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.

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