Grouchy Week

It has been a little disheartening this week, visiting my mother. She has been so agitated and angry, with little clue as to why. My only recourse has been to work on distracting and cheering her up and so far I have been successful. I’m beginning to feel like I am her only lifeline to peace and it is a bit overwhelming.

Yesterday I arrived just as her caregiver was waiting by the bathroom door where Mother was moaning on the toilet about whatever unhappiness she was experiencing. Whitney, her regular helper, said, “Guess who is waiting to see you when you are done?” and it successfully broke Mother out of her rhythmic pattern as she found out the answer was “your daughter, Nancy!” Soon after that, while I sat waiting on her bed, she slipped back into her grouchiness and began repeating over and over, “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” Oh, poor Whitney. I wonder how often she is subjected to this kind of abuse.  She seemed to take it in her stride and said, “It’s okay, you’ll love me tomorrow.”

Once Mother was back in her wheelchair and Whitney had gone away, I was able to get her quieted down and as the tears ran down her cheeks I tried to get her to articulate what was bothering her. Was it pain, sadness, some bad experience she could express? She seemed so frustrated, but unable to remember or speak what was upsetting her. I pushed away the anguish I was feeling for her and focused on turning things around. I opened the magazine I’d brought and got her looking at the pictures and sniffing those annoying cologne samples between the pages. When she’d broken the pattern of anger and tears, the world looked better and we took a walk down the hall to listen to a musician who was singing for the residents in the dining room.

Now and then her eyebrows would begin to furrow and I could see the dark clouds forming so I took preventative action and distracted her with something new. Just like  handling a baby, I thought, after a week visiting with my 4-month old grandson. But, like a visit with an infant, I was able to leave her an hour and a half later smiling and content. I tried not to think about how long it might be before her caregivers once again had to deal with her bad moods.

As often happens, on my drive home a depression began to settle over my spirit. There is not a happy ending to this story, just a slow ride to Worse. So, just as I did for my mother, I worked on distracting myself with happier things and moving on with my life, such as it is. My own world, minus my mother’s agonies, is generally very pleasant and peaceful. Focus on that.


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Interpersonal Relations With Dementia

I was over visiting Mother yesterday, joining her at concert by a little bell choir from a local church, in the dining room. She always loved music (and performing), so I figured we could enjoy it together.

As we settled into our places and waited for the musicians to set up, some interesting interactions began among the residents. First, apparently we had been placed at the table where some other residents usually sit for meals. When those residents came in, they started trying to push their wheelchairs in between and one bumped mother’s chair from the back. She got irritated and I explained into her hearing aid that it was just an accident. She made a face and clearly did not believe it was unintentional. Another resident scolded the ones trying to squeeze in, telling them there was not room.

The caregiver came over and tried to smooth it over while my mother attempted conversation with the lady in front of her. Her nonsensical sentences were interpreted by the lady as insults and she started frowning and calling back over her shoulder in anger. The caregiver got frustrated and asked why everyone was so agitated today, and moved the cranky lady across the room. Meanwhile, my mother keeps talking to people around her and I was worried she’d offend someone else. The pair who were trying to squeeze into what they thought was their rightful place was still standing next to us, and Mother started complimenting the lady on her blouse and her sparkling eyes. That seemed to work, because she turned friendly and they were now great friends.

They squeezed through the space left by the woman who moved across the room and lined up against the wall. The woman’s son showed up with a nurse and they commenced to wheedle her into taking her medicine which had been crushed into a little cup of pudding. Apparently she’d been refusing and they were chasing her down to get her to take it. My mother tried to become part of that conversation across the room as well, and I was relieved when the bell ringers finally began their music. Mother did not pay as polite attention as she always insisted we do as children, but instead her eyes kept wandering the room looking for people to comment on, loudly. I kept crossing my fingers that she would not start another international incident.

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Indignant Day

Boy, my mother was so angry today! I showed up to her room and she was looking out her window into the nice courtyard where people were sitting in their wheelchairs enjoying the fresh breezes. She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “I’m so glad you’re here. It’s just terrible!”  I inquired what was terrible and she looked at me like I was crazy or something. “Those old people in our front yard!”

I laughed – I couldn’t help it – and said they were just enjoying the nice day, and would she like me to take her out there as well. She furrowed her brow and said, “NO!” For the next half hour everything I suggested got that same response. I tried to stay light hearted and change the subject to something more positive. I told her I’d brought new pictures of her new great-grandson that she might like to see.  She gave me a hard look and said I must be trying to trick her. Would she like to see them? “No.” Look at this cute baby. “No.” Should I put it up on your corkboard? “No.” Maybe I’d better rearrange the pictures to make room. “No.”

And so on. After a while, her mood began to lighten up and we got back to normal, but not until I’d closed her curtains so she couldn’t see those intruders “in her front yard.” I took her on a stroll in her wheelchair and then down to the dining room where she has been moved to a new spot at the table so she is not facing the lady who seems to get her riled up. She teases my mother about her occasional crying spells and it makes her weepy and mad. They assigned a new resident to sit in my mother’s normal spot and I helped introduce everyone. Hopefully this new arrangement may make her life seem more in control.


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Sharing Death Notices

It’s a sticky issue when I receive word that one of my mother’s friends has passed away. I want to share the notice with her because it was someone important to her, but I fear her reaction. Generally, I try to break it to her simply and then move on to talking about how she remembers that person. I don’t dwell on how and when they died, and I sure don’t want it to morph into her bitter sadness that her own time is long overdue.

Tonight, I’d received a nice hand-written note from the daughter of the woman who had been my own first grade teacher and had been friends with my mother over many years in our home town. There was a photo included with the little card given away at the funeral. The way I approached it was by showing Mother the photo and asking if she looked familiar. She just commented on the strong crossed-arm pose and did not seem to have any idea who it might be. I told her who it was and that she’d died in February.

Surprisingly, I got very little reaction at all. I think she is past the point of thinking clearly about new information, so I guess my fears of her feeling loss, regret, or even envy were not well founded. I don’t know whether to feel relieved or devastated at one more piece of her personality gone for good.

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New Neighbor at the Home

This is an interesting new twist. My sister just had a knee replacement done and decided to take her Medicare rehabilitation time at my mother’s nursing home. She moved into one of the few private rooms last night and will be just a short wheelchair ride down the hall from my mother for a couple weeks.

I keep telling Mother about it so she’ll understand and won’t panic when she sees Becky in bandages.  She tends to worry about her kids. I am hoping my sister is tough enough to handle her recovery with a brave smile and assure my mother that everything is okay. The last thing we need is for Mother to be in tears over some perceived tragedy.

Last week the nurse called to get permission to add a new drug that the “Psych Doctor” recommended. It has been helpful in many cases to reduce the sudden, spontaneous bouts of weeping and anxiety that my mother has been experiencing.  We’ll give it a couple weeks and see if it works. These are as distressing to us as they are to my mother because you never know what to expect. It requires steely determination to distract her and move on without worrying or breaking down, yourself.

Yesterday, the OT therapist came to work with Mother while I was visiting, so I got a chance to observe their “activities” together. The therapist laid out four large playing cards, one of each suit. Then she handed my mother a card and asked her to lay it on top of one of the same suit — the same shape. It was so disheartening that my mother couldn’t grasp the concept. She, who used to win at complex card games with her grandchildren just 15 years ago. She got angry after the third card, sensing that she was failing a test. At that point I left because it was too hard to watch and maybe my presence was part of the problem.

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Broken Tooth

Sigh. Just when you think you’ve gotten used to everything, something new comes up. Mother surprised us last week with a big vertical chip out of her front tooth. She said it doesn’t hurt, and she has no idea how it happened, but she keeps sticking her tongue in it and it looks terrible.

She is approaching the end of her savings, and my sister has the ball rolling to shift over to Medicaid when that happens so that she can stay where she is. One of those steps was cancelling her dental insurance when the next big payment came up, and of course that happened a week before her tooth broke. We’d been paying for full coverage and discovered a few months ago that she had never been seen in the year of living in the facility. We got that corrected but it is challenging to keep on people to make sure she is getting attention since routine things like that do not get reported to us.

So, anyway, I don’t know what will happen next. I asked the nurse to put my mother on the schedule to be seen by the visiting dentist and to inform me of what he/she says can be done. I’m realizing my prejudices, because just seeing her with her broken smile gives me the gut feeling that I’m looking at someone who is both poor and ignorant. If she looked in the mirror, I suspect she’d feel the same way and be horrified.

If they recommend building her a “partial” to wear, it is probably a waste of effort because she’s sure to take it out and lose it, just like the hearing aids. I don’t know what to do!

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Hearing Aid Woes

It is such a struggle to maintain some sense of hearing for my Mother. Between her own lack of good sense now that causes her to pull hearing aids out and mess with them, sometimes tucking them into tissues or bags, and her caregivers’ lack of attention to whether she is wearing them and are they turned on, she is at the end of her options. She arrived with one very expensive custom-tuned hearing aid. After 6 months it disappeared for the last time, so I used the insurance we’d bought that covers a “lost” hearing aid one time only and we got a replacement. This required finding a company who would come to the nursing home to get it done, as I can no longer transport her for an office visit.

A few months ago, the second hearing aid was lost. The nursing home suggested she could borrow their “hearing amplifier” that is a crude hearing aid with a volume control. It actually worked as well as the $2000 hearing aid, and was free to us, so hooray. Then, a few weeks ago this one had a part break off and vanish so she went without hearing until I convinced them to let her use another one. Now, that one broke as well and they will not loan me another.

So, knowing that anything we get for her will be more or less disposable over a period of a few months, we have to decide if we should keep trying.  It is so hard to visit with her when she can’t make out what we are saying. I’d think it would be hard on her to never know what’s going on. Her mind is bad enough as it is, but not being able to hear doubles the difficulty.

I’m going to do some internet research on other options. Perhaps we could get her to wear headphones that would be difficult to lose. If anyone has good ideas, please let me know.

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