While I’ve had several elderly friends with Alzheimer’s disease, and I continue to learn more about that disease, the direct caregiving experiences I had were with other types of dementia. Each dementia was as distinct as the person who had it. And each day brought new caregiving challenges. I’ll share with you, through this series of four blogs, the different dementias I witnessed first hand, as the primary caregiver.
My Mother: Organic Brain Disease, or "Senile Dementia"
The first, because it’s likely the most “common” if you will, was my mother’s dementia. Her dementia was the type people would call, when I was growing up, “senile dementia.” It was the sort that was expected when people got old. The official, modern diagnosis for my mother was organic brain disease.
Mom’s memory had gradually gotten worse. It was a slow, but obvious, slide. This was combined with increasingly poor decision making and an increase in controlling behavior. (If this rings a bell, raise your hand.) She broke my heart when she once said, tearfully, “There are so many holes in my mind.”
Even while I was still buying Mom her crossword puzzle books, and she could still come close to completing the one in her daily paper, she had gotten so she didn’t remember if my sister had visited the day before. This is the kind of thing where I often used distraction. I hated how awful she felt when I had to tell her that Beth had come on Sunday, as usual. Mom had just forgotten. I couldn’t lie and say my sister hadn’t been there. So I had to tell the truth, and then try to distract Mom, the best that I could, from the pain she felt about forgetting.
I did Mom’s shopping, and she often didn’t remember what she had told me to buy, which is why I often “got it wrong.” I would again try distraction, but she’d usually grab onto this like a bulldog. It was a way for her to relieve frustration, I suppose. Distraction was a poor match for her, when she was determined. And redirection? That too, failed me here.
She would sometimes decide to wield her power over her checkbook by calling a sales person and buying something – usually something expensive. If her friend got something new, and told her about it, she decided that she needed it too – even though she was in a nursing home, with limited room. Her friend was not. Mom was fortunate enough to have a private room, but still, there is a limit to what you can cram into it. For this, I’d bang my head against the wall.
I tried to take home clothing she wasn’t using, so she had room for what she wanted. But that caused problems, too. She once told an aide that I was taking her sweatshirts home to wear to work – when actually, I was taking her winter things home to make room for her new, spring, birthday gifts. I told her this, and she said I should make room – take home the winter clothes. But (this is where I start to sputter) she still told the aide....!