The Little Black Hat

Posted On October 1, 2009

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“You don’t really go see your mom every day, do you? ”

Yes, just about.

“Well you don’t really have to go.”

No, it’s a choice.

Mom is a lot like a two year old now. She has goods days and bad days. Some days she is very tired and cries for no reason.

On other days, her voice is strong and she has quite a bit to say. I don’t know which days those will be, so if I don’t go, I might miss one.

And like a two year old, she’s sometimes paying more attention to her surroundings that you might think.

She also needs to be fed. Would you want your two year old going to bed hungry? Well I don’t want to trust that the staff is going to take the time to adequately feed my mom like I do.

Sometimes Mom tells me, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Last night Mom was crying after dinner. It was the second night in a row. I’m told stroke victims sometimes can’t control their emotions and cry for no apparent reason.

Later I was ready to leave when the new Good Nurse came in to check if some ointment had been left in mom’s room. This is the first time I’ve seen a night shift nurse going into residents’ rooms and checking up on things. I decided to stay to check up on the aide who was going to put Mom to bed to make sure the ointment was used. Yes, I was tired, but it if was important enough for the Good Nurse to check on it, I could wait another half hour or whatever was needed to make sure it was used.

The aide came into the room a few minutes later. She didn’t have on a name tag but she had a nice smile and pleasant demeanor.

All of a sudden Mom’s face brightens up…..and with great enthusiasm she tells the aide, “I love your hat!”

The young black woman was not wearing a hat.  But she did have a fashionable haircut that was kind of spiked, creating an outline reminescent of a stylish little black hat from the ’30s or ’40s…the kind with a  a little plum of feathers sticking up.

I was glad I waited.

The Coat Stayed In The Closet

Christmas has come and gone and now it’s on to a new year. I think I lot of us are ready for some good news.

I didn’t bother to put up a Christmas tree this year. There are plenty of nice trees of all sizes throughout Mom’s nursing home, so I really didn’t need one at home. I wheeled Mom through the halls and we stopped and looked at them throughout December. Mom’s eyesight isn’t too good — part of the dementia — so it’s hard to tell how much she could really see on each tree. She would agree they were pretty as I pointed out different ornaments on each one.

Even mom got tired of all of the kids singing groups traipsing through the activity room all month long. Come January, I’m sure there won’t be any more girl scout troupes or elementary school piano recitals.

Mom often comes up with witty little comments. Sometimes she makes observations that miss the mark. She’s still my mom and wants to share her dinner with me and tells me to eat one of her cookies.

It’s tough to come up with things to talk about. I ask Mom lots of questions about the past and sometimes her answers are surprising as she reached into her memory and comes up with a story I have not heard before.  I asked Mom about her memories of Christmas as a child. Her eyes were closed and a smile came across her face as she recalled that one year her big brother Robert had made her a toy kitchen cabinet. This would have been during the Depression.

The evening news on Christmas Eve carried a story about 95 year old woman who had been left outside to die in the cold at a nursing home the night before.  Someone wanted to turn up the TV to hear the details…but I shook my head “no” to protect my mom from the news.

There was a lot more excitement in the air and Mom sensed that Christmas was upon us because she asked me if she had a winter coat there. “I might need it to go out.” I didn’t  have the heart to tell her it was going to be staying in the closet.

Saving For “Retirement” Is Easy Compared To This

We hear a lot from the so-called financial experts about the importance of saving for retirement.
Retirement is easy. You need food, shelter, and clothing. The challenge is to save for long-term illness.

Many of the elderly of our county require a lot of extra care. Many of these people were healthy all of their lives before dementia, Alzheimer’s, or physical ailments arrived on the scene. Not only do they need a lot of personal and medical care, they need help with managing finances, shopping, doing the research on care providers, etc.

Retiring to a sunbelt state is easy. Stepping in to look after the care of an elderly parent…now THAT is the real challenge. And if your family member (parent, aunt, sister, etc.) didn’t earn a lot of money, or did not manage the money, ie save some of it, you are in for some real fun and stress.

You want to give them the best of care, but when money is limited…plus you need to work for a living, you are going to have to make a choice.

A friend recently mentioned an illness with her 60 something single sister who still works, but is addicted to TV shopping shows. Now her sister is worried about high deductibles on her health insurance. My friend said how she spent her money (filling her home with crap from home shopping network) is her business.

My reply: not if you have to take care of her when she’s sick.

Great Website For Caregivers

I found a great website for people dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The boards are a good place to post your questions and receive advice from those with real world experience as a caregiver.  It’s also a place to go if you need to do a little venting and gain some perspective.

It’s run by the Alzhiemer’s Association. Check it out if you find yourself in this position.

http://alzheimers.infopop.cc/eve

“We’ve Had a Murder Here”

Posted On June 21, 2008

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Mom calmly told me a man at her retirement apartment building killed his wife. “I heard some men talking about it.”

She said the couple lived by her friend Jo. He would do the laundry. “She was deaf and we would go by her and wave.”

We should also stay away from the guy with the mustache. “He killed his wife.”

Mom’s not afraid though. Maybe the thought of death is appealing at 82.

I was telling a friend that I tried to explain to Mom that she must have heard wrong because otherwise the husband would be in jail. “You’re wasting your time. Your mother can’t understand what you’re telling her.”

Yea, I guess she’s right. At least Mom has something to talk about.

Can We Be Too Healthy For Our Own Good?

Once in a while I’ll watch a TV show or read something in the paper where I don’t understand fully the technical explanation, but I do get what the bottom line message is.

Recently I read a blog entry pointing to flu shots as a contributing factor to the causes of Alzheimer’s, dementia and other diseases.

In the past, I was doubtful that vaccines could cause autism, although many parents believe so. A recent court ruling indicates that there may be some convincing scientific support for this argument.

A friend of mine, a 30 year veteran of an elementary school, says something is wrong. From her teacher’s seat, she’s seen an amazing rise in the number of kids with autism. She doesn’t have any statistics outlined on a spreadsheet….just a practical, first-hand, close-up look at change over time.

Since the followers of Christian Science don’t go to doctors…are they as affected by these health issues? What are the rates of autism and dementia among their followers as compared to those being vaccinated?

When I was a kid, I carried one of those original metal Flintstones lunch boxes with a peanut butter sandwich inside. Our biggest food fear at the time was mayonnaise on a warm day. A PBJ sandwich was our insurance against food borne illness. Today, some schools are banning peanuts and peanut butter in the classroom to protect kids who are highly allergic to this legume. What has caused this change?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know this. The world is not flat and Pluto is no longer a planet. Science changes over time.

Yesterday as I struggled in Wal-Mart’s dressing room, trying to get Mom to cooperate/understand how to move so we could evaluate the fit of a new pair of pants….I asked myself, should Mom start skipping flu shots?

When Peter Pan Came to Visit

Today was the first day a home health aid has been hired to help my mom get dressed and moving in the morning. She has dementia and gets overwhelmed in the morning. We also want to make sure she’s taking her meds regularly. Sometimes we’re not sure if Mom’s perception of reality is a little off target.This morning there was some miss-communication and the aide came late.Then my sister called me…she was all concerned because Mom said the woman put make-up on her and was dressed like Peter Pan. Sandy though she was hallucinating. I said well maybe the lady put Oil of Olay on her face and Mom’s calling it makeup. What’s Peter Pan look like? I didn’t have a peanut butter jar handy to look at, but I didn’t think there was any cause for alarm.

“Well he dresses in a long blue top and wears tights!!”

Well maybe that’s how the lady was dressed. I don’t know. Maybe Mom couldn’t think of another word, like clown. You’ll have to ask the agency what the gal had on. Calling her Peter Pan doesn’t really sound that bad. She said she was dressed like Peter Pan…she didn’t say she was flying across the room. I can go out there and look at her face and see what she looks like if that will help….I need to drop off some soda anyway.

To me, most of the scrubs the health care aids wear look kind of like pajamas. But what do I know about health care fashions. Peter Pan sounded like a reasonable description to me. Some of the scrubs have cartoon characters on them. I sometimes struggle to find just the right word to convey a thought.

Later my sister called back after talking to someone at the facility. Turns out the aide was wearing all blue. She did put some face cream and a little lipstick on Mom’s face…..she said most of the ladies kind of perk up when they have a little make-up on.

When I got there, Mom told me she liked the way the gal had put together her outfit. She really did look nice with everything matching. Mom described how she was so groggy this morning that she thought maybe she had dreamed the lady had come in and helped her. Mom pointed to her eyebrows and said the woman had put something on them.

Two weeks ago my sister said she and Mom stopped by her house to pick up something Mom needed. “I don’t know why she thought it was there, I couldn’t find it.”

Dear sister, there were about three items in Mom’s empty bedroom closet. You will find what you were looking for on the bed now…..sorry to spoil the surpise.

Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine (for me)

The staff at Mom’s retirement community told us a local hospital has a program where they spend a couple of hours evaluating seniors’ mental and physical status.


Mom’s been taking an anti-depressant, but doesn’t seem to be feeling any better. On Saturday she tearfully told me she wanted to jump out the window. I told her not to as she was only on the third floor, and thankfully she said she is too much of a coward.

I called the hospital today to make the evaluation appointment. I took pot luck as far as which doctor to see…I just picked the best day and time for me. At the end of the conversation, I asked the appointment gal how many geriatric doctors were on staff. She starts reading down the list of names, “Morely, Thomas, Tran, Flaherty, KEVORKIAN”. I laughed, “Well Mom might want to see Dr. Kevorkian.” I guess she’s heard it all before as she had no response.

Out of the Blue – A Funny Response

Paul Karason has been treating himself with a silver  for years. He first came up with the silver concoction in an effort to cure his dermatitis, but claims it cured some other health problems he had instead.

In the process, the silver has turned his skin blue.

As mentioned in a previous post, my mother is in the beginning stages of dementia, but she still has a great sense of humor. Today I asked her if she had seen the man who turned blue from the medicine he was taking…and her quick response was, “What was he taking, Viagra?”

Out of the Mouths of Old Babes

My mother recently moved to a senior apartment due to declining health. Although the sign out front says “luxury apartments”….believe me, she’s not living on a golf course.

The facility provides three meals a day, 24/7 on-site staffing, emergency pull cords in the apartments, housekeeping, and planned activities.

Mom is showing the early signs of dementia. For the most part she knows what’s going on, but she gets confused easily and she often comes up with observations that don’t quite hit the mark. She’s not crazy about living there….feels like she’s locked up, but she does enjoy the meals and twice-daily desserts.

She frequently complains about the super small kitchen sink, “I feel like a squirrel in a cage. Can’t do anything with that sink.”  (There’s really no need for a bigger sink.)

One thing I’ve noticed is she can be very funny. At least she makes me laugh. For example, there’s a woman who lives there with long grey hair parted down the middle. I know it’s not nice to say this, but Mom described her as “spooky looking”…and you know, she would look at home on The Munsters or The Addams Family.

At Christmas time, I was visiting and there was an announcement that a concert would be starting in a few minutes. “Let’s walk down the hall and see who it is.” The building has a big atrium that opens up where you can look down at the other floors and see what’s going on. It was a Salvation Army volunteer that day and she said she had heard him before and didn’t want to listen. “I’m getting tired of all their amateur entertainers,” she whispers.

One day Mom was worried because her table mate Mabel said she had seem Mom and another woman “shooting up.” I tried to explain that nobody would believe it…or she could just go along with it and tell the lady she was shooting up insulin. Mom just couldn’t see the humor in it and is worried someone is going to believe she’s a junkie.

Another day Mabel had me in stitches describing how she’d seen Mom “and four other women” on TV…and that someday she’d be laughing when everyone realized she knew what she was talking about. We’re all sitting in the lobby and I’m laughing so hard by side hurts as Mom and Mabel quibble about this silly story and two other ladies are mumbling that I’m laughing too loud.

One of the other ladies looks like my Aunt Irene…and I realize, old folks are a lot like babies…they all kind of look alike.

Mom’s complaining she can’t wear one sweater “it’s too wrinkled”…I don’t point out that only one of the socks she is wearing has stripes as I don’t want her to loose her confidence in her ability to get dressed each day.

Another day Mom told me a story about another resident. She thought they were “trying to hide the old man.” When I asked her who he’d be hiding from, “From the insurance company. I think they’re looking for him. I think he was in an accident or something.”

The number of friends I have who have a parent living in this place is rising. On Christmas day, one friend was dropping her mother off and she told Mom her mother loved it there and said it reminded her of a luxury resort. She asked Mom how she liked it, and her assessment was, “It feels like a prison.”

 Today when I called Mom, she said in a somewhat delighted voice, “We had some excitement at breakfast this morning.” A gentleman she introduced to me last week didn’t make it past his bacon ‘n eggs today to see his 103rd birthday this year.

“It’s too bad he didn’t go quickly like he wanted to.” She said he coughed for several minutes. I told her I thought that was about as quick as one could expect as I assumed what he meant was he didn’t want to be sick for days, weeks, or even months.

I guess when you reach the last chapters of your life…there’s comfort….and hope….in seeing someone else getting released from the place.