Written with love and great admiration for all those who are caring for a loved one who is facing Alzheimer’s or any other diagnosis that spells memory loss. I write from my experience of caring for my sweet mother in her later years with Alzheimer’s.
Here’s the next in a series of posts inspired by A-Z Caregiving Tips (pictured below). A diagnosis of cognitive impairment or memory loss presents caregiving challenges, each as varied as the person experiencing it. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis that spelled memory loss for my sweet mom. You can read my previous posts for my tips on A – L. It seems I have a lot to say about “M,” so I will focus on that for this week.
Make new ways I can be of service to others
Mom was a nurse. A dedicated and amazing nurse. Even after she retired from her long career in nursing, she still practiced nursing in an unofficial way as she came alongside family and friends as they went through their physical trials in life. She was dad’s constant companion whenever he faced any of his cancers and surgeries. She served her friends as the requisite driver and responsible party when those friends faced day surgeries of various types. If someone was hospitalized, she was almost always one of the first visitors. Several of her friends had her come along to their surgeon’s or oncologist’s office when they were going to receive their scary diagnosis. Mom knew just the right questions to ask and how to help her friends through the difficult days ahead.
The time came when Mom was the patient with symptoms of short-term memory loss. I’m sure she knew something was amiss long before I started noticing memory blips. Who knows how many years she wrestled with that knowledge alone? Based upon dated notes and lists I found here and there, I would say for a few years.
Although Mom forgot many things, the experiences of her lifetime still served as a guide in her daily interactions. Even after mom moved in with me and then later into assisted living memory care, I routinely saw the nurse in mom present when she’d notice someone wasn’t feeling well and then do her best to make sure they were cared for appropriately.
It was like a special window into her past which allowed me the privilege of seeing what she may have been like when she mothered me as a baby. (Mom and me in this photo.)
Let me share just a few photos of her doing things which made her feel useful during her years spent living with dementia.
I’m thinking now of a resident at the assisted living memory care home where my mom lived for her last 14 months of life. June was usually the first one up every morning. She took very seriously her job of raising the window shades at the start of the day. The staff would then present her with a large basket filled with freshly laundered clothing protectors (bibs) and towels. June took great pride in folding them.
My mom would do the same thing when she was living with us for a few years. She loved to fold laundry, especially when it was warm out of the dryer. The warmth felt good on her arthritic hands. She would also dry dishes for us. Her legs were unsteady, so I would set her up with everything she needed at her place at the kitchen table. Mom had also been into gardening, so I would occasionally try to get her outdoors to help me. She especially enjoyed deadheading and cutting back spent foliage. Her specialty, however, was sweeping. She couldn’t stand to see even one leaf on the deck or porch, so we’d arm her with a broom and she’d happily sweep for quite some time.
I can’t talk about this subject without thinking of Heather, an amazing blogger I follow who cared for her sweet mother too. Heather’s mum, Margaret, had been an artist, so Heather would play to her mum’s interests and strengths by creating art therapy projects for her to work on throughout the day. They even opened an Etsy shop in order to sell some of her ‘Made by Mum’ projects, donating a portion of their profit to the Alzheimer’s Society. Heather’s amazing website Creative Carer is filled with photos and tutorials, a link to her very helpful and inspiring blog, and oodles of practical ideas for caregivers who desire to keep their loved one meaningfully engaged.
For several years now, this little watering can has held various succulents from my garden. I bought this little watering can around 17 years ago for my first grandbaby. My mind’s eye sees Violet, dressed in her pink ballerina tutu, carrying this pint-sized watering can around and joyfully watering my flowers…and rocks…and me.
One by one, each granddaughter took her turn as a toddler helping me water the garden using this watering can. Mia, then Noelle, each dressed in various Disney princess dresses, liked to use their budding culinary skills while they watered. They’d take the bucket of water I provided for watering can refills and add handfuls of their special ingredients: leaves, twigs, grass, and dirt, of course. Together they would create imaginary “salads” and “soups” for grandma and grandpa to enjoy. Then along came the stairstep grandsons, Charlie, Henry and George, who gravitated toward using squirt-guns over watering cans to get the job of watering plants (and each other) done.
Though the sun has faded the paint and the grandkids have all outgrown using it, I can’t part with the memories.
This post is dedicated to my good friend Judy to honor her wishes for more photos of my Mandevilla plant. Judy is one of those friends everyone needs in life — an encouraging sister in Christ who is also my enthusiastic cheerleader to all of my gardening endeavors, and a friend who can see the beauty in my garden no matter what its state of weediness.
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” ~Proverbs 27:9
Wisconsin is gorgeous this time of year as trees put on their colorful robes of autumnal splendor. Sooner than we care to imagine, those beautiful leaves will be exchanged for a gorgeous dusting of snow. In fact, just today on this 14th day of October, we had a flurry of snowflakes and a brief but insistent windborne hailstorm–a wintry tease.
Houseplants that have spent the summer on my front porch are being transitioned indoors to my enclosed 3-season porch. Here they will slowly acclimate to being indoors while I inspect them for tagalong bugs and trim them up a bit. Each plant will get a shower before taking its place in the house proper.
This summer I grew a Pink Mandevilla Vine in a pot. I set it at the base of an arbor hoping that it would clamor up and create a lavish pink arched entrance to my backyard deck. It didn’t grow very tall, as you can see in the photo above, but it’s still beautiful. In hindsight, it probably needed a sunnier location. It’s perennial in warmer growing zones, but here in Wisconsin, it needs to come inside for the winter and be kept as a houseplant through the winter months if I want to keep it.
My hubby helped me lug a few pots into the enclosed 3-season porch when we first began experiencing overnight frost warnings a few weeks ago, including the Mandevilla. As pretty as it looks on that porch, it’ll need to make the transition into the house for the winter because the 3-season porch gets cold enough to serve as a second fridge.
I decided to go ahead and make the effort to overwinter this lovely plant (plus a few others). Hubby took me shopping to find a few new pots for my “bringing the outside in” endeavor. We purchased a roomier ceramic pot in a neutral color for the Mandevilla. I dug the plant out of its summer pot and inspected the roots for signs of disease and pests before replanting it in fresh potting soil in its new pottery abode. I gave the plant a thorough shower in the kitchen sink and then placed it in a bright spot on my family room window seat. According to one of my internet resources, I’m supposed to cut it back a bit, but want to enjoy the blossoms a little bit longer before giving it a haircut.
This week I would like to share a helpful gardening tip with you! Awhile back, a fellow blogger mentioned a cool drill-bit for planting tulip bulbs. In turn, I mentioned it to my hubby. Next thing I knew, he was on Amazon ordering two garden auger bits that would fit his cordless drill. The bits arrived not many days later then just sat in the garage waiting.
Not all of the ideas I had for my garden this year actually happened, but each flowerbed had its time to shine. My job as a part-time baker has caused this old gal no small shortage in the energy department too. I typically think of several tasks I want to do in the garden on my way home from work, but most days I somehow end up in my comfy chair in the living room with my tired feet up.
I do try to get a few gardening tasks checked off my to-do list on my days off — even if it’s a finished task noticed by myself alone, it feels good to accomplish something. This weekend’s efforts resulted in many spent plants being cut back or pulled out and added to the city’s compost heap, several flowerpots emptied, and the front porch swept clean. I decided to be finished with covering plants whenever there is a frost warning and just let nature take its course. So I’ve been bringing a few of my favorite plants in before the killing frost so that I can attempt to overwinter them and replant them in the spring. A favorite pink pelargonium got scooped out of its summer pot and planted in its own pot. I doused it thoroughly with Neem oil and kept the digging on my 3-season porch before placing it on my kitchen windowsill for the winter. It must be happy because there are several new buds.
I also dug up quite a few of my spent peacock orchids (which I wrote about here) and am drying them out a bit before harvesting the rhizomes and storing them for the winter. I’ve never done that before, so am relying on YouTube tutorials for guidance . We’ll see how that goes.
Likewise, I dug up the rhizomes from a favorite calla lily my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day. I’m going to make a valiant, Pinterest-inspired attempt to create some new divisions from the rhizomes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I took some cuttings from several very happy Livingstone Daisies (a.k.a. ice-plants) which spent their summer spilling out of the pots on my front porch. I snipped a few of the best stems to water-root, but also scooped a healthy-looking clump out of one of the pots, trimmed it back, and repotted it in fresh potting soil, as I have read somewhere that it can be kept as a succulent houseplant. I gave that plant a dousing with Neem oil to kill any bugs attempting to hitch-hike their way into my house. After a few days of transition from the chilly outdoors to my slightly warmer porch, I brought it indoors and gave it a place of honor on a family room window-seat which receives a generous amount of indirect light. I wrote its name on a plant stake because I can never remember what it’s called.
Also coming in from the nippy outdoors were a few of my succulent groupings, a languishing sansevieria plant, and two plants given to me by Melinda, my friend who enjoys playing in the dirt in Louisiana: an ‘Angel Wing Begonia’ (a.k.a. porch begonia) and a plumeria.
My Sansevieria (a.k.a. ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ or ‘snake plant’) got a little scorched during some extremely hot weather during its annual foray on the front porch. I dug it out of the pot it’s been in for years, teased the roots apart and salvaged a tiny bit of the original plant. I filled the pot with new potting soil, then added a few different varieties of Sansevieria I purchased at a local nursery to add some interest. It now resides in our ‘Gathering Room’ in a spot nearest an east-facing window, but also benefiting from indirect light from a nearby south-facing window. I am trying not to overwater it, as I am prone to do, and hoping it will reward me with vigorous growth.
We set our clocks back one hour before going to bed Saturday night — a precursor to shortened gardening hours and the winter months ahead. That’s okay though. One of the blessings of living in Wisconsin is being able to tuck the flowerbeds under a blanket of snow for a winter’s nap and the gardener’s respite. It’s the season for thumbing through garden journals and seed catalogues in order to make plans for next year’s garden. But, before I get too cozy, I need to check one more thing off my to-do list:
Plant lots of tulip bulbs!
So, until next Saturday when my post will hopefully include a report of all my tulip bulbs being planted, that’s my Six for this Saturday. To see other SOS posts, visit our host at http://www.thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com.
Facebook kindly informed me that one of my favorite garden centers was having a sale on mums and asters.
The ad looked like this.
The garden center is on my way home from work (well, sort of), so I stopped in today. Wow, Fitchburg Farms has an amazing array of healthy, colorful mums, and gorgeous asters in shades of purple! As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m noticing that my flowerbeds are in dire need of some more color. Well, “dire need” might be a slight exaggeration, but they are looking a bit drab.
I drove slowly down the gravel drive into the garden center, admiring the nicely shaped trees along one side and could see that the front of the store was awash in autumn colors. I pulled into one of just a few paved parking spots, then donned a face mask and made my way over to the area where the carts and flatbed wagons were corralled. Three mums and three asters was the “buy limit” I had in mind, so I chose one of those flatbed wagons and set off in search of just the right colors to complement the mums Wayne bought me earlier in the week. There were just two customers shopping in the outdoor section of the garden center, so I picked an area other than where they were shopping so that I kept adequate social distancing in mind.
Since I was in my own spot, I could play with colors. I’d find two or three that I liked and then play with the combinations on my little flatbed. I couldn’t help but notice that there was this lady staring at me as I played. I wondered if she thought she perhaps knew me from somewhere, but couldn’t quite recall. Before I knew it, she was in the same garden aisle as me, so I moved to the next one over to give her (and me) some space to shop.
She followed me.
I couldn’t help but notice that she kept an eye on me the whole time I was there. Wherever I moved, she moved.
Strange. It wasn’t creepy. Just weird. It reminded me of those detective shows where a private eye detective is tailing a suspect and trying to stay incognito (and doing a bad job of it).
I moved to another aisle where I spied more amazing colors that I could play with. She tailed me again. This time the lady finally spoke up and said, “Please, don’t mind me. I am watching you as you’re arranging and rearranging the colors.”
I chuckled, “Oh! I was hoping I wasn’t getting in your way.” She grinned as she shared that she had been there for awhile before me and just couldn’t make up her mind. When she saw me breeze in and start playing with the color combinations she knew what she would do. My garden center stalker-friend shared, “I like the color palettes you are creating and decided, whatever you buy, I’m buying.”
Sure enough, weird turned into a compliment when I looked at her cart and she had duplicated every flower I had chosen.
My husband Wayne has been trying out a new hobby – flying a drone. So far he has been sticking close to home as he practices maneuvering his new toy. I asked him to take a few aerial photos of my gardens. One thing I noticed was that color is quite lacking in my fall garden. I have a few mums and asters to plant, so maybe that will help.
While the gardens are a bit drab at the moment, I do have a few things which are looking quite pretty. Maybe you’ll remember the pots I planted (with a little help from a squirrel). My theory was correct. He stole the seed from another area and planted a sunflower seed in the middle of one of those pots. It ended up being ‘Teddy Bear’, a short and bushy variety, which sports a long-lasting golden yellow flower. I will probably plant more of them next year.
Here’s an update on Datura ‘Blackberry Swirl’. It’s still blooming in my garden and I’m still undecided as to whether I will keep it. The flower IS pretty spectacular, but it is an evening bloomer, so is rather ‘meh’ during daylight hours. This post explains my thoughts concerning the drawbacks of Datura. I did go ahead and snip off the seed pods so as to not invite more of the plants.
I planted quite a few peacock orchids earlier in the summer. They’re blooming now and quite lovely. The flower is rather demure, but the fragrance is incredibly beautiful, reminding me of jasmine. The flower isn’t an orchid at all – it belongs to the iris family. I plan to dig them up and store the corms for the winter to replant in late spring. Next year I will plant them in larger groupings, as I think they’ll make a bigger impact that way. If I plant more of them in the little flowerbed by the mailbox, the neighbors who pass by on their walks just might get a whiff of their perfume.
My garden does have a few areas which still have color. The clematis on the arbor that leads to the backyard is finished, but the phlox planted at its base is still strutting its stuff. The sedum in the foreground is still hosting parties for the bees and butterflies too.
One last photo of the shaded area beneath our locust tree. The color is courtesy of potted impatiens in my favorite shade of pink. I’m really happy with how this flowerbed turned out this year.
Next year I plan to plant up more pots to help layer my garden with color at various heights. I shared my thoughts about that plan with my husband. Next thing I knew I had a stack of pots and bags of potting soil in the garage. Yep, he totally supports my barefoot gardening endeavors.
That’s it for my Six on Saturday. Many thanks to our host, Jon the Propagator. It’s always a pleasure for me as a gardener to see what fellow gardening enthusiasts all around the world are doing in their respective garden spaces each week. I hope you’ll check it out and perhaps share your own six next week.
Today I complete another trip around the sun. Most people get a little forgetful as they age – you know, the searching for the glasses perched on top of the head sort of thing. As I now approach the middle of my sixth decade of life, I am keenly aware that I am spending a tad bit more time looking for mislaid things, and much more time trying to figure out the names of people whose names I should remember. My sweet mom had Alzheimer’s in her later years of life, so I will confess that my own little forgetful moments cause me to think about what may be down the road for me. I suspect the day is coming when my memory will fade, and perhaps gradually vanish.
I write this post for any of my readers who are faced with loving and caring for someone they love who has heard their physician say “Alzheimer’s” when delivering a diagnosis. My dear family, I especially write these words to help you in the event that I someday hear my doctor say that dreaded word, or any other diagnosis which spells memory loss and dementia. You will likely need to make many hard decisions on my behalf – like taking away my car keys and deciding when it is time for me to live somewhere else. You were there when I made those difficult decisions on behalf of my mom and likely remember how hard that was for me. Take heart, God will give you wisdom for each decision and shed light on every step you need to take.
If I get Alzheimer’s, don’t ask me to remember; instead, reminisce and tell me stories from our past. What do you remember that we did together? Tell it again and again to me.
If I get Alzheimer’s, and I perchance do tell you a story from my past (or yours), you might want to write it down or record the story I’m telling you. I may tell you that story over and over and over again, just like your grandma did. Do you remember her talking about how she made her blue flower pots when she was in West Virginia, or how she dug the purple tablecloths out of the trash, or the stories about her wedding day? Just remember that the day will come when I will tell my story for the very last time and you will one day wish you could hear me tell it once again.
If I get Alzheimer’s, I might stubbornly refuse to bathe. The fear of bathing is the sad and stinky reality of this horrible disease. There might be a lot of fussing and crying, so let me tell you right now that when this time comes, you might find that hiring someone to help a for a few hours a day or two a week will be just the thing.
Tip: You might also find that dryer-warmed towels, blankets and clothes will calm my anxiousness. If all else fails, those disposable washcloths you can warm in the microwave are wonderful.
If I tell you I am cold, more than likely I truly am cold. In Alzheimer’s, the part of the brain which regulates body temperature and thyroid function goes kerflooey. Rather than subject yourself to turning up the furnace year-round, when you help me get dressed, start with a soft sweatshirt, then add lighter layers and keep soft blankets and throws handy.
If I get Alzheimer’s, I probably won’t remember to brush my hair. Will you please do it for me? Please use a detangling spray when you brush my mane of hair. I use a detangling brush, working from the ends and then all the way up to gently coax the tangles out. I like my hair long, but cut it short if you must. I might be mad at first, but will likely soon forget what once was.
By the way, if I tell you my hair hurts, I am not confabulating or telling a fib. When my hair gets dirty, my scalp truly hurts. It feels like bruises on my scalp, so please try to keep my hair clean. Perhaps a weekly trip to the hair salon for just a wash will be just the thing.
If I get Alzheimer’s, it might be challenging to keep me occupied, so here are some ideas for you to try. Gardening is my happy place, even if it’s just my own blue pot or three, encourage me to play in the dirt as much as I possibly can.
I also really love to work on puzzles, and might enjoy working on one with you.
Oh, and I like crafts. I once helped my grandkids create things with beads and paint; maybe, in time, it’ll be their turn to help me.
Baking was a joy to me when my mind was clear, so I might enjoy helping you in the kitchen. Even though I am old, remember that my mind is becoming child-like. What can a child do to help? Perhaps I can stir the batter, whisk the eggs, or pour in the bag of chocolate chips.
I could set the table, dry the dishes and wipe off the countertop. It won’t be perfect, but I will feel like I have made a contribution. It’s very important to feel useful.
If I get Alzheimer’s, remember that I’m a blue-jean wearing momma who likes pretty knit tops – ones with interesting details like ruffles on the sleeves and pretty buttons and lace. When you buy clothing for me, I suggest you buy two of each of my favorites. This will help you cope with me when I insist on wearing the same shirt over and over again. Unless you’re handy with a sewing machine, you might even want to buy two in the next size down, as those with Alzheimer’s lose interest in food as time goes on.
Perhaps you have noticed that I practically live in an apron. I wear one in the kitchen, while I’m cleaning, or when I’m gardening. If I get Alzheimer’s and the day comes when I become ‘messy momma’ at meals and perhaps need a bib, you might spare my dignity and try an apron instead. If I need to graduate to a bib, please make me some pretty ones…with lots of flowers.
If you can’t get me out of my pajamas in the morning and I stubbornly refuse to get dressed, just put on your pajamas and declare it “Pajama Day”! Conversely, if at day’s end I refuse to put on my pajamas, please remember that there’s no harm in wearing my clothes to bed. Unless the clothing is soiled, it truly isn’t worth the battle.
Dear family of mine, you know that I love the Lord with all of my heart and go to church every Sunday. If it is within God’s providential plan that I get Alzheimer’s, may I ask you to please take me with you to church for as long as I am able? It will do my heart good to gather and worship with my family and friends. One day you may find that I fidget too much or speak out of turn, then you will know it’s time for me to stay home with a caregiver while you go praise and worship our Lord, fellowship with your friends, and feed your soul. I’m God’s child and He will be near, whether I’m at church or at home, so don’t feel as though you are leaving me alone.
If I get Alzheimer’s, help me stay in touch with friends, be they old or new. I loved to have family and friends come for dinner. Much like your grandma did, I would probably enjoy company, but may get overwhelmed with crowds, so make it just a few. They may not understand what is happening to me, so gently explain before they come.
Remember how I used to take a photo of your grandma with her guests (or snag one off of Facebook), then give her the card to hang onto when her guests arrived. I would add their names and how she knew the people, then laminate the cards. It helped her remember their names. Maybe it would help me too.
If I get Alzheimer’s, please get me outside as often as you can. I always enjoyed walks in the park, so you might try that again. Push me in a wheelchair if you must, but let me enjoy nature and a bit of fresh air for as long as I’m able (and willing).
If I get Alzheimer’s, one day, you may find, I’m terribly unwilling to leave the house where I live. Going outside may become a terror, rather than a joy. If that day comes, try to create a comfy spot where I can sit near a window and enjoy the beauty of flowers and trees planted nearby, or a grandchild-painted birdhouse within view where a sparrow family might keep me occupied with their comings and goings.
If I get Alzheimer’s, you might like to know that I love to listen to music and would enjoy Christian radio. But if I’m anxious, you might find instrumental piano or guitar will help me to relax. I especially enjoy listening to great hymns of the faith. You’ll find what I enjoy on my Spotify and Amazon Prime music collection.
If I get Alzheimer’s, please remember my children and grandchildren are especially dear and I hope they will visit when they are near. If they can’t come to love on me, please tell them to send me cards and sometimes include a photo for me to treasure.
If I get Alzheimer’s, I might like to carry a purse even though I don’t carry one now. When memories no longer stay tucked away in my mind, a purse might give me a handy storage space where I can pull out special memories any time I like. You might want to tuck a few of my treasures inside: little photo books filled with family (be sure to label who is who), something to color and an array of colored pencils, little books of flowers and butterflies to help me enjoy the things God made. Oh, and finding milk chocolate or a cookie in my purse would be especially nice.
If I get Alzheimer’s, the day may come when watching television is my thing. I really enjoy mysteries, but nothing super scary. Put on a gardening show or gentle children’s programming and I think I’d be content. I don’t like to watch television alone, so would you occasionally sit with me?
One more very important reminder. If I get Alzheimer’s and ever forget your name, please know that my heart still loves you and someday (sooner than you realize), the day will come when God will take me Home and make all things new, including my memory of how special you are and how very much I love you.