Baby Boomer Caregiver – Dealing with Dementia Part II

Posted in Uncategorized  by: admin
March 28th, 2011

When a loved one is ill and elderly it is sometimes easier to do everything for them. Almost treating them like a child. As my mother-in-law’s health started to deteriorate along with her mind I decided to spend a few extra minutes with each of her doctors to find out what limitations on her activities would benefit her and what limitations would actually do more harm than good.  She was in congestive heart failure and had difficulty breathing.  At the age of 86 the woman who played golf 3 days a week two years before didn’t want to get out of bed and many days didn’t know where she was.  After 3 ambulance rides to the hospital, the doctors determined she would be a good candidate for a pace maker. The procedure was minimally invasive they assured us and would greatly improve her stamina. We discussed all the pros and cons of surgery for someone her age and decided that because she had always been in good physical health, had never been hospitalized until recently and took very little medication, we would proceed.  The surgery was a success and the pacemaker helped ease her labored breathing and allowed her to walk longer distances.  Not marathons but from her bedroom to the kitchen without stopping 3 or 4 times.  Of course, along with the pacemaker came coumidin, potassium pills, a statin for cholesterol, pacemaker check-ups and more doctor’s visits.  Time to buy a calendar. I posted a chart in her kitchen with all her medications and the times and how they were to be taken.  I used a dry erase board to write the day and date in big letters so my mother-in-law would know what day it was each morning as she drank her coffee. I had noticed how embarrassed she was when she had to ask someone what day it was. Now she would tell us.  It was also time to get help. There would be no nursing home because my husband had promised his mother he would do everything he could to keep her at home. Because she lived next door to us and we were close enough to check on her throughtout the day it made it easier. But – we both worked.  Thankfully our office was not far from home and being married to the boss made it easier for us to stop in the morning and give her medications, get her dressed and put on her favorite TV shows.  I would bring lunch or make it and we would both stop again after work to visit while we prepared dinner and got her ready for bed.  Because my children also lived so close, they would take turns during the day to check on her.  If she had a particularly bad day one of us would spend the night.  Soon it became evident that we  could not leave her alone for any extended period of time even with the beeper the home  alarm company had set up and she wore around her neck so that it immediately called my cell phone and then 911when pressed. What if she forgot she had it or was unable to press it?

After weeks of searching, a good friend whose mother had recently  passed away told me about her mother’s caregiver who had several friends who took care of the elderly in their  home. This was  how I met Anita or St. Teresa as I often called her during the next 3 years.  Anita moved in.  She needed a place to stay and we needed her. Anita couldn’t cook  and she didn’t drive but she could do what was most needed.  Anita became a companion who would talk clamly to her aggitated patient, bathe her and wash  her hair,  paint her finger nails a new color each week, take her for walks outside to enjoy the sun and sit her on a chair while she weeded the garden, wash the clothes and clean the house and watch all the sopa operas Mom had been watching for 50 years.  Every Saturday the three of us would go grocery shopping  and then stop for lunch.  In the afternoon we would prepare the meals for the week so cooking would not be such a chore.  On Sundays I would drive Anita to her friend’s home for the day and pick her up at night.  On the days Mom had doctors’ appointments, we would first take  Anita to the shopping center or drop her at the movie show or at her friend’s home then pick her up when we were done.  Although Anita always protested that she didn’t need any time off, I  knew only too well that it is mentally as well as physically demanding to take care of someone. And my mother-in-law was NOT easy.  She would accuse  Anita of taking things or of not feeding her.  Kind of like “Driving Miss Daisy”.  Thankfully Anita had thick skin and she would joke with Mom. They  became good friends and Anita became a member of the family.  My 3 year old grandson Charlie would walk over every night with me to visit while I gave Mom her medications.  He would climb up on “Little Gramdma’s” lap and she would ask him whose picture was on the one dollar bill.  “George Washington” he would say proudly and Mom would ask for her wallet and hand Charlie a dollar.  Charlie would hand the dollar back as we left “for next time.” It was a game that kept them both happy.

It is hard to find things to do with an elderly dementia patient.  There is a fine line between treating someone with dignity or condescension, like the parent you remember and respect or the child they have become.  I bought puzzles with large pieces thinking the great grandchildren could help Mom put it together on each visit if we left it out on a card table.  I soon learned that Mom had no interest in doing a puzzle probably because she had never done one when she was well.  Crossword puzzles yes – board puzzles no.  A visit to the kids’ school for hot lunch was a success as long as we only visited one classroom each time ( remember I have 16 grandchildren in the same school) and Mom enjoyed eating pizza and meeting their friends.  My four grandsons who are 12, 13 and 14 all play golf.  They would sit with Mom and watch the golf tournaments on television.  Fred Couples was her all time favorite and the boys would tease her when he came on the screen saying “Gram your boyfriend is on.”  She always laughed with them.

My mother-in-law  had a green thumb.  She could grow anything and her yard was a testament to her skill.  She still loved the garden but was not able to work in it anymore.  One warm spring Saturday the great grandchildren decided we should  build a rose garden in the area next to the shed for Little Grandma to sit in.  The older boys dug out the sod and helped me turn the dirt.  The younger boys spread the rocks we dumped in the winding path.  The girls put in the small fence to frame the garden leaving an opening at the ends of the path.  They found a comfortable chair in the shed, washed it and placed it where they thought Little Grandma could most enjoy the garden.  Everyone helped with the planting.  A quick trip to the garden shop for a bird bath and feeder and an ornamental globe and the garden was complete.  As we walked Mom out to the garden it was hard to tell who was happier – Mom or the kids. She spent many hours sitting in her chair enjoying the flowers and birds.

As the warm weather faded so did Mom’s energy.  It was time for another big decision.

Comments are closed.