Two days ago I received a phone call from The Seasons where Mom lives, telling me Mom had taken “a turn,” a red flag that something was off with her behavior. The nurse proceeded to provide me with examples of what she had witnessed: “She can't remember her name. She needed assistance showering and dressing this morning. She doesn't recognize her apartment, lobby, or dining hall. She said her ‘head feels empty and confused.’”
The nurse then offered a few solutions; i.e. taking a urine sample for a UTI test, (Urinary Tract Infection which is common with dementia patients and older folks), putting her on antibiotics, and increasing her Sertraline medication she takes for anxiety.
After this conversation with the nurse, I then proceeded to call Mom to talk with her myself. She recognized it was me, but that was about it. “I don’t know what is happening,” she says. “I am totally confused. Where am I supposed to be?”
I asked if she had been laying down. “I guess so," she says. "My blanket is on the bed.” “Good!" I answered encouragingly. "That is exactly where you’re supposed to be!”
I mentioned lunchtime was approaching and that perhaps she could get ready to meet her friends in the dining room. "What do I need to do for that?” she asks. “Are you dressed?” I ask. “Do you have your shoes nearby?” She said she did, so I then talked her through leaving her apartment and walking down the hallway to the dining room.
Before we hung up, she asks, “Do I put the phone down on that thing-a-ma-jig?” She couldn’t remember the word for the phone “base,” or “cradle.” Mom continued, “Do I know where the dining hall is?” I encouraged her in an unrushed, soothing voice that she would know where it was once she started down the hallway. At best, I knew she would find it on her own, or at worse, the staff would help her.
Before getting off the phone with her, I wanted to try and shift her brain out of this fog, even if it worked only temporarily. For Mom, I know she loves hearing anything about my pups, Frankie and Marco. I therefore launched into a quick story about them. Because of my many previous encounters with mom going through this exact same scenario, I knew that by doing this, it would erase all memory of the confusion she had just experienced and my few instruction to get her to the dining hall. I didn’t care. A dog tale with Frank’s silly attitude is always worth the sidebar.
“Really, Mom?” I said on Frank’s behalf. “I have to go outside in this weather to poop?”
“Until you learn how to use indoor plumbing, wipe and flush properly, Mister Frank Sinatra,” I said, “Yes. Out you go!”
Mom laughed her great laugh, so I knew I was on the right track. I continued, “And be sure to clean up after Marco too. He’s too old to be doing that. Use the pooper-scooper by the bucket.”
Mom roared, and said, “I can just see one of Frank’s looks! God that dog is funny!”
Mission accomplished! After realizing that, I brought the conversation back to the current time reminding her to be sure and put her shoes on for lunch. In the end, her attitude was a bit better when we got off the phone, but this disease had definitely taken a dip without sprinkles this particular day.
WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE
Dementia “dips” are a reality check. What I know for sure is I am always in some form of grief every single day. What I know for sure is she is always at the forefront of my thoughts. My position in life is, and has been, the center balancing point of a teeter-totter: my surreal life on one end, and Mom’s real life on the other. That’s just the way it is.
What I know for sure is it doesn’t matter whether Mom remembers our phone conversations or visits, or that she doesn’t know how to dress herself anymore, or that she doesn’t recognize her surroundings, or the names of things or people. What matters is I know somewhere in her being, somewhere in her spirit and her soul, she can still take in love, humor and joy. What I know for sure is my efforts of kindness, stories, and patience serve as a touch stone for her. And her response, at least for today, serves as a touch stone for me.