ALZYISMS PART IV
It’s now week six of mother’s scheduled eight week “visit.” As is normal at this juncture, there is an uneasy tension in the air. You know, dead fish and guests stink after what, 3 days? I’m too lazy to look up the actual quote but you get the point. I think mother feels it and probably knows why on occasion. Eileen has been a trooper despite the enormous strain but she, I, and we have limits. They are being approached. No, that’s a lie, her limits have been exceeded and every day with her is a gift.
We returned from vacation Thursday night. We spent a week at our retirement home that we purchased in 2005. It’s a beautiful lakeside home that in our grand scheme would serve perfectly as a vacation home as well, until the big move when I hang up my spurs. Bringing your mother along on your vacation is an oxymoron. In this case though, it’s a little bit like taking the kids. It could be normal fun stuff. Except that this kid is 77 years old. There won’t be any fun stories for her to recall. No growth experiences or childhood memories. She won’t recall anything. We take pictures as always, and include her in them to help her remember. It doesn’t really work though. I guess they are pretty much for me.
Travel is a bane for Alzy folks. She has been going to the local senior center for quite some time in SoCal. It's good for her to get some peer involvement and conversation. But our first night in Missouri reveals confusion. "Am I going to the senior center tomorrow?" she asks. I have her look around the current cathedral ceiling of our lakehouse's living room that dwarfs our California home. I ask her if she knows where she is. She replys, "at Pat's." Not at "your" house mind you, but as if my name is an abstract. I remind her she is in Missouri but her response is the same. "Am I going to the senior center tommorrow?"
"No," I tell her. You are in Missouri, on vacation. My vacation.
Her routine is destroyed, a failing memory’s last bastion routed. It’s not her fault that the kitchen is different, the drawers are different. It’s like an Easter egg hunt for her to have a simple bowl of cereal with berries for breakfast. Except that she didn’t hide the eggs. It would be ok if she could just remember where stuff was but it is too hard for her. Each day begins anew. I watch as she decides that she’s looking for the cereal. It’s located in a cupboard near the refrigerator. With a bit of coaching she finds it. Now a bowl. And milk. And Berries. And bananas. Each an individual prolonged challenge. They are all located within a 3 foot radius. Finally a spoon.
Spoons are located across the kitchen. She methodically checks the drawers one at a time until she finds the spoons.
Am I being cruel not to just sit her down and feed her? Maybe. But I rationalize that to do so is to give up completely on all hope of self reliance. That would mean 24 hour care at an assisted living facility or nursing home. So far I feel comfortable leaving her alone for a couple of hours. When that comfort level is gone, it will be assisted living for her. We are trying an additional Alzheimer’s drug to augment mother’s current medication, Aricept, whose effects seem to be waning.
As I said, bringing your mother along on your vacation is really no vacation. But it had to be. After a serious house flooding catastrophe in February, the remediation contractor was nearly finished with his work and needed an owner inspection. That would be me. With the inspection a reasonable success, and after homeowner chores, some relaxation was afforded.
Our neighbor took us on a half day pontoon boat cruise. We all enjoyed the breeze, the water, taking a couple of dips. Mother had a fine time watching the blue herons flap up from their perches and displaying their natural gliding skills. Now, even if shown a picture, it’s pretty much a blank.
Not all is gloom and doom however, as she does manage to pull off occasional innocent amusing stunts. We visited our neighbor Judy one evening. Judy is probably in her early 70’s, lost her husband several years ago and lives at Coolwater in her own home with her son. They are nice people and mother took to them right away. Judy is a smoker. Mother smoked for 50 years until we forced her to quit last February. It was just too risky (and stinky) to let her continue. We are non-smokers. She used the patch at the lowest dose, along with ordinary gum and was detoxed in about a month.
The habit triggers took longer to expunge but it was controllable, except for one occasion. On her first night back at my brother’s he noticed that she was outside at the fence line smoking. We had stripped her of her smokes weeks prior. As it turned out she had a secret stash of a full carton rat holed in a winter coat pocket. A full carton! Since my brother and I were the only ones ever to purchase them for her, and only after making her do a pack count prior to purchase, we were amazed to find the little nest of contraband.
But back at Judy’s we were sitting at her counter enjoying evening libations, when Judy lit up. Mother, ever polite, had scoured her purse for a cigarette but found none. Then she asked Judy if she could buy one. I responded, “no, because you quit last February.” Mother was utterly surprised to hear that, either because she has no clue that 5 months have elapsed, or she just hasn’t processed the fact that she quit. She didn’t protest. Maybe she’s just sneaky and is testing us, but I don’t think so.
The return home was fairly uneventful. The packing game was limited to what she had brought with her, so garment selection was straight forward. Still, it took a couple of hours to pack 7 shirts, socks, and underwear.
At the airport we did the normal drill of pausing in front of security for her to locate her documents and explain to her that, yes shoes and watches have to go into those pesky bins. After clearing security and getting things back in order, mother dutifully marched to the boarding area towards her seat. We were amused as she was carting her empty security bin with her as if it were some sort of TSA parting gift. We had her return it to where the good natured guards ribbed her about, “letting it slide this time.”
We arrived late at LAX and caught the shuttle to the parking lot. We were home about midnight. I only had to hear the, “I’m gonna sleep good tonight” mantra four times in the 45 minute trip up the 405. That’s a record low. I think she was too tired to repeat herself.
Eight more days.
I do get an unexpected bonus. She hasn’t unpacked her suitcase from the vacation trip and is using her clothing in her drawers and closet. She won’t have to pack next week. Small miracles happen, for both of us.
Not looking for sympathy here, just expressing our realities, in an attempt to inform those who are unaware of what many of us face daily, and for what is forecast to be a national epidemic that will affect millions.
Copyright 2009 Patrick A Granfors