Today I watched as my mom blanked out, again. “Alzheimer’s World” is a term I am coming to grips with. She calls commercials, “little movies.” She loves watching the news on OAN (One America News), because you get the entire world in one hour and then it repeats. She is shocked every time she watches some of the news, even though it is the 2nd or 3rd round today. She only drinks coffee in the morning (but then grabs a bowl of cereal when she sees us eating) and watches the news. Over and over. And as I showed her a cute kitten video while the news was cycling through, she just turned her head away with a blank look on her face, completely confused at what she had seen. It was kittens playing. It was not the news. She had entered “Alzheimer’s World” and our moment of clarity was gone.
I have come to realize, through reading some great material in a class I am taking online, that when someone has the attention span of 5 minutes, expecting more from them is a waste of energy and emotion. We went to breakfast on Sunday and she sat there, looking blank. She did enjoy watching her 5-year-old great-grandson color, but she did not interact too much. She forgot how to eat French Toast and when I offered to help her, she snapped at me. But I know it was because she realized she was confused. So I did more with less and spoke with my kids, allowing her to eat French Toast like regular toast. Watching movies or TV programs does not resonate – she cannot follow a storyline. She will watch golf or football, because she says sports is just what it is and you don’t have to figure it out. She does enjoy “The Chew” because I think they laugh a lot and are noisy. She loves Steve Harvey and especially loves “Family Feud,” so we laugh together at that. I enjoy those short moments of joy with her. But, those moments of understanding are spreading further and further apart, and it seems to be happening so much more quickly these days.
These are my mom’s hands, This is how she holds them. All day long. She fiddles with her fingers and if she is stressed out, they clang against each other. Her fingers were going nuts on Sunday, as the grandkids played in front of her. It was just too much stimulation. As she enters into Alzheimer’s World more and more, she loses her hold on those of us around her. Her connection gets more and more frayed. My mom is highly verbal. But it is just recitation that is on constant rewind and replay. She can fool some people, who think she is pretty good for having Alzheimer’s, but those of us close to her are in shock she lived alone until August. I still don’t know how she did it, other than tons of notes everywhere and rote repetition of each day. But I also know her clothes were not clean, and personal hygiene is hard for her. The fact that she can still use a mascara wand and eyebrow pencil, and her thin, tiny eyeliner brush, amazes me (I don’t even use them well!). But it takes 2+ hours to do make-up and sometimes she just gives up. There is usually liquid make up all over the bathroom and mascara and eyeliner everywhere when she walks out of it. Sometimes we do our nails, just to connect. I am learning to wear polish just to do something together with her. She loves painting her fingernails!
I saw a new decline yesterday. She could not eat spaghetti, calling it “dinner by the yard.” She complained she could not twirl that thing (her fork) to get the noodles onto it, nor could she manage to eat them. It made me sad (especially since she did not call it a fork). She got all snotty with her comments, but it was to cover her frustration. So I cut her food into little bites and she completed her meal, commenting on how good it was, completely forgetting her struggle with the fork. I am noticing more and more her inability to do common things, and my heart hurts for her. And one of her major strident things is to always match. She will not use a black purse with a tan outfit; she will not wear black trouser socks with any color of pant other than black. Thanks be to God I had tan trouser socks one day recently (they are now hers) because just changing her sock color changed our entire process and her mood became joyous…just because her socks matched. It’s another way of doing more with less. (I’ll talk about that below). Changing sock color allowed us to process leaving the house with happiness instead of anger. Win-win.
So how do we do this every day? For one thing, I am learning, sometimes with a seeming 2×4 up the side of my head, to do more with less. Less communication and less worry. If we have 1-2 moments in her 5 minute attention span, I have a little success. So our days are down to 5-minute spans. And we can move on. The kids got a big hail storm last night and “face-timed” us on their phone. So I walked outside to see if we had the hail. Mom saw them on the phone and followed me. She wanted to close the door. I explained I was looking at the rain to see if we got hail, just like the kids were getting on the phone. She had no idea we had just been on the phone with the kids, seeing the hail, and wanted to close the door. Doing more with less, I continued to watch the rain and chat with the kids, as she closed the door on me and went to sit back down on the couch.
Doing more with less means taking just a small thing and learning that it is the crowning moment of your day, and not worrying about the entire day. Each day is made of moments. It’s the moments we have to focus on, and cling to the good ones, allowing the others to fade away. So today, I will watch her go to Alzheimer’s World and not worry about those moments. I will cling, however, to those moments when she looks at me and I know she really sees me and is connected to me.
I used to read – a lot. But not much anymore. Nine o-clock rolls around at night and I can barely stand up. I have reached the end of my rope, and I am exhausted. I walk around, doing stupid things like taking vitamins and giving the cat her water, making sure mom is getting ready for bed, checking for locked doors, getting the dog settled and myself ready for sleep. Read a book at that point? I can barely make it under the covers.Hubby and I chat a little, and ironically it is me who goes right to sleep; a few months ago I kept him awake while I read late into the night. Yesterday morning I realized how tired I was (and overwhelmed by taking care of everyone else and forgetting time for me) when I arrived at the restaurant, to meet our kids for breakfast on a crazy Sunday morning, wearing my slippers. Yeah. It is like that every day. But there are those shining moments. Those I will cling to.