Last night, after work, we gathered up my husband's mom from the old age facility / senior's home / nursing home (what is the proper terminology anymore?) because it was her 81st birthday. We presented her with a sumptuous box of fancy cookies which she can stash in her room and enjoy with her tea that is brought around in the evenings, and also with a very soft, fluffy long robe. She tends to feel cold most of the time and although she gets properly dressed every day, in the evenings she tends to change after supper into pajamas and settle down for a night of tv. Perhaps a new, cozier robe would be nice.
We took her out to dinner at a nice restaurant in a small town close by which reminded her of England, where she lived for several years and visited fairly regularly afterwards. Upon arriving, our waitress showed us the table (which they had prepared for her birthday with fun little shiny decorations on the table cloth and birthday napkins) and mother-in-law heard her English accent. Thus began the telling of her life story. Granted, my mother-in-law does have an incredible life story, one involving death, war, war camps, and emigration / immigration. However, to begin telling it from start to finish is just part of her affliction with dementia. The waitress, I must say, was kind and sweet and respectful and we did our best to wrap things up so that she could go on about her other duties.
Getting old is not for sissies, which is apparently a Bette Davis quote, is an understatement. My mother-in-law is incredibly healthy in that she doesn't take any medication, she is perfectly mobile, she has no impending medical procedures apart from getting her much needed cataract surgery, and doesn't even complain of aches and pains. Her mind, however, is a whole different ballgame. Dementia has robbed her of many memories, and when she doesn't remember, she tends to fill in gaps with fabrications. It is a coping strategy, I understand. As a coping strategy for my husband and I, we have deemed it "M.S.U." (making sh#t up) and we understand it, and accept it, and don't correct her. She also has no clue that she repeats her words over and over within the span of just a few minutes. We don't point it out. None of this is her fault, nor is it deliberate. Years ago, she stopped doing those normal every day things she always did, like making meals, cleaning house, doing laundry. I think she just forgot how, forgot the sequence of events, forgot the details. Then we realized she was worried about forgetting where she was and how to get back somewhere. When she was living in a different place, one that was more like a senior's apartment, she joined the rest of the residents for her evening meals. It involved taking an elevator and walking a couple of hallways. I created a step by step map for her. She hung onto that thing for dear life.
My own mother wrapped up her life as an immobile, pain ridden, demented individual. She required much more individual care than my mother-in-law and I believe suffered from Alzheimers which caused her to ask if Father was still alive (he wasn't), talk about being back home, on the farm (she was in the city, in a nursing home), and from time to time become an angry, belligerent monster due to frequent urinary tract infections (a bizarre phenomenon which I never knew about until it started happening to her). There were certainly times when we were able to visit with her and talk and she still knew us, her immediate family, right up until the end.
Aging. With dementia and Alzheimer's in my family, it is something I worry about. I actually don't worry about the other biggies like cancer or heart disease. We have a pretty good track record when it comes to those. It is the turning of my brain into Swiss cheese that concerns me. I still haven't figured out if there is actually anything people can do to prevent it or not. Decidedly, I could eat better, I could DEFINITELY exercise more (guilt, guilt, guilt). I do keep my mind active, a big part of my profession, so I'm not overly worried about that. How much do genetics play into this? I probably don't even want to know the answer to that - too scary.
It is a good kick in the pants to live your life, and enjoy it, and treat it like it's your last day (within reason) because none of us knows what lies down the road. It is also a good reminder to keep your finances in order so that there will be money enough when and if you need the care later in life.
Have you been a caregiver to a parent with dementia? Is it something you think about? Is your family blessed with great genetics?