Tag Archive | traveling with elderly

Christmas Trip, Part 1

Mom and I are in Ohio, staying with her sister for the next week. We arrived late Saturday night after a long travel day: flight from Burbank to Phoenix, rushing through PHX with a wheelchair attendant to just make our 3.5-hour flight to Cleveland, then a 90-minute drive in my cousin’s car. Mom was perky the whole way, unconcerned about the tight connection or the turbulence for the first hour of the second flight, chatting happily with her nephew as we drove. I was dead on my feet exhausted as I helped her brush her teeth and get into her pajamas, and asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Yesterday I woke up before my body or brain were ready to function, worried about Mom waking up in an unfamiliar room and not knowing how to find the bathroom or her clean Depends. To my surprise, she was already up and sitting in an easy chair by the Christmas tree, working a crossword puzzle, completely comfortable. As I helped her get dressed, I asked if it had been disconcerting waking up in a strange room. She shrugged that off and told me “I’ve stayed in this room lots of times. It’s very familiar.”2015-12-20 14.35.57

We had a busy Sunday with lots of family dropping in and out all afternoon – drank too many cups of coffee and ate too many sweets – and Mom enjoyed every minute of it.

For the second night in a row, I slept as if sedated and had to drag myself out of bed to get Mom up. Being alert to her every need all day long takes it out of me. We were having cereal and coffee in the dining room when she looked at me and asked “Whose house is this?” I told her we are at Alice’s house and today is December 21, and she smiled happily. “It’s almost Christmas!”

Her feet were very swollen yesterday, likely from the long flights, so this morning I checked with her nurse and gave her a full 20 mg Lasix tablet instead of her usual half. She also had some digestive distress, which wasn’t fun for either of us since she didn’t make it to the bathroom on time. Luckily we have easy access to a washer and dryer. And nothing got messy that couldn’t be easily cleaned. I count that as a win. Also, thankfully, it passed quickly and she was soon feeling better. I’m also counting it as a win that I’ve remembered all four of her daily medication dosages on time for three days now. Better put reminders on my calendar in case I just jinxed myself by saying that.

I went out to run some errands with my aunt this afternoon and picked up some diabetic socks for Mom. Hopefully those will help with the swelling. I also picked up a bottle of Tylenol and a back pain patch for myself. I seem to have strained a muscle in my lower back, probably from bending over to roll a suitcase through the airport after the extendable handle came apart. It hurts to bend down or sit too long, and I feel like we’re quite the pair of frail old ladies right now… and all of this gives me a new level of respect for all the family caregivers out there who are coping with their own health challenges while caring for an elderly parent.

But it’s worth every minute of stress and aggravation, every twinge of aching muscles, to see her so happy and content here. And we haven’t even gotten to Christmas yet!

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Lucky

We are so very lucky, my mom and me. The family visit was everything either of us could have hoped for. Things went smoothly with all three flights – no delays, no major airport hassles, no lost luggage. Mom did just great with all of it, even waking up ridiculously early to catch our flight out of Denver.

We had wonderful quality time with too many family members to list, including some who we hadn’t been able to see on our last couple of visits. We broke bread together. We spent hours looking through boxes of old family photos (as far back as her grandparents) and sharing memories. We played Scrabble. We paid a visit to the cemetery where several generations of family are buried; holding my arm, since the ground is too uneven to push a walker, Mom walked through the cemetery to visit all of the family headstones. We saw beautiful fall colors, and I took lots of pictures for her digital picture frame.

Here’s Mom resting at the grave of her parents.

Mom at Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a favorite of the family shots, a kiss from her grandson.

Josh and Grandma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you” was the refrain that echoed through this visit. I do believe that every single family member told her that they love her before they said goodbye. I think we were all (except for Mom) very conscious that this may be the last visit. I’m so glad that everyone got a chance to hug her and tell her that they love her, but I’m not dwelling on the “last visit” part. She may surprise us all! She is already, at 86, the longest-living member of her immediate family. And she’s showing no signs of being ready to quit!

Those relatives who saw her last spring all commented on how much better she seems now, and it truly is remarkable. Six months ago, she was going back to bed every chance she got, dozing the days away. Now she’s staying awake and alert all day and well into the evening, as long as she gets a nap around midday. She’s physically stronger and able to walk further without tiring, and her memory has definitely improved. Six months ago, she couldn’t keep track of where we were going for the space of a ten-minute car trip. She would ask me repeatedly where she lived or talk about visiting an apartment that doesn’t exist. As soon as something was out of sight, it was out of mind. But for the entire ten-day trip, she not only remembered that she lives in California now (and not Arizona) but was also able to answer in detail when asked about the home where she lives. Everyone cautioned me that once cognitive function is lost, it will never return – so this is an unlooked for, unexpected blessing.

Catching up on the dementia caregivers message board, I realize anew just how lucky I am that my mom’s personality is thus far mostly unchanged, despite her dementia. She’s not angry or paranoid or delusional. She’s not regressing to childlike behavior. She still knows all of us and retains the emotional connection of the relationships even if she’s lost some of the specific memories. Her essential nature is the same as it has always been – kind and loving and easygoing. For this, and for the gift of a loving family, I am truly grateful.

Coming Together

This time tomorrow Mom and I will be on a flight bound for Denver. A cousin who lives in Colorado Springs is making an approximately 160-mile round trip drive to pick us up at the airport, take us to our hotel, and spend the evening with us. My nephew is also driving in from the Boulder area to join us for dinner. I am grateful to my cousin for the airport pick-up, as I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting my mom and her rollator walker and our luggage (two large suitcases, one backpack, one small tote bag, one purse) on and off the airport shuttle bus. And I am very much looking forward to seeing both of them.

On Thursday we will take the shuttle back to Denver International and take another flight to Ohio, where we’ll spend the next nine days at my aunt’s house. This is the trip we had originally hoped to make in May, to be there for the annual Memorial Day family reunion, but had to cancel because Mom was still recovering from the nasty infection that landed her in the hospital in April.

The Memorial Day reunion brings family from other parts of the country. Not everyone makes it every year, but there’s a whole contingent who usually come down from Michigan and a few who make the trip from Maryland. Mom was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see these folks, since we are making our trip “off season” as it were, but of course looking forward to seeing everyone who lives in the area. My aunt who is hosting us is having a potluck to gather all the family together, so we won’t spend the whole week running around trying to see everyone.

While I was with Mom on Sunday, packing her suitcase, I got an email from my cousin in Maryland saying that she and her husband are coming to Ohio next weekend to see us. I read the message out loud to Mom, and she beamed and clapped her hands like a delighted child. Later, at home, I learned that one of Mom’s cousins from Michigan is making the trip down as well. I haven’t shared that with Mom because I think it will be a wonderful surprise. I can’t wait to see her face when her dear cousin walks into the room.

I am so touched that the family is coming together like this. It’s a testament to their love for a sister, cousin, aunt, grandmother who has become the matriarch of the family.

Ice Cream and Choo Choo Trains

Sorry for the long absence. Mom has been doing really well and I’ve been able to focus a little more on my own life the past few weeks. About a week ago I took her to an ice cream social at her church, which she really enjoyed. After ice cream sundaes and announcements about the women’s fellowship programs, they played Bunco – a dice game that involves lots of changing partners and moving from table to table. I was a bit nervous about it because I wouldn’t be able to stay with Mom throughout to help her keep track of the rules or her score. There was no room between the tables to maneuver her walker, so we left it parked in the corner. She did just fine. She must have gotten up and down, on her own, at least a dozen times. When she needed a hand, someone was there to lend one. When she forgot to tally her score, someone reminded her. She had a blast!

This afternoon I took Mom to her three-month followup with the neurologist. Dr. O was pleased with the improvement in her gait and balance, and with what I reported about her increased leg strength. We don’t have to see her again until December. When we left, I asked Mom if she wanted me to take her to get her hair cut, but she wasn’t in the mood for that… so we went to Foster’s Freeze for milkshakes instead.

On the way there, we were stopped for a bit at a railroad crossing while two commuter trains zipped by, one going each direction. Mom was very interested in them. After the trains passed, she turned to me and said “I’ve been thinking, the next time I go back to Ohio, I’d like to take the train instead of flying.”

The train? To Ohio?? That’s over 2,000 miles! It would take DAYS.  When I expressed that concern to Mom, pointing out that the travel time would significantly cut into the time we would be able to spend with family once we got there, she said we could fly home. She wouldn’t be dissuaded from the idea, so I finally told her that I would do some research – find out what it would cost and how long it would take to get there. “I hoped you would,” she said.

Personally, I’m hoping she forgets all about this. Though I’ve always wanted to travel by train, I don’t think I’d sign up for a journey that long even with young, healthy companions to join me. A 43-hour train trip with an elderly dementia patient might land us BOTH in the hospital! Besides, the sleeper cars cost almost twice what it will cost to fly Southwest.

It would be fun to ride a train together sometime, though. Maybe just a short trip, like up to Santa Barbara for the day…

Family Reunion

We are in Ohio, Mom and me, with her family.

It was a long travel day to get here — a two hour drive to the airport, a 90-minute layover in Chicago between flights — and almost midnight local time when my aunt and cousin fetched us at the airport. It was the first time I’d flown with Mom since her recent diagnoses, the first time traveling with her walker, and I was pretty tense. I didn’t unclench until we were sitting at our gate at Midway waiting to board the last flight.

Mom, on the other hand, just relaxed and enjoyed the journey, trusting me to keep track of IDs and boarding passes and luggage and to get us where we needed to be on time. She was a real trooper. At home she usually wants to lie down for a nap after the briefest of outings (like a trip to the grocery store), but she made it through an 11-hour travel day without running out of steam.

Mom was tired on Saturday, but she didn’t let it stop her from accompanying my aunt and me to the cemetery to put flowers on all the family graves – a Memorial Day tradition.

Saturday night I kept waking up hearing my mom coughing. Worried that she might be getting sick, I tiptoed up the stairs to check on her. She was asleep, so I went back to bed and tried to sleep too… only to find myself lying awake listening for the sound of coughing. I need a baby monitor, I thought, and chuckled to myself in the dark. Thankfully we haven’t gone *that* far in the role reversals.

Sunday was the annual family reunion. When I woke Mom up in the morning, she was disoriented. She had no idea where she was or how she got there. She asked me what day it was and my answer (“it’s Sunday and tomorrow is Memorial Day”) didn’t seem to clarify anything for her. She was so out of it that I suggested she just go back to sleep and we skip church. I was worried, but when I checked on her fifteen minutes later she was getting dressed and seemed her usual self.

At the reunion she claimed her place as family matriarch, with various nieces making her coffee or bringing her a blanket for her legs. It was great to relax my vigilance and visit with my cousins, knowing that she was surrounded by loving family who would catch her if she stumbled, make sure she didn’t catch a chill, etc. Everyone seemed delighted to have her there and she was absolutely in her element.

She isn’t the least bit shy about asking for anything she wants, even if it means the mother of two toddlers is jumping up to make her coffee, and because her short term memory is so poor she will keep asking again and again until it arrives. I made a joke about how she’s gotten accustomed to being waited on at her assisted living, where they have waiters who take meal orders and serve the food. She played along but didn’t take the gentle hint. I was glad we were among family, surrounded by people who love her and don’t mind waiting on her. (Even so, I’ve felt uncomfortable at times.) And I am thankful daily that she is not one of those querulous old people who complains about everything — every request is made with a smile, every bit of assistance received with a “thank you”. Mom has had to get comfortable asking for help in the last year or so. Maybe I just need to get comfortable with letting people besides me (and paid caregivers) do some of the helping. I feel like it’s all falling on my shoulders, but it isn’t really. There is help if I just learn to ask for it with a smile and accept it graciously, the way she does.