By Jane Charles a/k/a Amy De Trempe
I’ve been away from LadyScribes for a bit due to some changes in my family. My mother, who has dementia, could no longer live on her own and we had to move her to first, an assisted living center, and then to a dementia unit within a nursing home. She had lived in this house for over 50 years and rarely left it in the past three unless we took her somewhere because she no longer drove. Well, she thought she could drive but when the car broke down we somehow couldn’t manage to get it fixed. These decisions were cemented when we realized she had not paid for car insurance, her driver’s license had expired (and I did take her to see if she could even pass the test) and the tags on her car were expired. That was the first wakeup call that mom was on the downhill slide (the car situation took place little over a year ago).
Until recently we had no idea her dementia had progressed as far as it had. Her days were the same and until somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas she forgot how to make coffee (something she did at least twice a day for as long as I could remember), how to do the laundry and cook. But because she did everything else, we thought an assisted living center would be good. She isn’t a wanderer so that wasn’t a concern. She liked her television and that was about it. Assisted living seemed to be the answer because she would have her own small apartment and someone to clean, do her laundry and meals were provided. After being evaluated it was determined she was suited for assisted living
Well, we soon learned that taking her out of the familiar environment only compounded her symptoms. We gave it a week and it wasn’t working out. After being told she “needed to leave” (and I don’t blame the facility) I was scrambling to find a dementia unit that had a bed available. I was shocked to find out how few places there are in my area. By the way, there are a number of wonderful facilities if you have a decent retirement, own property or have investments. My mother had none of these. She didn’t even own her home any longer having sold it to a family member years before so she could pay off bills. She is on Medicare and receives Social Security, which covers her groceries and bills.
So, after thoroughly searching I found three places for dementia/Alzheimer’s patients that also take Medicaid within driving distance of my home and only one had a bed available. My timing was just right because usually there is a waiting list. The one in my town has a waiting list as does the one not far away. The one where my mother now resides is 30 minutes from my home, but it is a wonderful place and I feel lucky we were able to place her there. I could go on and on about the facility and the wonderful people who work there, but I won't. Just know that I consider them the most awesome people in the world. I could never do their job. Their patience, kindness, understanding and love for the residents is beyond anything I have ever witnessed in my life.
This entire process has been an emotional one, to say the least. First, moving her out, when she didn’t want to go. No matter how much we tried to explain she fought us. Who wants to leave the house their husband built fifty years ago? She insisted she was fine, but couldn’t tell you the day of the week, year or the names of her grandchildren. At this point, I am not sure she knows my name, just that I am the baby. But, she is settling in, thank goodness. When I was there two days ago she was sitting with a woman having a conversation. I have no clue what they were talking about however and then I wondered if they were like twins. You know, when twins are little they have their own language that only the two of them can understand. I wonder if that was the way with dementia patients. I am sure it was nonsense to both of them but I like to believe my mother was connecting with someone outside of the family and that the conversation meant something to her. Don’t anyone tell me differently, I want to believe this.
There have been up and down moments through this process. Some of the hardest have been sifting through the memories. I knew when the family was together this last Christmas that it would be the last in that house with my mother. I tried not to think of it that day, but it was there, in the back of my mind. Heck, she didn’t even realize it was Christmas and kept complaining about all the crap in the neighbors yards. This was the first year we didn’t put up her tree and decorate because we knew she wouldn’t get it. I put off moving her until after the holidays because I just didn’t want to do it at that time.
At least my brother, sister and I am all on the same page and there haven’t been any arguments, but I am her Power of Attorney so it was really difficult to sign those papers and get the ball rolling and I will admit that I did drag my feet the longest of the three of us.
Mom is settled now, but the work is not done. She lived in this house 50 years!!!! She quilted, knitted, cross-stitched, sewed, read, cooked, collected little house, pottery, baskets and angels. . . And, she hadn’t thrown away a bank statement or anything else in the past 20 year! Sometimes I am not sure we will ever get through everything. The first step has been to find any important papers we may need, then shred and burn what isn’t important as well as throw away garbage before we can have a sale.
What I have learned from this whole process is:
1) Eat foods that help the brain and memory (dark chocolate is my go-to for that). There is a whole list of healthier options but for the moment, that is the only one I can remember - lol; and
2) Don’t hold onto crap. I am borrowing a page from my sister’s book “if I haven’t used it in 6 months it is going in the garbage”.
If I start on my house now, maybe my kids won’t be asking “why the heck did mom keep this” when the time comes. Room by room my husband and I are purging our house. We are cleaning closets, drawers, and every corner. It is so easy to just accumulate stuff (a/k/a junk) that doesn’t matter or serve a purpose.
Do you find yourself being a pack rat or do you toss when something hasn’t been used within a certain amount of time?