It’s been an amazing week. We took my mom to a new doctor – her first since she moved in with me, on Monday. And it is so weird to say, but I fell in love with her. This is the first time in my life that a doctor took over 2 hours – yes – 2 hours – for our initial visit. She wanted to get to know my mom and me. She told me there were two patients in the room and that she was there for both of us. Wow. I finally feel like there is a team to take care of my mom and not just me. Thank you, Lord, for bringing her into our lives. We are so very blessed. Truly.
This doctor also stressed that she was now our primary advocate, to ensure my mom gets everything she needs to be safe, secure, loved, and cared for. She also said she will advocate for all our wishes in regards to her “end-of-lfe” treatments and desires. As she continued to speak to our concerns and issues, I felt this huge weight just lift from my shoulders. She looked at me, as I teared up, and said, “We are a team now. I am here for you. My nurse is here for you. We have this – together.” As she handed me a tissue, she assured me, “It’s not time to cry, yet. It is coming and I will let you know when.” And then she grabbed me into a huge hug, reassuring me as she did so that she “has my back.” Wow. I have never, ever, been treated this way by a doctor.
This doctor is a geriatric specialist who also focuses on Alzheimer’s patients. She totally had my mom pegged in just moments. I was thrilled. You see, my mom is very verbal. No one can believe she is 87, let alone that she has Alzheimer’s. She wears full make up and matching jewelry, even when we stay home all day. She is gregarious and loves children. She loves to gab. She has fooled people for years. But not this doctor. Wow. It was awesome how she saw through my mom. It sort of made mom mad and she became snotty and gave the doctor her best, terse answers. The doctor laughed, looked at me, and said, “She’s quite something else, isn’t she?” Laughing at my mom’s anger! I loved it. She was asking her simple things, like the day, time, place, age, president’s name, etc. My mom had no idea. She did not even know if it was morning or night, where she was, or the season. When asked, she would respond with, “I don’t know and I don’t care. I can always ask if I need to know.” The doctor laughed at that, but also suggested my mom is depressed. She is depressed because she is realizing she is forgetting and she knows it. Some days, she charges through her days, trying to fake it and cover up how she is forgetting. Yesterday, I realized that the doctor was right when she told me I was being “generous” when I had estimated my mom’s stage of Alzheimer’s. This disease is insidious and it sneaks into your world, stealing lives as it goes. Every day, a little more of my mom is taken from me. Every day, I see how much more she has become dependent on me and my family. Yesterday was truly a day of “forgetting,” and it made me sad. I wept as I talked to a friend, who is also caring for her Alzheimer’s parent. She could relate.
The reality of Alzheimer’s is that something as innocuous as French Toast can be daunting. My mom forgot how to eat it. She forgot to cut it, thinking she could eat it with her fingers. It is common for Alzheimer’s patients to charge ahead, trying what works. Well, now I know I need to cut all my mom’s food into bite-sized pieces. Partially from Alzheimer’s and partially because she has severe osteo-arthritis and her thumbs hurt, making cutting things up difficult. She can barely sign her name. And I realized, as she lashed out at me in anger at breakfast yesterday, as I commented that she needed to use a fork, that she had forgotten how to eat her food. After watching me for a little bit, she picked up her fork (we were both eating French Toast) and continued to eat, using it. Yesterday was a rough day.
This morning, as I was preparing her meds for her, I noticed my mom skipped the entire day yesterday. That explains a lot of the forgetting yesterday. But it also showed me how very important it is to ensure our loved ones get all the healthcare assistance they can. And that I need to double-up on my supervision of her daily activities. We were so busy yesterday, running to the dog groomer’s and getting the oil changed in my car. In between, we had breakfast with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. We were on the run, starting early, getting dressed. And Alzheimer’s patients don’t “rush” well. They need time to wrap their heads around the process of getting moving, and getting out of the house. And so, I need to adapt to that, giving us all time to get out the door, prepared well and intact.
My next big step will be preparing my mom for winter. Having been born in New Zealand, and spending most of her adult life in Southern California, this will be challenging. But as I have learned over the past couple of months, I feel more prepared to take it on. The best advice I can offer a person who is facing caring for an Alzheimer’s family member is to educate yourself. Take all the free courses the Alzheimer’s Association and their affiliates offer. Read short stuff…books are hard unless you read ahead of taking a parent/ family member into your home. The Alzheimer’s Reading Room online is an amazing source, too. Prepare your mind and intellect, and shore up your heart. Repeat often – seriously – “It is not me; it is the disease.” And rely on prayer and family and friends. And if you can, find a doctor who has your back and understands Alzheimer’s and the elderly. Bring it on, winter!