- Posted March 21, 2011 by
Colorado Springs, Colorado
This iReport is part of an assignment:
What I Know: Alzheimer's disease
Nancy's High Heels
My mom Nancy is now 85, and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's for about 10 years. The timing of Mom's condition is a little fuzzy for me. The years have already turned into one decade. We started noticing her having some difficulties in 2002, two years after my dad passed away.
Since then, it's been a roller coaster ride.
She now lives in a wonderful assisted living home about five minutes from me and my husband in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She thinks she's on vacation from California where she "still has a house." In reality, my brother Mike sold her house in Woodland Hills, California in order to pay for her care. Her facility does not accept Medicaid, so when her funds run out in a little over a year, we'll have to move her to another place. Not looking forward to that at all.
The beginning was so hard. I realized Mom needed help way before my brother did. It took about two more years for him to come to terms with the fact that we needed to sell her house and move her to Colorado near me.
Mom is now in the mid-stage of the disease, but the beginning stage was so hard for her because she had an awareness that something was wrong, but she just couldn't figure out what, and couldn't accept that it might be Alzheimer's. It was heart-wrenching to witness.
Getting all the paperwork going in the beginning was very hard as well. We had to get her to sign the financial and medical powers of attorney. It was World War III. The only way I got through that was by using a term I had learned called "therapeutic lying." At some point, you have to determine that your parent is not capable of making her own decisions. She is now a toddler and you are the parent. You have to use all that is within you to make the best decisions and see to it that they are put into practice. Mom was most worried that we would sell her house. We HAD to sell her house. And we HAD to tell her that we would not sell her house. We had to do both things at once.
Then we had to get her to move into the assisted living place. For a couple of weeks prior to move in day, Mom had spent some time visiting the home during the day to "help out a friend of mine" with some projects. This was suggested by the activities director. Jim and I had moved her belongings into the room over the weekend. On Monday, she arrived to help with the Harvest Festival and I did not come back that day to pick her up. In fact, they suggested I not contact her for about two weeks to give her a chance to get used to the idea of living in the new home. She was as mad as a hornet, but eventually got used to it. As I said, her mind settles the question by thinking she's on vacation. She even remembers the 800 number for United Airlines and regularly, several times a week, calls to reserve a flight to LAX.
I should mention that some of the staff was opposed to the idea of therapeutic lying. So was my brother at first. But when I would tell her the truth, for instance, that her house was sold, she would go into such a deep emotional tailspin for hours - crying and screaming - and then forget the "truth" after taking a nap, that I believed and still believe that it is not worth putting her through all of that so I can feel better about telling her the truth.
The best decision we made was to take Mom on the trip of a lifetime - to Greece. My cousin Joan, me and Mom visited my grandparents' birthplaces, the tiny towns of Agia Sophia on the island of Samos where grandma was born, and Megalopolis in the southern part of the mainland where grandpa was born. It was a now or never type of decision. I don't know that we could have taken the trip had we waited even six months.
Mom's short-term memory is definitely getting worse. It is hard to witness, and hard to handle. Of course, it makes me sad to see her deteriorate. At the same time, it's hard to hear her say the very same things over and over again. For instance, she loves reading the Sunday newspaper. She will obsess over the ads especially for shoes. "Oh, Tina - look at these gorgeous shoes! I feel like getting a pair of high heels and looking like a lady." 30 seconds later: "Tina, look at these shoes! Aren't they beautiful? You know what, I feel like doing something crazy and getting a pair of high heels. I want to feel like a lady. I'm tired of wearing pants." 30 seconds later: "Tina, come here. Did you see these shoes? Aren't they something? I feel like getting a pair." Once the obsessing begins, it's hard to interrupt it. You have to redirect her attention, just like a toddler.
It's a balancing act now between letting her make decisions or making them for her, listening to her repeat stories or redirecting her attention, letting her do the dishes even if I have to redo them, taking her out at night to an event or bringing her home early to rest, etc., etc.
Helpful hint #1: Have a sense of humor. Laugh about the absurdness. Sometimes I will answer her repeated questions with different answers. She doesn’t know the difference and it makes me laugh a little bit. I don’t do it to be mean, just to relieve the monotony of answering the same question over and over and over and over again within a very short span of time.
Helpful hint #2: Take deep breaths, and let it all out. Express your frustrations in a healthy way. Talk to God and other kind souls. Don’t bottle it up.
A roller coast ride. A balancing act. This journey with Mom is one I am grateful to be part of. One I hope my kids are paying attention to so that when it’s time to take care of me, they’ll know it’s OK to have a sense of humor and express frustrations!