Saturday, November 19, 2005

Why Do It? (If She Can't Remember)

"You never come to see me," Mom said today when I showed up at 4:15 pm. "I sit here all day and wait for you and you never come. I'm not happy unless I can see your face."
"What do you mean I never come to see you?" I asked, laughing in exasperation. "We went to a P.E.O. meeting yesterday. It took all morning. Don't you remember?"
"Oh, yes," she said. "We did."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"Yes, but these people here aren't nice to me. They order me around, and they don't do what I want them to."
"Oh, they don't? Well, I guess that's hard to put up with. But didn't we have a nice day yesterday? Did you enjoy meeting those ladies?"
"Yes, they were very nice."
"Do you want to join their chapter and demit from Chapter DV in Boulder?"
"No, I don't want to demit."
"You don't?" I asked, bewildered. "Why not?"
"Because I'm going back to Boulder."
"Oh," I said and changed the subject.
I don't tell her, "You're never returning to Boulder. I don't know how I would get you on and off an airplane. Our last plane trip was disaster."
I reflect on whether taking her to a P.E.O. meeting is worth the effort when she barely thinks of it the next day, unless reminded.
Daniel Berrigan quotes Gandhi in saying, during his efforts peacefully to overthrow British rule in India, "The means and end must be the same, and if they are the same, the end is already achieved."
I don't know if this can be applied to the care of a person with dementia, but I'll give it a try.
The end is that Mom be relatively happy and continue her usual way of life as much as possible.
The means is frequently offering her normal activities such as going out to dinner, visiting my house, going shopping, going to church, attending P.E.O. meetings.
I'm not sure if the end is achieved, however, when she can't recall what she did yesterday or review her life accurately: "I live with caretakers, but I do get out and do a lot of normal things."
One part of a normal life is knowing that you have a normal life.
Does it count if I know that she has a pretty normal life--for someone in her circumstances?
Her view of her life can be pretty skewed.
As we drove to the P.E.O. meeting yesterday, her eyes were closed. I asked her, "How are you feeling? Are you awake?"
"I'm okay, except I have cancer," she responded.
"You don't have cancer!" I exploded. "You had one little black spot on your chest removed in 2002, but you don't have cancer now. They got it all."
"Are you sure? I'm pretty sure I have cancer."
"No, you have a pacemaker and Lewy Body Disease--that's a problem with your mind--but you don't have cancer."
"A problem with my mind? Why are you telling me that? I don't want to have a problem with my mind."
"Well, you don't get to pick and choose. You do have an illness where your brain is deteriorating, but it's not cancer."
"Oh dear--is it like that lady who can't feed herself?"
"No, she has Alzheimer's. You don't have that. What you have is kind of like Parkinson's."
Somehow we got off this subject, which was distressing to her, at least for the brief time that she recalled it. Today she has no memory of this conversation, as far as I can tell.
There's a downside and an upside to not being able to remember what happened yesterday.
She can't retain an overall assessment of her life, but I think that having as many normal activities as possible is good for her, even if she can't recall them.
During the hours when she's sitting bored in her room, she decides her life is miserable and her caretakers are mean. She falls into a black hole of the immediate present and sees no past or future.
If my sister and I didn't get her out to these activities, her mind would get less exercise and the black hole might get deeper.

Friday, November 18, 2005

P.E.O.: Pretty Exciting Oldsters

Everything worked out beautifully for Mom's first P.E.O. meeting in two years.
When we left for the meeting, I handed her the information and address booklet from her old chapter in Boulder, Colorado, in case this chapter in Santa Irena needed proof that she was really a P.E.O. However, the booklet confused her. She looked through the addresses, remembering the names of friends and asking, "Will Harriet Smith be there?"
"No, she's in Boulder," I explained. "We're in Santa Irena, so the Boulder P.E.O.s won't be here. It's like the song, 'Make new friends, but keep the old.'"
"Oh, I see," she said, and she did get it.
The home was perfectly wheel-chair accessible--it had been built for a family with a young woman in a wheelchair.
Mom got through the three hours from 10 am to 1 pm without doing or saying anything too bad, I think. I had to sit outside in the garden for the business meeting, which was not open to non-P.E.O.s, so I'm not sure what transpired then, other than my anxiety as I sat there copying addresses from one address book to another and wondering whether she was behaving normally.
"How did she do?" I asked the hostess when I was allowed back in.
"Oh, we enjoyed her," she answered. "She told us all about when she and her friends went swimming in the nude and her uncle was watching."
"Oh dear!" I gasped, thinking through various versions of this story she enjoys telling.
Footnote regarding LBD: there are often no sexual inhibitions because the frontal temporal lobe is not functioning properly. In a normal mind, this part of the brain looks at various behavioral options and discards many as inappropriate. In a mind affected by LBD, anything can happen. There can even be a greater interest in sexuality.
(Note to myself: join P.E.O. so you can stay with her at all times and redirect her when needed.)
Mom was thrilled to be at a P.E.O. meeting again. She chatted and ate the refreshments and met all the ladies.
The entertainment portion of the meeting was a member from a nearby chapter reporting on the International P.E.O. Convention this fall in Vancouver, BC. The speaker was intelligent and revealed a new policy: "It's okay to talk about P.E.O."
I nearly fell off my chair as she apparently revealed what those initials stand for: "We are a philanthropic, educational group." Philanthropic Educational Order?! Bingo!
The report was detailed, however, and I found myself hardly able to stay awake.
"And then we went back to the hotel again," she continued as I struggled to keep my head up.
Mom, however, stayed alert and attentive the whole time. Go figure.
As I expected, these twelve ladies were the creme de la creme of Santa Irena. The home was in a wealthy neighborhood. It was spacious and mission-style with beautiful tiled floors, gardens, white walls and exposed dark beams in the ceilings.
One of the ladies introduced herself as Margaret and told about earning a BS in biology and chemistry at Pomona College in the early 1940s but being denied admission to medical school because of a bad recommendation from a chemistry professor. He had written that she was not good at spatial design. She ended up earning an MS from the University of Colorado and working in laboratories and bioengineering.
Just one thing surprised me: these women were gracious and tolerant of Mom, in spite of her obvious dementia and her wheelchair-bound state. I had told them she lives on the "secure floor" of Ocean View Assisted Living, and they witnessed her wild talk. But they still invited her to join the chapter. One of them talked about living in the neighborhood of another chapter for years and never being invited to join.
Driving back to Ocean View afterward, I was moved to tears by their generosity.
But I was also faced with a moral decision: they had invited me to join too. In fact, the hostess's first words to me had been, "How have you escaped becoming a P.E.O.?"
I stammered some kind of answer, not listing the organizations I am a member of: NOW, NARAL, RCRC, EEWC, WomenChurch Convergence.
My goal is to take Mom to P.E.O. meetings without myself making any commitment to these ladies. But their devotion to others in the "P.E.O. Sisterhood" is impressive and must be the reason they welcomed Mom and me to their meeting on short notice.
"Sisterhood"--the cry of feminists in the late 1960s and '70s, the second wave of the women's liberation movement.
I didn't realize Grandma and her friends were into sisterhood, or Mom and her friends. But P.E.O. was founded in 1869, so it must have been a part of the first wave.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Finding P.E.O. Again

I never thought I would join P.E.O., but I am currently in danger of becoming a de facto member.
I used to sit in my grandmother's kitchen and beg her to tell me what the letters P.E.O. stood for (a secret known only to members). My best guess then, in the 1950s, was "People Eat Onions." Now I'm thinking "Protect Each Other"? "Progressive Educational Order"?
My mother never joined during the years when she was working full-time and raising a family, but after her retirement at age sixty, she became an active member in Chapter DV in Boulder, Colorado.
In November of 2003 Mom fell down for about the fourth time in a month, not injuring herself but unable to stand up. As a result, her residence (mostly independent living) insisted that she move to somewhere primarily focused on assisted living.
My sister and I moved her to California--first to Mission Viejo, then to Santa Irena.
We located doctors, a dentist and a church, but we never did connect with P.E.O. in California. It just wasn't high on our list of things to do.
Mom, however, never stopped insisting that she had to get to a local chapter of P.E.O. This summer I promised her we would find a chapter in September, but then she was in the hospital for nine days and P.E.O. was once again postponed.
In the last couple of weeks, Mom has become ambitious again. She wants to get back to a normal lifestyle, and the two things she wants most are to walk again (no longer using a wheelchair) and to go to a P.E.O. meeting.
When the church invited Mom to a meeting of Young at Heart, the seniors club, I decided to take her so that she would have a P.E.O.-like luncheon experience, though it would not be the real thing.
"Oh, we're so glad you're here," said the deacon in charge of ministry to singles. "Why did you decide to come?"
"Well, actually we came because it would be like P.E.O., which we have not been able to locate in this area," I lamely explained.
"P.E.O.! Most of the women at that table to your right are P.E.O.s," the deacon said.
And the connection was made. Mom was invited to choose from three local chapters, including one that meets tomorrow. We plan to be there.
If the home where it meets has reasonably good wheelchair access.
If Mom is able to be mostly rational and does not interrupt the meeting with a detailed account of her entire life or a recitation of "Work the Titan, Work the friend...."
I will have to attend the whole meeting too, or (as the hostess suggested) wait out in the garden during the secret parts of the meeting. I need to be available in case Mom's behavior takes an odd turn or she insists on going to the restroom.
On the bright side, I may finally find out what the letters P.E.O. stand for.
Stay tuned for the report on tomorrow's big meeting.

Robert McAfee Brown and LBD

Robert McAfee Brown, the prominent theologian, developed Lewy Body Dementia in his last few years and died in 2001.
I just read parts of his memoir, Reflections over the Long Haul (Westminster John Knox, 2005).
Attending a college reunion, I ran into my friend Pia Moriarty and learned that she had helped him to edit the manuscript during the last three years of his life.
We had both taken classes from him when he was a professor of religious studies at Stanford University in the 1960s. Earlier he had taught at Union Seminary in New York City, having studied there under Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.
His memoir ends with an epilogue, "Papa's Final Days," written by his daughter Alison. Her words are diffused with a beautiful spirituality and "sense of his love still present here with us" (p. 302).
As in the case of many older persons, particularly LBD patients, Brown fell in the summer of 2001, breaking his hip and undergoing surgery before being moved to a nursing home and not living much longer.
The only mention of Lewy Body is in the prologue, written by his wife, Sydney Thomson Brown.
"About four years before he died, Bob noticed that he was having memory problems," she writes. "His doctor referred him to a therapist about his concerns. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease, a disease in which, in a very random way, different parts of the brain become disabled. Bob knew that he had an illness of progressive brain debility, that it might be held in check but not cured. We wanted most for him to continue in hope, and he did. Certain areas of his brain were not functioning well; others were excellent. If in the course of daily life he became confused, we simplified our activities. For the most part, we continued on as usual" (p. xv).
Pia comments that throughout his life, "He went into the joyful and suffering situations of people's lives, stood by them, offered as practical a compassion as he could, and found words to honor the God that he found there." For example, he took part in the Freedom Rides in the South in the early 1960s, in the United Farm Worker movement in California, and in actively opposing the Vietnam War.
"According to Christian thinking, the primal accompaniment is God's great act of incarnation," she explains. "Bob worked and lived this out in his own life, and as he struggled in the end, let us walk in accompaniment with him."
I enjoy thinking about Brown's family and friends accompanying him in his journey through Lewy Body and through his dying. It makes it easier for me, knowing that a great man like this had to take this humbling path.
Sometimes I feel as if my mother is the only crazy one, and I am the only one putting up with things like her hallucinations and fears. Or I imagine that her dementia is who she is, perhaps somehow even who she has always been.
Knowing that this deeply insightful man developed LBD reminds me that her illness is just that--an accident/incident in the last few years of her very productive and busy life.
Many passages of this memoir give me courage to walk on in the journey with my mother. I will quote just one, from Sydney's prologue:
"Today he would say: Pay attention. View the world with imagination, compassion, energy. See that the world is not as it was meant to be. Learn to connect your theology and your Bible to God's people and creation all around you. Be followers of Jesus--work for radical revolutions for a just and caring world. And in all this, may you be equipped with courage" (p. xiv).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Burning Toast

Mom walked to the bathroom and back easily today, the best ever.
She was tired afterward, so I settled her in the recliner and told Jona that I was leaving. I had come at 8:30 am and taken her to have photos taken at church by a professional photographer; now at 10:30 am I was returning home.
But then the fire alarm went off--first a siren noise, then an automated speaker in the wall saying, "Go to a fire exit immediately."
"Is it real or just a fire drill?" I asked Jona. She ran off to find out.
"Go to a fire exit immediately," the voice repeated.
"I'm not going anywhere," Mom answered. She was tired and did not like this voice ordering her around.
"Well, Mom, if it really is an emergency, we should leave," I began.
Jona returned saying no one knew if it was a fire drill or not. None had been scheduled.
I decided we were leaving.
"But she can't get down the fire exit," Jona pointed out.
"I know--it's crazy to have these Rem people on the third floor. They should be on the first floor," I said. "We'll go to the elevator."
Another "private," employed by the same agency that sends Mom's caregivers, came into our room to help Jona with Mom.
"No, I'm here. Go help Ruth," I said.
"I can't take Ruth anywhere," she said. "She's in a Hoyer lift. My orders are to just take any resident and escort them out."
"Oh dear!" I said. "Ruth has to be left behind?" I was thinking about the elderly people who died in nursing homes in New Orleans.
Meanwhile Jona and I had helped Mom get into her wheelchair, and we were pushing her out, past the aluminum walls that had automatically descended from the ceiling when the alarm sounded, stopping any possible fire in the kitchen and lounge areas from entering the hall.
We got to the elevator and found that all the Rem residents were being herded into Ralph's room near the elevator. What good that would do, I didn't know. The director of the floor didn't know whether it was a real alarm; she had not been notified of any drill.
"You shouldn't go in the elevator in a fire," someone scolded me, but we went anyway and soon assembled with others near the front desk on the main floor. A strong smell of burnt toast permeated the area.
"It's someone on the second floor--she was making toast in her microwave," explained Lorraine, the receptionist, enjoying the emergency. It appeared that no fire had started though the smoke alarms had been activated.
We waited a few minutes, and I outlined to Jona my recommendations should a real fire occur: take Mom to the stairwell marked Fire Exit, get her out of her wheelchair so she is sitting on the top step, and make her go down the steps on her seat, one step at a time. "That should be fun," I said sarcastically, and we laughed, imagining the scene.
We agreed that the residence had been designed wrong--the least able residents should have been on the first floor so they could leave easily in an emergency. But that plan would not have permitted such a pretty first-floor lobby leading into the dining area for the assisted-living residents who did not have dementia.
The ideal residence is on a slight hill so the entryway can be elegant, while the Rem residents are safe on the floor below, set into the hillside with a wide patio for easy escape access. Mom was in a residence like this two years ago in Mission Viejo.
After deciding there was no real danger, I went home, leaving Jona with the job of returning Mom to the Reminiscence Neighborhood.
My sister and I have Mom's name on a waiting list for a private room in a skilled nursing facility that has just one floor with ground access for exit in case of emergency. Rooms with two and three beds are available, but we're not moving her just yet because the place looks a lot like a hospital. It would be a big step down from where she currently lives.
For now, we will wait for a private room and hope that no serious fire occurs at Ocean View.
As for the lady who burned the toast, she will probably arrive on the third floor soon. Or maybe she gets three strikes before she joins the Reminiscence Neighborhood.

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Fluctuation of Cognitive and Motoric Functions"

One description of Lewy Body Disease includes the phrase "fluctuation of cognitive and motoric and psychiatric symptoms."
In other words, she can be good at thinking and moving one day, with her emotions normal, but the next day she can be terrible. And the day after that she can be fine again.
It happened today.
I arrived to visit her at 4:15 pm and found her in deep sleep. Her caregiver, Jona, had left at 2 pm or so for a doctor's appointment. She had carefully unplugged Mom's electric recliner and left her asleep in it.
"Hi, Mom, I'm here," I said loudly, figuring I should wake her up and get some greeting cards signed and exercise done before taking her to dinner.
"Oh, you're here. I was at Fitzsimmons talking to a doctor," she said.
"You were really asleep," I said. "You were dreaming that you were in Colorado."
"Yes," she said, continuing to tell me about her dream.
But then she said, "That thing on the ceiling has worms crawling in it. Every once in a while one falls out and falls on me. That's a public health disaster. And they are probably the thing that makes my chin so itchy that I have to get it cleaned."
"Mom, that's just the sprinkler for fires," I said, looking up at the spigot in the middle of the ceiling.
"That's what they tell me--fire protection--but it doesn't look like that."
"No, it doesn't. Now Mom, you can't keep scratching your chin. It's looking so good; the scabs have fallen off."
After we talked a bit more, I said it was time to walk to the bathroom.
"Did you do your exercises today?"
"Oh yes, I did. They say to me, 'You will or I'll kill you,' so I have to do it."
"They don't say that, Mom. They're not allowed to talk like that."
"Yes, they do," she said with a whimper. "And they say 'We'll let you fall by yourself and they really do it.'"
All this time she was talking to me with her eyes closed and clearly feeling sorry for herself, but I persisted in moving toward our daily walk and making her more alert.
With her chair raised to put her almost in a standing position, I put the walker in front of her and tried to pull her to stand up, but she was not taking any of her own weight. After four practice pushes to standing, I started moving her with the walker toward the bathroom. Her feet and legs were still not bearing much of her weight, but I figured we could make it.
When we moved off the carpet and onto the linoleum floor of the bathroom, however, her feet slipped right out in front of her as if she were on ice. I was holding her whole 120 pounds as she leaned backwards. I kept trying to get her back to standing, but each time she moved a foot, it slipped. I wondered if there was water or talcum powder on the floor, but there was nothing. Somehow I dragged her to the toilet and sat her on it. When I asked her to hold onto the white bar to stand while I removed her wet Depends, she couldn't hold her weight there. I had to hold her up while pulling them down, let her sit again as I put on new Depends, and then hold her up while pulling the Depends up. Twice her body sagged nearly to the floor, but I pulled her up to sit on the toilet.
"Don't let me fall," she was yelling.
"You're not going to fall," I kept saying calmly.
"Don't make me do this!"
"It wasn't my idea. You're the one who said you wanted to walk," I insisted.
It didn't help that she was wearing an ankle-length swishy skirt--I regretted letting her dress so elegantly instead of keeping her in simple long pants with an elastic waist.
I changed her shoes from slip-on style to white jogging shoes with shoe laces and tried to start back toward the wheelchair in the main room, with her at the walker, but her feet still had no grip on the floor.
Somehow we made it to the carpet and the wheelchair. We both sat resting and panting for a few minutes.
"We have to do this every day, if you don't want to be stuck in the wheelchair," I said.
But I had my doubts.
The deep sleep in midafternoon, the worms falling from the ceiling.
"Maybe she had a stroke or some downward LBD turn overnight," I thought. "Maybe she'll never be able to walk again as well as she did for the last five days. Or maybe it's because she was alone for two hours, dreaming and waking. No one was here to talk to her and pull her back to reality."
I'd been hoping to cut back on the one-to-one caregivers and rely more on the Ocean View staff to keep an eye on her, either as she slept in her recliner or sat out in the common area.
But now I realize she can't be left alone. Her mind will wander, even if she physically does not try to get out of the chair or bed.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hooray: Walking and Talking

After Mom's plea on Sunday--"I want to walk so badly"--I was determined to do my best to make that happen.
That evening when I took her back to Ocean View, I tried having her walk from her recliner to the toilet, a distance of about 12 feet around a corner. She hadn't done this since August because of her hospitalization in September.
I put her walker in front of her, pulled her up to stand at it, and bore part of her weight as she laboriously shuffled into the bathroom. It was difficult because her back is so bent. In order to avoid falling forward, she leans backward and never gets her full weight balanced on her feet.
Also her feet seemed to have forgotten how to move. They are turned in, instead of pointing forward, and with each step she tended to move to the right rather than forward.
We made it, however, and on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, she did better each day, bearing more of her own weight and moving her feet more appropriately.
On Tuesday night Bill called her and had a great conversation. She reported all kinds of news to him--rain, voting, and my husband moving from the night shift to days. Most of it was accurate.
On Wednesday we responded to a postcard she received from the University of Colorado asking her to call the Alumni Office and "ensure your Alumni Directory listing is completely accurate and up to date."
Instead of just checking her address and phone number, the pleasant man on the phone wanted to hear all about her life. Best of all, he didn't ask for the names and dates. He just said, "Is it true that you graduated from CU in 1947? With a BS? And earned a Master's in 1960? That you were a professor of nursing at the University of Maryland? That your husband's name was Kermit? That you have four children? What are their names?"
Most of the questions required only a yes or no answer gave her the opportunity to be proud of her education, her career, and her family. What an ideal scenario! They should call every day to verify their records.
Mom managed to come up with the names of her children and only once got off track, explaining that she now lived in California and adding, "You know, the Russians sold California to us...."
But all in all, she did a great job with the information check and was so pleased that an important man at the Unversity of Colorado wanted to know about her life.
That evening, trying to fill the last ten minutes before her caregiver arrived at 6 pm, I handed Mom a note pad and said, "Why don't you write a note to Roz?"
Writing would exercise her sore right hand as well as her mind. I expected her to write barely a word or two, asking me what she should say.
But to my amazement, she quickly wrote out the following note:
Dear Roz,
We went shop[ping] at your old place. now rain. I got to get a new striped blouse--against Anne's advice. Connie is here now so I'll have my shower--Anne & I cancelled each other's votes.
Love always,
Grandma Gussie
She had remembered a lot of things, accurately: shopping, rain, voting. A week earlier we had been to Beyond Sense, the gift shop where Roz used to work.
She had a life, I concluded. And she remembered it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Voting, Part 2

Tuesday afternoon was overcast but not raining, so I decided to push Mom over to the polling place in her wheelchair, first making sure she was bundled up.
It was a dramatic experience for her: travelling two blocks at 5 pm as it was getting dark and then entering the brightly lit, colorful room with voting booths.
She held her ballot, slipped it in the ballot box, and was given a sticker "I voted" to wear.
At dinner, she was the only one in the Reminiscence Neighborhood wearing that sticker.
In fact, most of the caregivers had not voted because they are legal residents but not yet citizens. Many are from the Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Philippines.
The next day I learned that my hypothesis was wrong--that voters might have a tendency to vote "yes" because it feels good. California voters had no problem voting "no" on all the propositions.
Mom was proud of voting "yes."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I'm chickening out this year.
Last year I took Mom to a wheelchair-accessible polling place a week before the election. That gave us plenty of time to find it, park in a wheelchair-accessible spot, walk upstairs, stand in line, and go through the ballot while in the booth.
I did all this so she could vote for George Bush and cancel out my vote--definitely above and beyond the call of duty.
However, I felt that voting in a presidential election was important to keep her as mentally tuned in as possible. She did so well with the voting for various candidates that I decided to let her go through the propositions on the ballot, something we hadn't prepared for. I gave her a word-or-two summary of each one and let her mark yes or no.
"This one's a school bond--you want to support schools, don't you? Okay. The next one is money for public health. You were a public health nurse; I know you want that one."
This must have annoyed the heck out of the other voters, but I didn't care.
It took so long to get to and from this voting event that I missed a dentist appointment.
All in all, I decided to order an absentee ballot for her this year.
When I sat down with her to help her fill it out and sign it, however, a problem arose.
She had received a flyer in the mail saying, "Annoy Gray Davis--Vote 'Yes' on 77."
Somehow that flyer was at hand after she laboriously signed her name on the envelope for the ballot and was about to start marking the ballot.
"I'm going to vote yes on 77," she announced, completely unaware of what 77 might be about.
It's about redistricting, and I wasn't going to try explaining that one to her; besides, she probably would want to vote for it if she were in her right (Republican) mind.
Actually, I don't care if she votes yes on 77, but I care a lot about Prop. 75, another Schwarzeneggian proposition, which would reduce the financial power of public unions and thus the power of Democrats.
So I quickly handed her the ballot instruction booklet and told her to go down the list and mark yes or no on each of the propositions.
She marked "yes" on all of them, which caused me to reflect: do all voters who don't understand a list of items on a ballot tend to vote "yes"?
Or is it just Mom? Does voting "yes" feel positive and give warm vibes to the soul? "I am a good person. I avoid conflict."
I don't know, but I took the real ballot home, marked "no" on all the propositions designed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, and will drop it off at her polling place today.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Trapped in Dementialand

They call it the "Reminiscence Neighborhood," but actually it's a minimum security jail.
The residents can't leave unless an approved person escorts them for a few hours or few days visit to the outside world. Most never leave at all.
The security measures are fairly simple. Only one elevator is available for residents and their guests. To leave the third floor, one has to punch in a code to open a door and reach the elevator. Then on the first floor, one has to walk past a central desk in order to walk out the front door or reach the parking elevators.
Most residents don't know a code exists and couldn't remember it if they knew it.
Mom has no idea that she's confined because she leaves the third floor and the building frequently with someone accompanying her.
But some residents know they are trapped and haunt the hall near the elevator, waiting for people to go through the door so they can follow them out.
Regina is one of the smart ones trying to escape. When she's near the door to the elevator, I punch in the code and slip through the door quickly, before she can follow me. But the code disarms the door alarm for 30 seconds, so Regina can open the door and slip out after some leaves in the elevator.
One time I arrived in the elevator to find her standing there, about to enter the elevator after I walked out to the third floor.
"Oh--Regina!" I said, not sure what to do next.
I opened the door to the third floor to call someone, forgetting to punch in the code, and the door alarm went off, bringing a staff member running. Regina was apprehended and gently drawn back to the Rem Neighborhood.
Another time when I was leaving the floor to take my mother to a doctor's appointment, an agitated resident was in the area of the elevator, determined to leave. Staff members were dealing with him, but meanwhile no one could use the elevator.
I waited, then wheeled my mother around the floor to the service elevator, escorted by Beth, the Rem director, so we could leave on that elevator.
It turned out, however, that Beth had the key but didn't know how to activate that elevator, so we wheeled back to the first elevator. I was starting to feel claustrophobia: would we ever escape? This was making us late to the appointment.
That feeling of being trapped in dementialand occurred again last night. I had spent nine hours with Mom, first taking her to church, then to lunch at my house, then back to Ocean View.
Then I sat with her for an hour as she ate her dinner, waiting for her evening caregiver to arrive at 6 pm.
Dinner hour on the Rem floor is a real spectacle.
Sue sits there alert and curious, wondering what to do with her spoon, until a caregiver finally comes and puts spoonfuls of pureed food into her mouth.
Ralph leaves the table and returns, demanding his food, unaware that he has just eaten.
Julie shouts incessantly, "Could somebody please help me? Someone, anyone. I'm just asking for a little help, but you're all ignoring me. I guess I'll just sit in this chair 'til I die. I'll be happy to die. I'd rather die than be here. Help me, somebody, please!"
"Oh, Julie, Julie Adams," says Bethlehem, the lead caregiver, who is one of 4 staff members cleaning up dishes and managing the 26 residents. No one has time right now to push Julie's wheelchair to her room, and it's better to keep her with the group rather than leave her alone in the room.
"She always yells like that," comments Mom.
Leota sits blank and cheerful at the other end of Mom's table as a caregiver tells her, "You must eat something, Leota. Here, take a spoonful of this."
The new lady on the floor announces, "I'm boycotting." She hasn't eaten since she arrived.
I chat with Ryan, the young man who cares for John. "Don't you ever take him out for a walk around the block?" I ask.
"No, I can't do it," he answers. "If he gets out on the street, he wants to go home. I have to tell him 'No, your wife is dead,' and he gets upset."
Finally Racquel, Mom's evening caregiver, arrives and I bolt for the elevator after a few seconds of greeting.
"Oh, you aren't coming back to the room?" she asks. Usually I talk with the caregivers a bit, taking an interest in their families and their lives.
Tonight, however, I have a feeling of desperation as I punch in the code to reach the elevator. The door opens, then closes behind me, and I sigh with relief. I'm on the other side of the door.
On the first floor, I walk to the other elevator, go down to the parking garage, and punch the code again to leave the elevator lobby and get to my car.
As I start to drive out of the garage, I come around a corner and face a huge grilled gate blocking my path.
Panic comes before I can talk myself out of it: another wall preventing my escape. I know the electronic monitor will see my car at the gate and open it. I know this.
Finally it happens: the gate slides up slowly, and I drive out. A wave of relief hits me, and I find myself fighting back tears.
I'm not as tough as I think. A full day of caregiving, topped by dinner with people thirty years ahead of me in the life cycle, is enough to do me in.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Lucid Moment

Mom was looking at the smocked dresses she had made for her granddaughters fifteen and twenty years ago. The tiny folds of smocking were held together by embroidered patterns, different on each dress--panda bears, flowers, a red school house flanked by two orange school buses.
One of the dresses had a small flowered label sewed inside the back collar: "Made by Grandma."
"They're so beautiful!" I marvelled. "How did you ever do it?"
"I don't know," she said. "My hands don't even work now." The contrast between her skilful fingers then and now is shocking. Now she can barely sign her name.
"Anne, do you think I'll ever walk again?" she asked suddenly.
I was surprised at her question: usually she doesn't remember that she can't walk, and she doesn't try to make careful assessments about the future.
"Uh--well..." I delayed, trying to be honest, thinking back to her broken hip fifteen months ago and the various health crises since then. "I don't think so, but..."
"I want to walk so badly."
A sharp pain--the realization of her sadness--shot through me, and suddenly I had an answer.
"It depends on whether you exercise. If you stand up at your walker and try to walk, like we did yesterday, and do it every day, I think you could do it."
"I do exercise! I do them every day," she declared, but I knew she meant pushing the pedals on her small foot machine and other very light exercises.
The last time her physical therapist visited, he said she needed to walk with parallel bars and do other stretching and balance exercises daily in order to improve. The home health services provided after her September hospital visit have expired, however.
Unless I can get another PT order from Dr. Susan C., Mom won't have more physical therapy. Medicare only pays for therapy when patients improve; if the patient stays the same or is in declining mobility, there is no coverage.
It's up to me to get another order and to make sure she gets out to those appointments several times per week--I've let this fall between the cracks.
"The girls should know that there's a lot of love in these," Mom said, her mind back on the smocked dresses. "They're done so perfectly."
"Yes, they know that," I said. "You put so much time and love into these dresses."
I was thinking, "This beautiful, colorful smocking will be here when you are gone. They will become heirlooms."
Will my daughters put these dresses on their daughters, or will the smocked look be too old-fashioned for kids to wear?
Will Mom ever walk more than ten feet with her walker again?
"Que sera, sera," as the song says. "The future's not ours to see."
One thing I do know: I won't be spending my seventies doing intricate handwork like this.
These smocked beauties will forever tell a story that begins: "Made by Grandma. Grandma Evelyn, who was born in Telluride in 1919...."

Friday, November 04, 2005


When Mom is all dressed up with her hair freshly coiffed, her nails done, wearing earrings and jewelry, she is elegant.
But lately she's been looking a bit battered: there are two red scabby patches on her chin and several other small red spots elsewhere on her chin and forehead.
These began when she kept insisting that the three or four hairs on her chin needed to be shaved. Never mind that these hairs weren't there--they were being shaved several times a day by whichever caregiver she could get to do it, once again.
To Mom, however, the hairs were there and they were bothering her. She started rubbing her chin to get them off. Then she had to rub to get the rough skin off, the patches irritated by her scratching and rubbing. She scratched spots on her forehead too.
For the last week the caregivers and I have been pulling her hand away from her face and nagging her.
If I say "No! Don't rub your chin" and remove her hand, she starts again twenty seconds later.
"I'm just trying to clean it," she says.
"It's already clean!" I say. "Your face is washed every day."
"But this part needs to be cleaned off."
"No, that's a scab. If you rub it off, it will bleed."
We get into a game where she rubs again, and I catch her in the act, and she laughs.
But she can't help it. Her mind is in a groove that it can't get out of.
Part of Lewy Body Dementia is obsessiveness.
The first obsessions I noticed had to do with toileting. She was worried about losing her continence and wanted to use the toilet many times per day, even though she was wearing Depends. I would limit her to one bathroom trip per hour, but she wanted to use the toilet every ten minutes or so.
While at the toilet, she had to have the water running "for inspiration." If it was just a trickle, that wasn't enough. She had to hear it loudly. Then it had to be hot water.
Then she got into counting and folding the squares of toilet paper as she sat on the toilet.
Later her obsessive-compulsive behavior turned to coughing and spitting into a tissue. She went through two boxes of tissue per day while her doctor changed her medications to try to get rid of the nasal drip and phlegm that was causing the cough.
The next issue was rubbing her crotch with her hand inside her Depend.
In each of these phases, redirecting her to some other activity was the only solution. Scolding and arguing did not work. Her mind would return to the activity like a phonograph record with its needle stuck in one place.
The only good news is that so far each obsession has faded, to be replaced by something else.
It's sad to watch her mind deteriorate, to see her brain losing its connections to the frontal temporal lobe that produces intelligent, logical thought.