Five Minute Friday: ONE

It’s hard to believe in less than a week hubby and I will be gathered with our kids and their families celebrating Thanksgiving. I’m personally looking forward to time away from caregiving (thankful for my sister who will care for mom while we take a little break), time with my grandkids, a little uninterrupted sleep, good food cooked by my kids and a few of their kids with a little help from me (When did THAT happen? Used to be the other way around!), and everything else that goes with spending time with family reflecting on God’s goodness to all of us.

I’m linking up for the first time with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community. Five minutes of free write on a weekly word prompt.  Today’s word is one. Here’s the first thing that came to my mind.


Just ONE thing

I have so many things on my always growing “to-do list”. In my world of being a full-time caregiver for a mother with Alzheimer’s, there are days when I may as well throw my to-do list in the trash, as Momma’s needs trump my would-like-to-get-done checklist.

One thing has helped. Simply focusing on one thing at a time.

“One bucket of weeds” is doable. I can certainly grab a 5-gallon pail during one of mom’s catnaps and do a quick cleanup of one area of my garden. That one bucket often leads to two…or maybe even more.

“One load of laundry” is much more attainable than devoting an entire day to the job. It’s an on-going job that is never truly accomplished anyway…so just do ONE load now. The rest will follow.

Sometimes it does help to break my big job up into lots of little “ones”. Spending time in the garden is one of those things I love to do, but also one of the things that is HARD to do while taking care of my sweet Mom. But, truth be told, even on the worst of days, I can get ONE thing done if I create a few bite-size chunks.

  • Trim back the red peony and bag the leaves
  • Dig out the aggressive lamium
  • Divide the red iris
  • Plant a piece of the red iris on the other end of the flower bed
  • Trim back the clematis to 1 foot
  • Spread compost
  • Plant the tulip bulbs
  • Mulch
  • Repaint the birdhouse (a rainy day project)

Very few of those jobs take longer than 10 minutes to accomplish. A little here and a little there. One small bite at a time. Each little job accomplished leads to the satisfaction of being able to cross the big job off the list.

There you have it. My ONE contribution.

Now, I’m going to fold ONE load of laundry before a much needed night out with my ONE guy.

Tuesday’s Caregiving Tip: Laminated Photo Cards

Whiteboards are a good tool we use to help Mom remember names.

Eventually, with very few exceptions, all those afflicted with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to remember names. In the beginning stages, it’s an occasional inability to remember the name of a friend. Somewhere in the middle stages of this mind crippling disease, my mother began having more trouble with names. I noticed names scribbled in notebooks, on church bulletins, on 3″ x 5″ notecards, and backs of envelopes. It was her tool for hiding the fact that she was beginning to forget the names of her close friends.

Momma belonged to a group of ladies from her church who called themselves “The Lunch Bunch.” Each lady friend took turns choosing the destination for their culinary adventures. It was a sad day when Mom decided she could no longer meet up with her friends. She told me it was because the lunch venues were so far away. In retrospect, the unspoken truth was Momma was embarrassed she could no longer navigate driving to unfamiliar places. Even sadder and more difficult to admit, remembering the names of her closest friends was becoming impossible.

Our church family has become Mom’s surrogate church family now that she lives with us. My mother enjoys visits from her new friends, but is nervous about not knowing their names. To ease her transition toward knowing the names of these new friends, I borrowed an idea from a friend I’ve never met who lives in Yorkshire, England. A fellow caregiver to her own mother with mixed dementia, Heather and I “met” on Creative Carer, Heather’s Facebook page dedicated to inspiring and giving ideas to caregivers for those living with dementia. Our mothers seem to be travelling parallel paths in the progression of their individual journeys in the uncertain world of dementia. Heather is amazingly creative in her approach to caregiving, capitalizing upon her mother’s lifelong passion for all things artsy and crafty (you’ll also find many creative art therapy ideas on Heather’s blog here). As her mother’s memory began to fade, Heather created some laminated pages for her mum, depicting life events, useful information, and snippets of joyful events that had happened in her lifetime.

The laminated cards are double-sided and fit perfectly in her purse.

With Heather’s brilliant idea as seed thought, I made some little laminated photo cards mom could keep in her purse. Each card has a photo of friends and family who come to visit, with names written on the card and perhaps a little reminder as to how mom knows that individual or family. I love seeing Mom discover these cards in her purse. It’s a perfect sundowning activity for her, as she loves to go through the contents of her purse during her late-night purse rummages.

Whenever a new friend comes for a visit, I take a picture of them with my mom, then create a card for her before their next visit. About an hour or so before a guest’s next visit, I take that card out of her purse and show it to her. She really appreciates having the card as a reference.

Next project on the horizon: create a few cards featuring her childhood, family, nursing school and wedding. Memories from her early years are still relatively intact; these cards may help Mom tell (and retell) her stories to visiting family and friends willing to sit with her for a moment and listen.

Growing in Patience and Kindness

“For when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.”   James 1:3-4 (TLB)

Awakening from a decent night’s sleep, I pushed ‘snooze’ to buy myself just a few more minutes beneath the covers before throwing on my workout clothes, grabbing a quick breakfast and heading out the door to the gym. I remember being grateful for six hours straight of good sleep. The serenity of my cozy space beneath the blankets was quickly invaded by the sound of Mom’s voice on the video monitor on my nightstand. I distinctly heard her say, “Oh, no! Oh no! Oh no-no-no!”

That’s usually not a good thing. Continue reading “Growing in Patience and Kindness”

Palliative Care Praises

As this mid-stage of Alzheimer’s drags on, Mom is sleeping quite a bit more, not only at night (which I appreciate), but during the day as well – sometimes skipping a meal in lieu of sleep. Unfortunately, her nighttime sleep doesn’t appear to be very restful, as she gets in and out of bed various times throughout the night – sometimes to use the restroom, other times to explore the contents of her purse or her dresser drawer, or watch the real or imaginary happenings going on inside our house or outside of her window.

We have also noticed she has been less content during her awake hours and is more easily agitated. She paces back and forth between her bed and her chair at the kitchen table, never quite settled in either place,; never quite sure if she’s going to bed or getting up.

Long ago, when my mother was still able to make her own decisions, we had discussed her wishes related to end of life care. We had agreed that there would be “comfort measures only” as her time here on earth draws to a close – and she entrusted me with the future task of making those decisions.

The future is now, it seems. I’ve wrestled with what to do for her a lot lately and have come to the conclusion that helping her relax, get some rest, and ease her anxiousness does fall within the parameters of “comfort measures only.”

Momma is not yet in a state of decline which requires hospice intervention and end of life care, but she does qualify for palliative care in this transitional time of declining health and memory.

At the end of August, a nurse practitioner came to our home to establish a course of home-based palliative care. I liked Diane right from the start. What’s not to like? Diane enjoys gardening (and daylilies in particular) about as much as I do – even hooking me up with five new daylilies for my garden (pictures to come next summer)!

Mom’s blood pressure was very high, and had been trending that way for some time. This hypertension is likely one of the reasons she has been having increased difficulties with headaches. Diane suggested that a trial of  blood pressure medication might also help her with a number of other uncomfortable problems. She suggested a medication known to have a sedative effect on some patients, which may ease Mom’s anxiety and help her get more restful sleep. For the sake of Momma’s (and my) sleep and for comfort related to hypertensive headaches, I decided to try the medication. I’m not entirely convinced it is helping with sleep, but I am thankful her blood pressure is now normal and headaches are no longer an almost daily complaint.

Diane has been helpful in so many other ways, including being a liaison between me and mom’s primary care physician, following through on medication changes and checking for understanding regarding those changes. She has helped me work through decisions related to whether or not additional dental work should be done (weighing the trauma it may cause versus the benefit it would bring), connected me with caregiver resources and information to feed my inquiring mind.

As a caregiver, I see palliative care as being the comfort care “bridge” between Momma’s failing physical and mental health and the hospice care that will be provided for end of life needs. I am ever so grateful for Diane as she helps me walk my sweet mother Home on this leg of life’s journey with Alzheimer’s.

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

Sometimes my Momma gets up during the middle of the night and wanders around in her room – typical “sundowning” activity. From my comfy bed, I can keep an eye on her via camera on the monitor I keep on the nightstand. I’ll sleepily watch as she opens and closes drawers, switches the contents of one drawer to another, fiddles with knobs, looks through books and photo albums, and arranges and rearranges things in her purse. Once she is satisfied all is right in her world, she’ll generally go back to bed on her own and I can go back to sleep knowing she is safe. That having been said, if I see her walker on the left side instead of the right side of her bed, I’ll sneak down after she has drifted off to sleep and quietly switch it (and her shoes) over to the opposite side of the bed.

img_1028-1The familiar idiom, “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” usually refers to someone having a bad day right from the start. In Momma’s world of Alzheimer’s, it is entirely possible to very literally “wake up on the wrong side of the bed.” It’s interesting how a seemingly teeny difference of throwing her legs over the opposite side of the bed when she awakens will cause her day to begin awry.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed means she sees a different view and doesn’t know where she is at all, and will often cry out, “Where on EARTH am I?”

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed means she won’t know where her shoes are. She’ll fuss and fret and say repeatedly, “Where are my shoes? Who took my shoes?”

img_4948
A very important door to be able to find.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed means she will have great difficulty finding her way to the bathroom situated just a few steps away from her bed. Instead of being down the little hallway right in front of her, she’ll have to walk those extra steps around the end of her bed, causing her extra discomfort and pain in her already painful feet and knees, which definitely increases her risk of falling.

Moving her walker to the ‘right side’ of the bed is a very small kindness I can do to make her daily journey with Alzheimer’s a little more familiar, navigable, and comforting.

What small acts of kindness make your loved one’s world a little easier? Please do share in the comments section.

Little Things

After lunch today Momma asked me to trim her fingernails. I had been refused several times lately when it had been my suggestion. Today it was hers, so I dropped what I was doing and took care of that request.

As she happily admired her shorter nails, I asked if I could please wash her hair.

“Again? You want to wash it again,” she mildly retorted.

Now that her hair is growing longer, she enjoys twirling the ends around her fingertips, adding a little 60’s flip to her hairdo. So I countered, “Yes, it has been awhile and you’re losing your pretty curls.”

It worked. A few minutes later she was humming a contented tune while I was blow drying her pretty silver locks.

Today I’m thankful that this little thing made her happy for this little moment in time.

Tuesday’s Caregiving Tip: Accept Help

My hubby has been gone for ten days on a short-term mission trip in Dehra Dun, India. Ten days. I know, in the greater scheme of things, that’s not very long. If all goes well with travel plans, he should be pulling in the driveway in time for lunch today. His absence has made me keenly aware of all the little things he does for me that make it possible for me to care for my mom in our home. I am blessed and grateful.

More than ever, in the time that he has been away, I have also discovered how very blessed I am with friends and family. They’ve helped me clean my house, mow my lawn, and brought me dinner and companionship. These beautiful people have spent a little time with my mom so I could go to the gym, grocery shop, run a few errands, work in my garden, celebrate my birthday with my family, or take an unhurried bath. After a Facebook post about my sleepless nights, a couple of friends carved time out of their busy lives to take care of mom for a few hours, allowing me time to take a nap. One sweet friend even spent the night so I would be assured of at least one night of uninterrupted sleep.

We caregivers are made of some pretty strong stuff. But, sometimes, some of what appears to be “strength” is just a facade – a false wall of competence that gives others the impression that we’ve got it all together and that we don’t need any help. That facade is a form of pride which causes us to struggle to accept help when it is offered.

I have been hesitant to hit the “publish” button on this blog post, because I realize many of my fellow caregivers struggle with finding people to support them and give them a little respite. My heart goes out to you. As I pull my thoughts together into words to write, I am praying that God will bring into your life people who can help.

I think it is safe to say that most caregivers have heard someone say, “How can I help?” Or perhaps it sounded more like, “If there’s ever anything I can do to help, just give me a call.” This little missive is primarily written for you.  I must admit, I have heard myself reply on far too many occasions, “No, thanks. I’m okay. But, thanks for offering.”

Here’s my tip – If someone offers to help, never turn them away. Don’t put off saying “yes” for a time when you really need it. You really need it now.

I would love to hear how some of you have been helped as a caregiver, or given help as a friend. Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below.