What happens when you want to remember something, but absolutely know you won’t? You write it down. For the individual experiencing short term memory loss, lists sometimes become a source of frustration. A caregiving daughter shares her view on helping her momma remember, while guarding her fragile dignity.
Journal entry from June 7, 2016
Quite often these days, Momma will ask me to buy her a notebook the next time I go to the store, declaring that she can never find any paper on which to write her lists. I know for a fact that she has umpteen notebooks and pads of paper squirreled away all over her apartment home.
Mom is at what her doctor calls the “moderate stage” of dementia where she is keenly aware that she is losing her ability to recall information and is trying her hardest to keep random pieces of information that won’t stay filed away in her brain in a place where she can easily retrieve them. Her lists are her safety net helping her capture not only her to-do list, but the stray thoughts, ideas, and necessities of life.
Once in awhile, mom asks me to take her shopping. Shopping excursions to Walmart or Walgreens invariably result in Mom tossing a new package of legal pads or a brightly colored spiral bound notebook into her shopping cart. She insists she is all out of them and there is no convincing her otherwise. Rather than bringing a sense of order to her world, the multiplicity of lists bring chaos to her sense of order as she tries in vain to gather her thoughts into one place.
I have since gathered most of those notepads/books into one cabinet in her apartment. One thing is certain–she has no need for more notepads. Rather, under her watchful eye, I acquiesce to mom’s request and jot down a note for myself on a shopping list, assuring her I will purchase a notebook for her on my next trip to the store.
You may be wondering, why not tell her the truth? Why the charade? Why not just tell her that she has plenty of notebooks? Right or wrong, I believe I am honoring my mom when I later “find” one of her notebooks and we can cross the “notebook for Mom” off my list. It gives mom the fleeting pleasure of having one of her requests granted, and I receive the gratification of pleasing my mother and guarding her fragile dignity.
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.”