Monday, December 14, 2015

Sunshine for the Soul

People ask me all the time if there is medication to help slow the progression of dementia. The answer is no. There are some medications to help with the symptoms of the disease. In mom's case, she has become very anxious with this disease. Lately, she has been spending her days looking out the window and the front door and banging on them to get out. The difficulty in taking her out is that she is unaware of any boundaries. She doesn't look for cars when she walks into the street, she will walk into people's houses (usually people she knows, but she has been known to walk up to the wrong door). Most of our caregivers are too nervous to take her out because they feel uncomfortable in how to manage whatever shenanigans mom gets into. But mom gets restless being cooped inside the house day in and day out.

Dad started her on some anxiety meds a few weeks ago. We felt like her anxiety (about getting out of the house) has gotten to the point that she needs something to calm her down-for her benefit as well as the caregivers, who feel helpless at times. The medication seems to be working. She still goes to the door and window several times a day, but she's not quite beating the door down like she was before.

Last week, I took mom to visit her sister again. I thought it would calm her down for the day. Her visit was brief and shortly after we returned home, she was looking out the door again. She bounced between the front door and the window. I knelt beside her on the couch, peering out the window, and she started pointing to the chairs that sat in front of the window, on the patio. In her slurred manner of speaking, I made out what she was saying,

"I can sit there, yeah?"

"Do you want to sit outside mom?" I asked, debating if this would be a wise idea.

I decided I would try it out and see what mom did if I let her outside. I was a little nervous that she would run off on me, but I am not uncomfortable with blocking her or physically bringing her back home (and she isn't too aggressive at this point). I opened the door and told mom to come outside to sit down. She looked at me, seemingly unsure if I was really going to let her out or not.

"I can go out yeah?" she asked, hesitating at the door and looking at me suspiciously.

"Yes mom, you can come outside. Come sit down in the chair. It's a beautiful day," I said, motioning her over to the chairs. Mom cautiously stepped one foot outside the door and ever so carefully made her way to the chair and sat down. She sat forward, looking up the street and started waving her hands and talking. I could make out a few words of what she was saying: "Kristie" (she wanted to go visit her friend/avon lady up the street), "driver" (she used to be a driver), "Ellen" (asking to go to Ellen's again). I gave her the responses: "Kristie is at work", "I know, you were a good driver", "We already went to Ellen's".

After a few minutes, mom stepped up and started walking around the front yard, making her way over to the side gate. She opened the gate and attempted to sit on a big, empty box that dad had sitting next to the trash can. I directed her back to the chairs where it was safer to sit and she walked past the chairs and down the driveway. I was getting a little nervous that she might try to bolt across the street so I stood in front of her and let her talk and point around the neighborhood. She settled down a bit and sat on the brick wall that encircles the perimeter of the yard. I sat down beside her and mom silently looked up the street. Side by side we sat as the warm sun beat against our backs. I glanced over at her and her eyes slowly closed as she said (rather clearly) and pointing to her back,

"This feels good. It's warm, it's not cold."

I smiled and agreed with mom. My heart was warmed by her simple contentment to just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget to appreciate the little things in life. This time of year has been especially crazy and busy for me, but mom reminded me to take a few minutes to enjoy the simple things in life, like the feel of the warm sunshine on my back. In that half hour that we spent sitting outside, I was able to just sit back and appreciate a moment with my mom, basking in the fresh air and sunshine. It seems like such a small thing to those of us who enjoy everyday life to the fullest. And life seems to buzz by so fast that we (or at least, I) sometimes forget to stop and appreciate the little things. But to someone like my mom who has reverted back to a simpler life, this moment outside made her day. I will always remember the way she looked when she was sitting on that brick wall, soaking up the sun and enjoying the moment.