Alzheimer's - The Dark Side
Settling In at the Palo Alto Commons.
Things went pretty good when Mom first moved into the Commons. Mom became the Bingo Queen, winning a bunch of medals and 'shop money' - script that is used in the local 'store'. She took to her 'walker' right away, using it to go everywhere. We're sure it kept her from falling many times. She participated in the 'Silver Surfers' which was an experiment sponsored by Stanford University to see how 'senior citizens' react to the Internet via WebTV. She did the crossword puzzles. She did the bingo - twice a week. Mom was known as the 'bingo queen' because she won so often! She went to the nightly movies in the activity room. But she still remembered the other side of the family discarding her. She would sing "Nobody loves me. Nobody loves me. Nobody loves me". We listened to that for 6 years....
|Mom at one of the outdoor Palo Alto Commons festivities
Then Mom fell. March 15, 2000 in the early morning. She broke her right hip on the shoulder of the femur. Her leg was turned around 180 degrees! Apparently, she got up early to go to the bathroom and forgot to use her walker. The Medicos say it's common for older people to lose their balance if they get up too fast from a prone or sitting position. The blood pressure didn't compensate for the increase load. So, if you're over 60 and getting out of bed, then first sit on the edge and then get up to a standing position. Let the blood pressure equalize.
We didn't recognize Mom after the hip operation. The only way I knew it was Mom is that she had on her gold watch! Besides that, the anesthesia caused horrible psychotic episodes. Halodol is often prescribed to calm down elderly surgery patients. What a mind bender! It's common in older folks to experience these episodes and remain in that state for as long as a week. Mom was transferred to a convalescent home where she stayed for nearly 7 weeks. Catheters. Restraints. Man!
|Back to the Assisted Living Resisdence.
She needed 24 hour care back at the assisted living residence. That was expensive! 3 shifts. $15 an hour; 24 hours a day. It ain't cheap to convalesce when you're older. Then she fell again on November 23, 2000. She had a short stay in Stanford Hospital and then we decided that living in the Commons was too risky. So we moved Mom to Lytton Gardens Healthcare Center. It's a combination assisted living, convalescent and nursing home.
|Alzheimer's isn't Cancer.
Mom is a cancer survivor. She had a partial mastectomy in 1970. Fortunately, many, many forms of cancer and other diseases are operable or can be treated with radiation, hormones, or drugs. Unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine for Alzheimer's. There's no operation for Alzheimer's. But don't worry; you have a few years before you get it. By the time you're 84; you have a 50/50 chance of suffering dementia or Alzheimer's.
Then Another Fall.
|We Never Say The Word 'Alzheimer's'
Call it sticking your head in the sand. Call it avoiding the truth. But we never say to Mom that she has a disease or that she is sick. We did once; when she asked about 5 years ago what was the matter, we told her she has Alzheimer's Disease. That was the worst thing we could have done because she said: "Oh, God, that's the kiss of death!". She asks us every so often: "What's wrong with me?" We just say: "Mom, you're just getting older, that's all."
Here's a picture of Mom enjoying a Christmas present from her brother, Ken Wolf, who is 91!
I was late for dinner one evening at Lytton Gardens Healthcare Center so I apologized. Mom said: "Around here, it doesn't make much difference". She knew that time didn't matter there. So she does have some notion of where she is. But for the most part, there is no time in Alzheimer's. There is no past. No present. No future. Only now. This instant. You, the reader, can't comprehend the meaning of this because you possess the sense of time. You remember what you did yesterday and the day before. But when you have serious Alzheimer's you can't follow a TV program, read a book, or remember what you ate last. Every experience is now, this instant.
"I hate what I've become!" "I hate what I've become!" That's what Mom says nearly every day. She is angry. She blames her sister for leaving her. She blames us for any little thing that disturbs her. She knows that she's getting older, less cogent, less mobile; that she won't be leaving Lytton Gardens. Can't get into the car and drive to the supermarket or store. You'll be there some day. You remember how you use to be but can't do anything about it. Others control your life now. They bring your food. Bath you. Clean the apartment
|She cries about 2 hours a day now. The staff call her 'The Crying Lady". They also call her 'The Mean Lady' because she is angry. Very angry. Seething with anger sometimes. About the smallest things. About things she can't control anymore but could long ago. She has delusions. Sometimes she thinks one of us is dead! Imagine that when the other one calls her! I called her up one day and asked how she was and she said: "How the Hell do you think I feel! Teddy's dead!" Well, Ted wasn't dead but in Mom's mind at that instant he was. And that's all she knew. Mom was starting to hallucinate; dreams or thoughts were becoming reality.
Mom. Christmas, 2002. Lytton Gardens Healthcare Center, Palo Alto, California.
|What Really Matters?
The only thing that matters is a lot of patience. No. That isn't enough. A great deal of patience. No, that's not it. All the patience you have. Sometimes Ted and I let our frustration take control and we'll be short with Mom. Or make a wisecrack. She doesn't understand anymore. Our problem is that we're 'normal' - we can remember things and act upon desires and responsibilities. Peole suffering from Alzheimer's can't. You can practice Alzheimer's: lay on your back on the floor, stare up at the ceiling, and repeat 'I'm losing my mind' for about 3 hours. Or try it in a chair. Or you can practice macular degeneration by reading a book while looking through a piece of cellophane coated with Vasoline petroleum jelly. Try it. Please donate to the National Alzheimer's Association when you can.
|It's February, 2004. Mom remains bitter and angry about what she has become, although she is much calmer. Maybe it's just her getting old that has softened her. Every once in awhile she says something spontaneous like 'what will you do when you're my age, Rickie?'. Otherwise, it's the same series of questions; over and over and over and over and over. ' How was work?' 'How is Ted?'. 'What day is it?' For hours on end. Mom has no memory of what she says or does or where she is. She doesn't know she is in a wheelchair. There is no memory or connection with any previous event; something you and I can not comprehend - until it happens to us....
|It's August, 2004. Mom can not walk; she is permanently wheelchair-bound. But she doesn't seem to know that because she will try to get up and walk. She calls me a 'dope' when she asks how long she's been here (Lytton Gardens) and I tell her 3 years. Sometimes she just wants to go 'home' but doesn't know where home is. When I ask her, she says 'we rent, I think'. She does not remember the family that well, but she does remember a 'Tante Wentz', whom she never met. She does know Ted and me although she will get us mixed up. Her eyesight is very bad but she doesn't complain about it because she does not remember having good eyesight. So if the memory does not exist, then you know only what 'is'; we think that is where Mom is now.....
|Alzheimer's - Dark Side