Sandra Cannon: No ready-made plans for dealing with dementia

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have touched many of us. My uncle has Alzheimer’s. He does not remember us. He calls all women “girl,” even my mother. Sometimes he thinks she is his mother. My mother has dementia. Sometimes she calls me several times a day to ask me the same question. I try to be patient and change the subject, only to be called again.

Mama used to travel on vacations with us. The last time we took her with us, it was not pleasant. She wanted to return home immediately after arrival and tried to bribe my children to drive her several hundred miles back home. We surmised that she was attached to her familiar surroundings. We made her stay. She had a good time. However, every day was a struggle to get her to enjoy herself.

I am thankful that Mama asked me to pay her bills. She would not have insurance, heat or lights if she were still trying to keep up. She sometimes forgets that I pay her bills and calls me every few months because she wants to know how to pay this or that bill. I remind her that her bills are paid online and she should not worry. However, worry she does because her mind tells her that something is wrong. She gets agitated. How do you take away the things that they were used to doing for themselves in order to save them from their new selves?

My siblings and I do not live in Mama’s city. We are thankful that my aunt moved in with her. The part-time caretaker we hired said if we moved Mama from her house away from her familiar surroundings, it might kill her. So, we make accommodations and try to keep her happy in her home. Mama would not leave her house because it reminds her of Daddy, who died more than five years ago.

We found a wonderful senior citizen center for Mama to attend. She can eat (she weighs less than 90 pounds), go on field trips, paint, read, exercise and talk (her favorite pastime). She is up every morning and dressed to catch the shuttle and enjoy the day with her new friends at the center. I wish we had found this center when Daddy retired. Daddy would have been the center of attention at the center. He was jovial and a good guy. Mama has always been more confrontational. In other words, she likes to argue and fuss. The center gives her a stage.

As we try to figure out how to assist our parents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, we do so by trial and error. There are no cookie-cutter solutions. People will talk about us and say we are not doing enough, especially when we live a distance from our loved one. We do the best we can to make them happy and comfortable. I learned that I cannot go into my mother’s home, try to straighten it out and make it tidy like my house. She has her stuff and she loves the clutter. It reminds her of happier times with Daddy. I am resigned.

For now, we are moving forward with this plan for Mama. Tomorrow the plan might change. As my siblings and I try to make adjustments from a distance, we do the best we can and try to be of one accord. Mama often tells us she is grateful for what we do for her. We remind her that once she did everything for us.

Sandra Cannon: No ready-made plans for dealing with dementia » Knoxville News Sentinel

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