New Year, New Challenges

In my last post, I looked back on a challenging but ultimately rewarding year. Today I’m looking ahead, contemplating the challenges that lie ahead for Mom and for me, and quite frankly — I’m overwhelmed.

It’s been five weeks since Mom left skilled nursing. Her physical strength is gradually returning — she’s now able to make it down to the dining room with her walker, without having to stop and sit down on the way — but I fear that she’s declining mentally. She seems to get confused now by even routine tasks and forgets some important things, like wearing her incontinence pads every day. The Care Director let me know that she’s wearing the same clothes day after day unless someone tells her to change them, and it’s likely she’s been sleeping in her clothes as well. When I brought her home the day after Christmas, I laid out a clean outfit on her chair which included a new pair of pants she’d received as a gift, suggesting that she try them on to be sure they fit. When I called the next day, she told me she was wearing them and they fit nicely. We talked several times over the last two days about going to church today (for the first time since she’s been home), but when I arrived this morning I found she’d completely forgotten — and she was still wearing the same clothes I’d laid out for her three days ago. The blouse had several spills on it, so I had to convince her to change it for church. Then she was too tired and wanted to lie down again, even though it was time to leave.

This is another thing that concerns me: She gets up for meals, but otherwise she seems to be spending the whole day in bed. When I ask about it, she says that she just has “no motivation” to get up. She doesn’t even turn on the TV or her little portable CD player for company. She just lies there in the silence, doing nothing, intermittently dozing. Since my dad passed away six years ago, I’ve never known her to like silence; she nearly always had the TV on. Now she doesn’t seem to bother unless I come over and turn it on, which makes the $60/mo. we’re spending for cable a little ridiculous.

And speaking of wasting money, she won’t wear her new upper denture that cost her over $1,000. I knew it would be an uphill battle to get used to it, but she refuses to even try. I can’t even get her to keep her partials in her mouth for more than ten minutes at a time. She says they irritate her gums and is constantly fussing with them, rattling them around in her mouth or taking them out and holding them in her hand. Tomorrow I’m going to call the dentist and make an appointment to see if there’s anything he can do to make the false teeth more comfortable. Meanwhile, I’m trying not to cringe every time she just pops them out of her mouth in public.

I never thought my mom, who used to be so well dressed and take pride in her appearance, would be that person — that crazy old lady who wears dirty clothes and forgets to put her false teeth back in. It makes me sad and embarrassed for her, but I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t be there every night to make sure she changes into her pajamas and lay out clean clothes for the morning. Her community offers a full care package that includes help with dressing/undressing, incontinence care, etc. — but it would take every last dollar of her monthly income to pay for it.

Mom has always loved crossword puzzles and word games like Scrabble. Doing the newspaper crossword has been her daily ritual for as long as I can remember. But lately she’s letting the newspapers pile up, crosswords untouched. When I visited today I suggested that we do a crossword together, but she couldn’t seem to keep her mind on it and had trouble with even some easy, obvious clues. She loves to read, too, but she hasn’t so much as opened any of the many books she received for Christmas — not even the two I bought her by her favorite author, Jan Karon. She didn’t show a lot of enthusiasm when she opened them on Christmas morning either. I wonder if she’s having more trouble with, well, “brain stuff” than she wants to admit? And I wonder what, if anything, I can do to help.

Looking ahead, I can see that the road before us doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it’s going to get a whole lot harder. I hope I’m up to it. I’m exhausted already.


6 thoughts on “New Year, New Challenges

  1. I know this is hard it sounds very challenging. I wish I had suggestions but the only thing I can come up with is to keep fighting, aging isn’t pretty which is why our culture wants to brush it under the rug. Do the best you can and realize that sometimes it won’t fix it, but your unfailing love and concern for her is everything. It’s her whole reality right now. Keep moving through it and one day you will know what good you can take from this extremely hard situation. You have the honor to repay her for her care for you early in life, you will overlook the stains and teeth and help her to be well for as long as it takes. Like water on a rock, unending and persistent…the love of a daughter doing the best she can. It will be ok, I promise. Not many have the courage to do what you do, they never visit, the clothes don’t get changed, the presents are not bought, the appointments are not made. You are doing great, Lira. Xxxx

  2. Overly talkative friend alert!!!! Like in a marriage – downshift your expectations. Your lovely Mother is still your lovely Mother, just old and tired. Since I can’t stop myself from giving advice – i’d say, pick one or two things that matter and work to maintain them. Also, I am always baffled by Willa so i review ‘developmental expectations’ and learn Willa is right on target with the ‘fuck you fours’ …maybe you need some insight about what to expect in your Mom’s changes. Nothing she is doing sounds unexpected for someone with her diagnosis and age. as with Willa, i need to remind myself to ‘stay with who she is now’ – Willa’s weekly screaming temper tantrums don’t mean she’ll wind up in juvy hall…I hope….and your mom’s behavior doesn’t mean she is actively dying. But it seems this is the year you show up to and for your Mom so you can let go of her. Parenting Willa through her stages has been a pisser this year – but i have contributed to the work/pain by taking her too seriously (well f-you too, so there). Its going to be hard this year for us both…(OMG all-day kindergarten!) and it can be hard or damn hard, its up to us how we handle these major life transitions of our loved ones. Take good care of yourself, Lira. Please do consider doing something regularly for your own good. Love ya!

  3. Tonight is the first time I have read your blog. Your mom’s progress is a lot like my mom’s was. Hospitalization can make dementia worse. For dad it improved after he was discharged. Mom died during her hospitalization, so don’t know what the outcome might have been. Mom lost interest in reading before the dementia due to vision problems, she used a magnifying glass to read the newspaper but didn’t feel it was worth the effort for books.

    Take care of yourself during this journey. It may bring you closer together in the day to day experiences, but may wear you out in the process. Good luck.

  4. A lot of good, supportive comments above, the most difficult and most important–make time and take care of yourself. I’m not sure I have enough information to offer something substantive, but I’m wondering if your dear mother has had an evaluation to diagnose the cause of her changed behavior (and then help you with goals and understandings)? Is it dementia? Alzheimer’s (one cause of dementia)? Could it be a medication….depression? A combination?

    I just finished a post on memory loss and loss of focus, linking to 2 previous posts with information from a highly regarded specialist in memory loss and dementia……also check out Carol Bursack’s You’re not alone.

    • Thank you, Susan! No, my mom hasn’t had an evaluation yet – I’m trying to get a referral for one from her primary care doctor (she has one of those Medicare Advantage HMO plans), so hopefully in the next few weeks.

      I will check out your blog and the other one you mentioned over the weekend. I am trying to take a little “me” time the next two days. 🙂

      • Good for you! Eat chocolate? A bubble bath or massage? Exercise? (I walked 8 laps on the high school track–cleared my head, organized my thoughts.) “Me” time really helps. Happy weekend.

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