too much room”. I removed the objections one by one, adding a remote control so with the press of a button it was on or off, tucked it into a corner so it was out of the way and skipped the tinsel and ornaments. Just the colored lights! Ha, settled. He took the remote in hand and proceeded to joke with the next aide that walked in. He smiled and told her to clap her hands. Magic! The tree was lit! Let the season be bright.