Tuesday’s Tip: Whiteboards

“Aaaarrrgh! She keeps asking the same question over and over again. I’m going to go crazy! How can I handle this?”

Caregivers everywhere know full well that repeated questions are a common symptom of dementia and a frustrating, nerve-wracking, mind-numbing daily reality.

Dr. Natali Edmonds, PsyD, APBB of Dementia Careblazers has some wonderfully helpful YouTube videos which address many helpful topics for those she calls “Careblazers” – those caring for a loved one with dementia disorders. Dr. Natalie addresses the problem of repeated questions here, but let me add a few tips from my personal experience related to dealing with my mother’s repeated questions.

One of the best ways to handle the problem is to patiently answer the question and remind ourselves that it is the disease causing the loved one to repeatedly ask the question. I must admit, the everyday battle eats away at my patience and drives me bonkers, with my mother’s hearing loss adding another level of crazy. My husband and I are so accustomed to having to use our loud voices to communicate with her that we sometimes don’t realize when we’re shouting at someone who may be visiting us in our home.

One of the smartest communication tools we have purchased is a simple lap-size white board and a few Expo markers. This little investment has brought great returns in helping answer the questions looping around in Momma’s brain. Yesterday’s question of the day was, “Where am I?” After verbally answering her question a few times, I just pulled out her whiteboard and wrote down, “I live with my daughter Cindie and her husband Wayne. This is our home.” Momma read the answer aloud on several occasions and seemed calmed by having her answer.

A great visual reminder

One of mom’s most often asked questions is: “What am I doing today?” I often use the whiteboard to inform her as to what is happening on a given day, writing this down for her in “to-do list” fashion. For example, if I plan to wash her hair, I’ll write it down as an item on her check-list. Also on the list are tasks she still enjoys doing, like folding laundry and drying dishes. Writing those tasks down on the whiteboard gives her the satisfaction of being able to cross off the task once it is accomplished.

Momma loves it when guests come to visit, but is visibly agitated when she can’t remember their names, repeatedly asking, “What is your name?” Writing names on the whiteboard helps her relax a bit (name tags help too). If children are part of the mix, we have their parents prepare them ahead of the visit for the fact that Mrs. Boyles will ask them the same questions over and over again. Kids always seem to “get it” and are very patient and kind, talking loudly to her and flashing their big comforting smiles at her each time they answer one of her many questions.

Mom writes notes to us too

The road to communication is a two-way street. Mom will sometimes use the whiteboard to ask a question or make an observation. Other times she’ll write down her thoughts, giving me a little window into her concerns. Many times she will write down something she is thankful for, such as the picture you see below. In this picture she is writing a little note of thanks for someone whose visit she had enjoyed.

Well, that’s my tip or suggestion for this week. I’d love to hear a few of your great communication tips! Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

 

A Dark Chocolate Day

Credit: fastgoodhealth.com

I’m trying to like dark chocolate. Trying, but I’m not there yet.

Not even close.

While others love it and say, “It’s healthier for you,” it still tastes rather bitter to me. Now, wrap that bittersweet dark chocolate morsel in a whole lot of milk chocolate and I’d be one happy girl.

That kinda describes my day today. A chunk of bittersweet life wrapped in layer upon layer of the sweet stuff I truly love.

My bittersweet morning began around 3:00 am with Momma waking me out of my slumber with a lot of talking and groaning. A quick peek at the video monitor showed me she was confused, asking herself questions and trying to figure out where she was. She had left her walker and shoes on the opposite side of the bed from where she usually keeps it. Just that ‘little bit of different’ totally disoriented her from being able to find the bathroom just a few feet away. Willing my sleepy head off my comfy pillow, I headed downstairs to reunite her with her walker and gently point her in the direction of the bathroom. I sat in the chair in the corner of her room bleery-eyed and awaiting her return. She needed a little extra help with navigation for the return trip, but was soon tucked safely back in bed.

As I smoothed the covers over her, she looked around the room then asked me, “Am I in the hospital?” I assured her she was at home in her own bedroom and that I would be making her a yummy breakfast in a few short hours. It took about an hour for her to settle into sleep again, and then a little more time for ME to drift off into sleep once again.

Sanding finished! Applying primer coat of paint.

The sweet layer on my bittersweet start to the day came a little later in the morning. My granddaughters Mia and Noelle, and Natalie, a sweet girl Mia’s age that I dubbed my ‘honorary granddaughter,’ worked on an art project together.

[Actually, the sweet layer began a few weeks ago when my daughter rescued a roadside treasure from the curb and delivered it to my doorstep. My Beth is well known for her ability to turn someone else’s trash into treasure.]

Granddaughter Mia models the paint color

Yesterday, I set the girls up with all the supplies they needed to turn that discarded chair into an artistic treasure. First, I had them sand the old finish off of the chair and then give it a coat of primer.

 

Later they added a lovely coat of turquoise paint. Today they worked their collective artistic magic on the turquoise beauty as they embellished it with dainty painted flowers, curly vines and beautiful butterflies.  I plan to clear-coat the elegantly appointed chair and place it in my garden as a lovely support for one of my pretty plants.

Such pretty details

I had the girls paint outside under the shade of a nearby tree where their great-grandma could watch from the comfort of her chair at the kitchen table. I hoped she would enjoy the art show. But, no. Instead, she fussed about them getting paint on them and wondered aloud (over and over again), “What on EARTH are they doing?!”

As difficult as it was to listen to my mom repeatedly worry and fret, my grandmotherly heart was full to the brim with sweet joy as I watched my grandgirls have fun painting something that I will treasure for years to come.

While I tended to the after-supper kitchen cleanup, Momma watched through the kitchen window as my husband, our son, and a sprinkling of grandgirls were having a silly water balloon fight. She tapped her fingers on the kitchen table in a futile attempt to tell them that they needed to stop that foolish craziness. My daughter Beth tried to calmly reassure her grandma and help her understand that they were having fun, that everything was okay – to no avail.

For me, the bittersweet sadness in my mom’s anxiousness was wrapped in a lovely, sweet layer of my own contentment having my grandgirls and both my son and my daughter here at the same time. I relish the moments when we eat and play together as a family.

Surrounded by Love

To help Momma relax, the water play was moved to the front of the house. Still, Momma worried aloud, “Where are all my kids?” With the exception of one granddaughter, all of them will leave tonight. Yes, my mom will anxiously wonder when they’re coming home. That makes me sad. It’s the bittersweet dark chocolate center to a lovely morsel of time wrapped in the milk chocolate sweetness of my being able to enjoy special moments with my grandkids in the midst of my caregiving responsibilities.

How Did I Get Here?

There are many times when I walk into my mom’s room and she has this befuddled look on her face. I watch as her eyes wander slowly around the room, studying each piece of furniture, the window, and the doorways. Her eyes will land on pictures of once familiar people and a blankness has slipped over her eyes like a mask – no light of recognition.

In these moments Mom will often ask,

“How did I get here?”

I no longer answer by explaining, “Well, about two years ago I moved you from your home in Milwaukee so that you could live with me and I could help take care of you.” I don’t tell her she has Alzheimer’s. Unless she specifically asks, we don’t dwell on the fact that she can no longer handle money, make decisions, cook, drive, or take care of herself.

That’s too much information.

The answer that brings her the most comfort goes something like this:

“You moved in with me because I love you.”

 

Tidy Mommy

“Who made this mess?”

I’ve heard Mom ask that question since I was a toddler. She still asks this question whenever she surveys the bread crumbs and potato chip crumbles all over the floor surrounding her chair at the kitchen table. It’s best not to be too forthright and tell her that SHE is the guilty party. It’s the truth, but the blunt truth would only injure her fragile mind. Many inadvertent hurts later, experience has taught us that it is best to come at the truth from the backside. “Mom, messes happen. No worries. Let me get out the little broom and we’ll sweep it up right away.”

Hiding the mess
Mummy-wrapped banana peel

My mother’s use of Kleenex tissues is almost exponential. In addition to wadding them up and stuffing her pockets and purse, they happen to be her favorite clean-up tool. Without supervision, she will wrap anything and everything in tissues that she wants to throw away (in a rare moment of clarity, she admitted to disposing of her $1,200 hearing aides in this way).

If I just hand my mom a banana to snack on, she will create a little mummy-wrap for the peel before tossing it in the trash. Surely it is a desire to help which fuels this behavior – to be busy helping is in her DNA and it bothers her to be idle. In talking with others who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, this behavior is common.

Kitchen Clean-up

Our experience thus far in caring for my mom has taught both my husband and I that it is best to address something that is bothering my sweet momma right away, rather than let her obsess over things. By way of example, we have learned to clear the table right after supper, or she will begin wrapping up everything in Kleenex and use still more Kleenex to wipe out the dirty dishes and clean the table. While my hubby and I clear the table, we enlist her help by offering her a warm, wrung out washcloth so she can feel useful in cleaning up after the “messy people in this house.”

Most evenings Mom wants to help with the dishes. If it’s only a few plates, I’ll let her stand at the sink to dry. It makes me nervous though, because her legs are bowed and pretty unsteady, so we improvise a bit by bringing the dish draining rack to her place at the kitchen table. It takes three dish towels to do it this way: one under the dish drainer, one to use to dry dishes, and one to set the dried dishes upon. It does take more time than if I do it myself, but it makes my mother feel as though she is contributing to the household duties in a meaningful way. You can see contentment in her face as she helps, and that makes any inconvenience worth it all.

This Sweet Treat

I sometimes leave a little treat on the kitchen countertop near mom’s chair where she can enjoy ‘discovering’ the snack. Being able to help herself to something yummy gives her a much-needed sense of independence. Very important when, one by one, here a little, there a little, her ability to exercise independent decision-making is being stripped away.

Momma has long since lost the ability to cook; a bit sad since she was such a great cook.  Using an oven or cooking something on the stove-top would be dangerous. Truth is, she can no longer even use a microwave to fix herself a cup of tea or rewarm something she might find in the fridge. Only a few years ago, this amazing woman would cook big meals for her family and friends. Today, Alzheimer’s has left her completely dependent upon us to make sure she has the food she needs for daily sustenance.

I have discovered one secret to being a good caregiver. Wherever possible restore the dignity of making a choice. In this time of life when everyone is making important decisions on your behalf, being able to make even a small decision on your own is vitally important.

My Facebook friends may remember this story. One day, not long ago, I left a cookie for my mom on a little white plate. Mom spied the treat on the countertop and gingerly carried it to her spot at the kitchen table. Everything in me wanted to help her carry it to the table. I let her handle this on her own, but stood nearby and at the ready should she need my help. Mom then plopped herself into her chair at the table. Then, in a sweet, melt-my-heart moment, I watched as she held the cookie between the fingertips of her prayerfully clasped hands, closed her eyes and quietly prayed,

“Thank you Lord for this cookie, this sweet treat. And thank you for this nice place to be. In Jesus name, Amen.”

A Woman and Her Purse

In the world of Alzheimer’s, a woman and her purse (and a man and his wallet) aren’t easily parted.

Mom carries her purse everywhere she goes and sleeps with it under her pillow or worn on her shoulder and hugged tightly to her side under her covers.

Rummaging and rifling through the contents of her purse is a favorite Sundowning activity (for more information on Sundowner’s Syndrome, click here). I keep a baby monitor next to my bed and can hear and see her zipping and unzipping her purse at all hours of the night – over and over again. I can see her happily stumbling over the same piece of mail and delighting in reading it out loud as if for the first time.

The contents of her purse may vary a little bit, but I can count on a few things. She’ll probably have five or six combs, her glasses in a familiar blue case, a few colored pencils absconded from her coloring set, her favorite pieces of mail, three or four tubes of lipstick, and Kleenex…wads and wads of Kleenex. And, for good measure, there may even be a roll of toilet paper crammed in there. It’s a harmless security thing. Her purse filled with familiar objects brings her a little peace and reduces anxiety.

Some church and community service groups even provide “rummage bags” or “rummage boxes” for memory challenged residents of local nursing homes, as the act of rummaging through the contents of the bag provides a sense of calmness and occupies them for hours (see related article filled with ideas here).

The paranoia associated with Alzheimer’s causes her to believe with all sincerity that people will try to steal her stuff. So precious is her purse, Mom will hide it to keep its contents safe. Now that she lives with me, I know where her favorite hiding places are located. When she still lived in her apartment or in her own home, sometimes she hid the purse really well. Really, REALLY well. For times like that, we found a handy little device called a Tile which helped us locate her purse using an app on our phone. We give it our highest endorsement and heartily recommend it for anyone dealing with an elderly parent…or someone like me who misplaces her car keys more often than she cares to admit.

Back to purses…

Sometimes my mom is hilarious. This was one of those days. Not long ago, I posted this on Facebook. I hope it brings you a smile too.

Kitchen Spa Days

Mom is one of many afflicted with Alzheimer’s who adamantly refuse to shower or bathe. We deal with that problem okay by facilitating a “sponge bath” whenever she changes her clothes. Up until recent months, we handled hair washing by taking her to the beauty salon every other week or so. Sadly, her mobility is slipping away almost as quickly as her memory, resulting in her not getting out of the house much anymore.

We now wash her hair at home. Hair washing is sometimes planned into our day. Other days – like today – it’s impromptu. Continue reading “Kitchen Spa Days”