In 1992, due to my mom’s failing health conditions, she moved in with me. Not long after she was diagnosed with dementia. I suspected as much since I noticed a change in her dwindling memory.
While dementia / Alzheimer’s is nothing to be taken lightly, what I didn’t realize at the time was that mom’s health condition helped me provide her with better care. Mom was in a wheelchair. I’ll get to why that helped in a minute.
Mom’s dementia raced through her brain and within last two years of her life, she was completely non-verbal. (I’m also getting to that.)
Mom’s been gone four years now and not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could do it all over again. I miss her with all my heart. While I no longer have my mom, I was given another option.
A few months ago, an ad by a local gentleman was posted in our community online newsletter looking for help with his wife who has dementia. I thought I’d apply for the position since I’d taken care of mom.
Mr. J was impressed with what I offered and hired me immediately.
Here’s where his wife differs from my mom.
Mom was unable to walk. Ann can.
Mom was non-verbal. Ann is somewhat verbal.
Mom was very placid. Ann is most of the time but not always.
If mom’s imagination still existed, she didn’t have the capability to show it. Ann’s is and she does.
Now I’ll elaborate.
While mom couldn’t walk and Ann can, I always knew where mom was. Ann seems to have a problem sitting still for more than ten minutes unless she’s eating lunch.
She wanders around constantly moving anything within her reach. That’s okay but all too often, she’ll move her husband’s laptop and important business papers. No matter where he puts them, she’ll find and move them.
I’m thankful their home is small. Like all homes, there are two doors: front and back.
Mr. J. found it necessary to put in a second deadbolt lock in the back door that is just above Ann’s reach. I count my blessings each time I’m there as Ann tries constantly to walk out the door to “go home”.
I keep inventing reasons why she shouldn’t be leaving the house. I tried once telling her she was home and that didn’t make her at all happy. I changed tactics and said we needed to wait for her husband since he had the key to the car. That’s calmed her down.
Don’t misunderstand me. Ann and I leave the house and walk around the community several times a day, but she’s determined that she needs to, as I said, “go home”.
She surely keeps me on my toes.
The second issue is speech. While mom’s speech quickly became nonexistent, as if she had no vocal cords at all. Mom never uttered one sound. Ann, on the other hand, can utter a few words but most of she tries to say are nothing more than buzzing sounds. I know she thinks she’s speaking intelligently, but in reality, what anyone would hear is: “And that one, bzzzz, bzzz, bzzzz.” I have to study her facial expressions to have an idea of whom and what she’s referring to and has it made her happy, confused, or angry and then reply with, “Oh Wow! I didn’t know that!” Then Ann will say, “Yeah!”
We have some strange conversations that only she really understands.
Ann has also exhibited a few minor anger issues. She has a stuffed toy that she loves – sometimes. She’ll cradle the toy as though it were a small child. She’ll sing to it, speak to it, and often hold her imaginary conversations with it. On a few rare occasions, she’d buzz-ask the toy a question. No answer. (Reminder: it is a stuffed toy that can’t speak) She’ll ask again. Still no answer. This might go on for a few minutes and with each time, Ann waits for an answer that won’t come, her patience wanes until finally, she snaps. She grabs the toy by the head and shakes it violently while demanding an answer, “Speak to me” “Speak to me”. When none comes, she abruptly stands up, still tightly holding the toy but its head, and slams it down on another chair and curtly says, “Then don’t answer me! Bzzzz,, Bzzzz Bzzz.”
By the time, this tirade is over, I’ve retrieved a piece of chocolate and when she turns to me, I say pleasantly, “Oh Ann! Look what I’ve found. I think you’ll like this.”
She accepts the candy, sits down next to me, and picks up her small photo album and points to each photo buzzing its description.
Ann is, for the most part, a delight to care for. Easy? Not at all. Pleasant? Most of the time. Would I stop going to see her? Absolutely not!
The other day right before I made her lunch, I suggested she wash her hands. She did. I stood next to her with a towel. Her eyes lit up as if I’d given her a great gift. She smiled, dried her hands and said, “Thank you. You’re the sweetest lady.” And then she hugged me. It was the highlight of the day!
While Ann in her own way can be much more difficult than my mom had been, she could do something my mom was unable to do.
She hugged me.