Monday, September 30, 2013

Becoming My Mother

dishwasher The other night, my husband loaded the dishwasher the wrong way. It was just chaos: bowls put in random places, plastic on the bottom rack, cups thrown about in no particular order.

“Honey, if you want the dishes to get clean, it’s better to alternate big plates with small plates,” I explained as I rearranged the plates on the bottom rack.

I continued to explain my method of organization for the dishwasher as Jeff stood quietly by. When I glanced up at him, his eyes were wide, eyebrows raised and a small smirk formed in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

I stared at him for a couple of seconds as I realized what was happening. I knew what he was thinking before he even said it.

I am turning into my mother.

There comes a point in nearly every woman’s life where she feels that, in some way, she is becoming her mother. Sometimes it is realized with disdain, sometimes it is realized with pride. For me, the realization brings fear.

For every time I insist on the dishwasher being organized a certain way, I think of my mom and her obsessive way of organizing every cup, every dish, every fork. Nobody else can do it the right way.

For every morning that I put on my make-up, I reflect on my mother’s obsessive vanity and fear of being a “Plain Jane”.

For every moment that I thrive on routines and schedules; for every time I count a step when I walk, for every time I notice an ache or pain in my body or worry about a health issue I may face; for every time I say the word “too” or “severe”; for every time my brain draws a blank; for every time I want things done MY way…for all these things, I worry that I am becoming my mom. Do I share a similar fate?

As these thoughts raced through my mind that evening at the dishwasher, I immediately scrambled up the plates. My husband laughed as I returned the dishwasher to chaos and prompted him to continue as he was doing.

Over and over, I am told that semantic dementia is not hereditary. Yet, with each passing day, as I watch my mom slip away, I can’t help but to worry, will I become my mother?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Seasons Change

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the change of the season and the nostalgic feelings it brings with it:  from the crisp, cool air to the smells of cinnamon and pumpkin and apple baking in the kitchen to the celebrations of the holidays-my birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving.

With our temperatures in the triple digits over the past month and a half, I couldn’t have been happier with the approach of fall. Yesterday marked the first official day of fall and the past week has been kind to us Californians. The weather has been cool enough to turn the air conditioning off and to open up the windows and breathe in some fresh air.

The cool air, however, does increase some struggles we’ve been having with mom. I’ve recently written about mom’s “happy feet”; mom’s latest fixation is to go for walks.

“It’s so good for me too…It’s such good exercise for me…” she remarks about her 1/4 mile walks to the store or bank.

Now that the weather is cooling down, she is more determined than ever to get out there and go walking. One benefit of the triple digits was that we could usually talk her out of walking in the sweltering heat! (Mom hates to sweat).

All that to say, I’ve tried to nurture this newfound love for walking and have suggested to mom that we go for walks around the block. Walking is good exercise for her, but I think sometimes she points that out to manipulate us into being less suspicious about her true intentions. Unless mom has a purpose in mind, she really isn’t as interested in walking as she makes herself seem. Mom has 3 primary purposes to go for walks:

1. To visit her sister

2. To walk to the bank in an attempt to withdrawal money

3. To go up to the store to buy medicines that she’s not allowed to have

Having people with her every morning has helped immensely. We now have every morning covered so that mom is monitored during her “happy hour”. Morning has usually been the only problematic time with her; in the afternoon she naps and then wakes up to take medicine and eat a snack while playing computer games. Mom is pretty unhappy about having people looking over her shoulder every morning. It prevents her from accomplishing her aforementioned objectives. It seems that in her determination to get out without an escort, mom is taking drastic measures. Very drastic. Mom is now skipping her nap. Yes, you read that correctly: mom is skipping her naps!! If you’re an avid reader of mine, you know what a big deal this is. That one thing that has been both a pain in the neck yet a source of comfort at the same time-talking about her rigid routine-is now being broken to bits in her rebellion to get away. We used to count on the fact that at 12:00 mom eats lunch and at 1:00 she goes down for a nap. It left only a short window in the morning that mom needed supervision to prevent her from fleeing the coop.

I’ve heard of mom skipping her naps a few times in the past week. Today was the first time I witnessed it firsthand. This morning, I took mom for her long awaited haircut (it’s been a while!) I was relieved when we finished up; it was 12:00- just enough time to get her home, fed and down for a nap before I went to pick up my son from Kindergarten.

On our ride home, mom pulled out her coin purse and began counting some dollar bills. I knew, from talking to my dad yesterday, where the money had come from. Mom spent last week scrounging around the house for any change she could find in an attempt to cash it all in at the bank for dollars. Among her stash were some arcade tokens as well as old coins from dad’s coin collection. I think dad was able to retrieve the valuables before she took the rest of the change up to the bank to cash out the $8 worth of coins she had accumulated.

“Mom, what are you doing?” I asked, glancing over to the passenger seat next to me, watching her count her dollars. I didn’t even need to ask.  I knew very well what was on her mind.

When she didn’t answer, I asked,

“What are you going to do when you get home mom? Are you going to take a nap today?”

After asking several times, she finally scrunched up her shoulders and gave her head a little shake.

“I don’t know, I feel so good too when I walk, I don’t have to take naps all the time when I walk too,” she quickly said.

“But mom, you haven’t gone on any walks today. Are you planning to go for a walk?” I asked, knowing full well of her intentions. On our way to her haircut appointment, she had asked me if I would drop her off at the bank on my way home. And that’s only because I arrived to her house early; her original plan was to walk up there before I came over (I caught her off guard when I showed up “early”). When I told her I wouldn’t take her to the bank, she came up with Plan B.

Now I faced a dilemma: what to do. She refused to ride with me to get my son from Kindergarten. As it neared time for me to leave, she showed no signs of going down for her nap. In fact, she was in the bathroom putting on lipstick when I left. Nevertheless, I had to leave. I decided to drive back to the bank after I picked up my son to see what mom was up to.

Sure enough, as I drove down the street, I spotted mom scurrying along quickly up towards the shopping center. I pulled the car over and rolled down my window. Mom was surprised to see me and was quite concerned that I needed to pick up Cody from Kindergarten. She peeked in the back window to see if he was there (he was). Then she turned to me and said,

“I’m just walking to get some exercise, it’s so good for me to be walking up here.” Then she mumbled something I couldn’t make out and walked away. I let out a sigh and turned my car around to follow her into the parking lot. At one point, mom was actually sprinting along the sidewalk; strangers turned their heads to see what the big hurry was.

I stalked mom from my car and watched her pass by the grocery store (after hesitating momentarily at the door) and cross the parking lot to the bank. I drove ahead of her, parked my car and got my two boys out of their car seats. I followed behind her to the line and asked her what she was doing. She ignored me.

When it was her turn to go forward, I followed behind her. She began talking so quickly it was almost incomprehensible to the teller.

“I want to know can you check this please too and tell me is my disability in there too, they’re supposed to give me some money for disability too can you please tell me if it’s there please too?”

The teller glanced at me, standing behind mom’s left shoulder, and I mouthed to her,

“She has dementia.”

The teller nodded and I audibly told her,

“She’d like to take some money out.” Then, quietly, I added,

“Can you please tell her there’s no money there?”

The teller was very cooperative, understanding my dilemma, and told mom there was no money in the account.

“No? It’s not here yet? You mean I have no money to take out yet, no? What about my husband’s account?”

The teller apologized and told her again that there was no money.

“Oh well I have $8, I hope that’s enough,” mom said. And she quickly turned around and darted out the bank door.

I thanked the teller and followed after mom. Except that I had to put my boys back in their car seats and drive across the lot. I put a quick call in to my dad, notifying him of the situation. I was able to prevent mom was draining the bank account but I wasn’t able to prevent her from buying the medication. I caught mom just as she was entering the check-out line, “Sleep Aid” medication in hand. At this point, there was no stopping her, so I stood quietly by as mom paid $7.08 for her medicine. I offered her a ride home, but she walked past me. The only words she said were,

“Don’t tell your dad I got this, if you tell your dad I bought this I’m going to be so mad at you too. He doesn’t support me, you should support me.”

And with that she stormed off and started her walk back home. I started following her back to her house, to make sure she arrived safely, but as we turned out of the parking lot, I saw dad’s truck pulled over to the sidewalk. He had finished work up early and, knowing the situation we were in, waited for mom to follow her home. I glance back in my rearview mirror to see dad driving alongside her and mom staring intently downward seemingly oblivious to any truck driving beside her.

A while later, I called and checked in with dad. He reported that he had confiscated the medication and that mom was upset and told him she hates him. She doesn’t know what she’s saying; she is throwing a tantrum for not getting her way. Nevertheless, I am sure it hurts. It’s hard to have to take away freedoms from someone you love. As hard as it is for me, it’s tenfold for my dad to have to do this to his spouse, his partner in life.

As mom’s behavior becomes harder and harder to manage, I can’t help but to feel anxious and worried about the future. How long will dad be able to deal with this? What is our next step? Will mom be able to stay at home in the long run?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hide and Seek

Our family has somewhat of a tradition to gather together on Sunday afternoons for family dinner. I remember when I was first married and moved away from home. I looked forward to those Sunday dinners all week; not just for the fabulous meals that mom had prepared, but for the time to visit with my family. Mom equally loved our Sunday family time together and it was important to both my parents to have their kids gather together at least one day a week.

About 5 years ago, things started to change. Mom didn’t have the same resolve about us getting together. In fact, sometimes it seemed she was actually relieved if Sunday dinner didn’t happen or she’d find excuses to not have it. Her cooking variety became slimmer and slimmer; in fact, it kind of became a joke in the family,

“What will be for family dinner this week…tacos or spaghetti?”

Of course mom hasn’t participated in preparing a meal for more than a couple years now. Nowadays she doesn’t interact much with the family at all during our time together. If dinner is at her house, she stays in the office playing Free Cell on the computer; if it’s at my house she is on my computer playing her games. More recently (within the past few months), she hasn’t wanted to come over at all when dinner is at my house. It’s been like pulling teeth to get her to come.

Yesterday, family dinner was at my house. It was no surprise when dad stopped by without mom. We asked where she was, knowing full well that she was at home. Dad got a smirk on his face and shook his head, as he told us,

“She hid from me.”

“What do you mean she hid from you?” I asked, thinking she must have just locked herself in her room.

[Disclaimer: It would be much better if dad retold this so that I don’t get anything mixed up, but I’ll do my best to write it as I remember him telling me].

Dad told us of the events of the afternoon, starting from the time he woke up from his nap in the living room. He walked back to their bedroom and found that it was locked. He knocked for mom to answer the door, telling her to open up and that it was time to come to my house. No answer. He got the bedroom key and walked into the room. To his surprise, mom was not there. He looked around and could not find her. He looked in other rooms in the house and began to panic a little, wondering if she had escaped somewhere while he was napping. He went back to his bedroom to find mom on the floor, next to his side of the bed, in-between the bed and the french door. She was laying down on a pillow. When he asked her what she was doing there, she replied,

“I’m hiding from you. I don’t want to go to Cassandra’s”.

Dad got her off the floor and she followed him to the kitchen, talking his ear off. I don’t remember what he said was going on in the kitchen, but he said that one minute they were talking and the next minute he turned around and she was gone. He went to get her; it was time to leave to come over to my house. He went to her usual afternoon retreat: the computer. She wasn’t there. He went back to his bedroom and his search came up empty once again. He called her name. No answer. Finally, he made his way into the spare bedroom, thinking maybe she had hid in the closet. And there, in front of the closet and on the side of the TV stand, mom was crouched down, hands over her head, hiding from dad.

We were all chuckling as dad told the story. I guess mom really didn’t want to come over to my house!! This is a new one for mom…hiding. If any of you caregivers are reading this, beware! Mom just might try hiding from YOU the next time you come over!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sound the Alarm

I am a mom to a very busy, very curious, very independent and strong-willed two-year-old. He’s adorable. He melts my heart and he brings a smile to my face each and every day. He also leaves me exhausted by the end of the day. Especially on those days that I have to take him shopping. Today was one such day. We went shopping at Kohl’s. He was adamant that he was NOT going in a cart. I was able to bribe him for a few minutes with some fruit snacks. But once those were gone, so was my two-year-old. He was able to unlatch that cheap seatbelt and climbed right out of that cart. When he’s this determined to stay out of the cart, I give him a choice,

“Hold my hand or ride in the cart” and he will choose to hold my hand.

Not today! He insisted he could walk by himself. He was like a little Tasmanian Devil, running up and down the aisles, hiding in the clothing racks (pulling clothes off the hangers in the process) and touching anything else that caught his attention. Many times throughout our trip, I *tried* to pick him up and carry him. I was sure the police were going to be coming into the store at any given moment on suspected child abduction…that’s how big of a fit he threw when I tried to carry him along. Body wrenching and wiggling, legs kicking and lungs screaming.

Now…add my 52 year-old-mom-with-dementia into the mix and you can guess how my Monday morning went. Or maybe you can’t guess. Because there’s always something new and exciting with dementia.

20130909_101152 Preparing mom for her shopping trip was exhausting enough. Before we left, we spent 15 minutes sitting in her living room as she looked through her wallet for her Kohl’s gift card. Right away she [thought] she found it. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to explain to her that what she held in her hand was NOT the gift card, but rather the cardboard that was attached to the gift card when it was purchased. I could have just as well explained it to the couch we were sitting on, with the response I was getting from mom. She tucked her “gift card”, along with her Kohl’s coupons (which she was confused about) into an envelope, zipped up her purse and was ready to go. I try to avoid a scene as best I can when I take her out, so I asked mom to get out her wallet again and find the right card. No matter which way I tried to explain it to her, she didn’t understand and she mostly ignored me. At one point, as I was trying to explain it to her, I tried to unzip her purse to show her that I needed to look through her wallet to find the card. Big mistake. She ripped her purse away from me and glaringly said,

“No, you don’t get into my purse, no! That’s mine!”

I honestly can’t even remember how it happened, but eventually I was able to convince her to get her wallet out again and we found her gift card. She placed it in the envelope along with the cardboard cut out.

Back to Kohl’s. You have the visual of my rowdy two-year-old. Now, picture my mom, racing around the store looking for something specific; me, chasing quickly behind her while pushing my toddler in a cart (he was just finishing up his fruit snacks), attempting to ask her what she was looking for. She was up one aisle and down the other as I maneuvered behind her with the cart. She was much quicker than I was and it’s hard to push those carts, so it will come as no surprise when I tell you that she disappeared from my line of vision. We were in the back of the store, in the home decor section. I turned up an aisle of picture frames just in time to see mom’s red hair flash around the corner. And then I heard an ear piercing noise. My first instinct was to cover my ears, but I knew right away that my mom was responsible for setting off the store alarm. I rushed around the corner to see mom, standing by the emergency exit, one hand still on the door, looking puzzled at where that loud sound was coming from.

I grabbed mom’s arm and pulled her away from the door, the alarm screaming so loudly that mom couldn’t hear me. In no time, there was a Kohl’s associate rushing to the back door to turn off the alarm. I apologized for the mistake (once the piercing sound was stopped) and pondered on the irony of the situation: it wasn’t my two-year-old that has set off the alarm, but rather my grown mom.

Mom seemed not to notice the commotion she had caused but rather went about her goose chase, calling across the store,

“Are you a worker??”

The sales associate (who had turned off the alarm) came back to mom at mom’s beckoned call, and patiently assisted her as mom asked her what her Kohl’s coupon mailers were for (not that I hadn’t explained it to her at least half a dozen times already!!!!!)

The rest of the shopping trip was fairly uneventful, aside from chasing a feisty two-year-old while attempting to not lose my mom. By the time we left, I felt ready for a nap!!

I have said this once before and with the holidays soon approaching I will say it again…to all those dear family members (and siblings of mine) who want to get mom a gift card for Christmas (or any other occasion): If you get her the card, you get to take her to spend it! It’s just not fair for me to have all this fun by myself ;)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Where’s Jeff??

Growing up, my mom was very close to her brother, Jeff. They are almost 2 years apart in age…to the day. A couple of years ago, Uncle Jeff moved to Montana. Mom always expresses her regrets at them moving and always talks about visiting him. We actually sent her up to visit a little over a year ago, for their birthday. They haven’t seen each other since that visit.

This month is Uncle Jeff’s wedding anniversary to his dear wife, my Aunt Starla. To celebrate, they booked a trip out here to California to visit their favorite places, friends and family. Mom has been anticipating this visit. On Monday, we all congregated at my sister’s house to visit with Uncle Jeff. Mom was the last to arrive. We were all standing around in the living room when mom dashed through the front door. Immediately she looked around the room and quickly made her way towards the kitchen. She was on a mission.

“Jeff? Jeff?”

I met her at the kitchen/living room entryway and directed her back to the living room, where Uncle Jeff was standing and chuckling.

“Hello, do you know who I am?” he said with a big grin.

Mom looked right past him and was trying to peek over my shoulder.

“My brother Jeff, Jeff? Have you seen him?” she said.

I know it is sad that she can’t recognize her own brother. However, it’s what we’ve come to expect with this disease. We can either cry about it or try to find some humor. Mom has such a childlike innocence about her that it’s hard to not smile sometimes. It was kind of cute to see her looking around in anticipation and excitement to find her brother. It reminded me of when people are standing in the airport, peering over shoulders in search of a loved one.

We finally clued her in to the man standing next to her.

“Mom, that is your brother,” I said, pointing to my Uncle.

“Huh, Jeff? You’re Jeff?” she said with a grin, nervously tugging at her hair. “You’re looking really differently too.”

Uncle Jeff gave his baby sister a hug, followed by Aunt Starla.

Trying to get mom to take a picture these days is quite a riot. Everyone was chuckling as we tried to get mom to pose for a picture. And more importantly…to look at the camera! She kept looking away, talking and giggling and we kept calling her name and trying to focus her attention back to the camera-much like you’d do when trying to photograph a baby! We eventually got some good shots ;)

uncle jeff and mom 20130902_161609