Signs Along the Alzheimer Way

Every night it’s the same question.

“Where’s my toothbrush?”

My answer is always the same.

“Your toothbrush is in the bathroom. Would you like me to get it ready for you?”

Her response is always the same.

“Yes, please, but where’s the bathroom?”

It’s especially sad because, for the most part, her world is two rooms of our house connected by a short hallway. She passes that bathroom multiple times a day, but still has to ask where it is.

Alzheimer’s makes it nearly impossible for her to store new information.

As many Alzheimer caregivers have observed, signs and labels can help. Whether it’s labels on cabinet doors and drawers, Post-It notes with names on photographs, how-to or directional signs, or little 3×5 card reminder notes on the bathroom mirror. These can be very helpful tools to help those who are memory challenged navigate their living space, especially in the earlier stages of the disease. In some cases, as with my mom, it can also help in the later stages.

There are four doors in that little hallway of Momma’s world. Doors can be very confusing to someone challenged in their ability to remember. Here’s a taste of how we tried to help bring sense and order to my mother’s world.

Door #1
Door #1 is a door leading to the basement stairway; we have a flip-lock on that door to keep her from taking an inadvertent middle of the night tumble. We also made a simple “Basement Playroom” label for the door, so she is less disturbed when her great-grandkids go down there to play.

Door #2
Door #2 leads to the attached garage. She has no need to be in there, but I created a little sign on a Post-It note that helps her identify this mystery door and satisfy her curiosity. The note on that door also tells her that her gardening tools are stored in there, as this answers one of her most often asked questions as to where all of her gardening tools are located.

Door #3
Door #3 is a storage closet with bi-fold doors which housed my brooms, vacuum cleaner, dustmops, and cleaning supplies on one half, and oversize kitchen-y stuff and cookbooks on the other half. The first half of that closet is now Momma’s clothes closet, and has been labeled “Charlotte’s Clothes”…which sometimes helps her find her stuff.

Door #4
Door #4 is the most often needed room; the bathroom we have fixed up as best we can to meet her mobility needs. To help Momma with her daily “where’s the bathroom” dilemma, I asked my wonderful friend Jo to paint a special order sign for me. She calls her business (and herself) the White Hen. Jo’s artistic specialty is painting lovely hand-lettered signs on reclaimed wood. Right now she is swamped with work painting cute signs for a growing restaurant that’s popping up all over the south. (If you ever find yourself having a delicious lunch at a Maple Street Biscuit Company, look around, you’ll see Jo’s handiwork all around you.) Busy as Jo has been, I’m grateful she took the time to bless me with this sign to place over the bathroom door.

Door #4
Whenever nature calls, Momma still asks, “Where’s the bathroom?” But, now, she’ll often look up at the sign and exclaim, “Oh, yes. There it is!”

As I’ve said before (and I’ll say again), it’s little things like this that help our loved ones find certainty in the very uncertain world of memory loss.

Are You the One in Charge Here?

Lately, my sweet mother has been more than a bit confused about her living accommodations, referring to our home as “this facility” and “this place.” Not long ago, she swept her hand out in gesture as if encompassing her living space and said, “Are you the one in charge of this place?” I told her yes it was our home and that Wayne and I both welcome her to live here. “Oh,” she replied, “are my meals and laundry included?” I assured her that they were. To which she replied, “Well, they haven’t fed me all day, and I think they’re stealing my laundry. I can’t find it anywhere.”

Not long ago, she was telling Wayne that “someone who works here” had given her some pills. She wasn’t sure who it was, but figured they knew what they were doing, so she took them. It was Tylenol, and it was me giving them to her just moments ago. Oh, and the “people who clean this place” and do the gardening around here just aren’t doing their job. The floors are always dusty. The gardens have so many weeds. “You should talk to them,” she insists.

I can watch Momma’s nighttime activity on a WiFi video monitor that sits on my nightstand. That a blessing because I know when she needs something…and a curse because sleep is interrupted quite often. On a few occasions, I’ve come down in the middle of the night to check on Momma because I could see on my monitor that she was crying. Sometimes it’s just confusion about where she is, but oftentimes it is her worrying about how she is going to pay for this place when she can no longer work and earn money. She’ll sometimes tell me that “they” are going to kick her out when her money runs out. On those occasions, I’ll sit with her for awhile and reassure her that she is loved, that she is retired and has plenty of funds, and that we will always take care of her no matter what.

One of Momma’s blue pots

Momma can make you smile with her wild tales about how she came to live here. On Saturday, a friend from church and her two young daughters spent the morning with Momma so that I could attend a Bible Conference with my husband. They had a delightful time, but, oh, the stories Momma told them while I was away. She enjoyed telling how this house was hers and that she shared it with us, describing how we had divided it up into her side and our side. And, of course, she had planted the gardens, adding to them over the years. (Mind you, she has only lived here since May!) She even shared with the girls that she had made her three blue flower pots when she was in kindergarten!

Of course, all of this is very real in Momma’s mind. That’s just a little taste of the confusion and disorientation that happens with the progression of Alzheimer’s. Not only is Mom confused about her accommodations, but also about the relationship of people to her.

“Mr. Winquist” and yours truly

Most days, she still knows us. Wayne is often referred to as “Mr. Winquist” – her term of endearment for him. Other days (mostly in the evenings), in her mind, I’m her sister Carolyn. As we look through picture albums or recall stories from her childhood, she tells tales of her youth as if I had been there too, sparing me the details with, “Well, you know. You were there too.”

My sister has been coming every other week or so to stay with Momma for a few days so I can get a little down-time. A few hours before each visit, I remind her that her daughter Vivian is coming. Sometimes she’ll give me a quizzical look and ask, “So, help me remember. Is Vivian my daughter? Or is she your daughter?”

On one of Viv’s recent visits, Momma came out of the bathroom and was looking for her Mom. Rather than remind her that her mother has been deceased for many years, Viv just went along with her and said, “Your Mom is not here right now. Can I help you with something?” Mom replied, “I just need to find my Mom.” I peeked my head out of the laundry room door and waved. Momma spied me and said, “There she is!”

So, in my mother’s mind right now, I’m her mother. That’s okay by me. She took good care of me for many years. Now, in this circle of life, it’s my turn to take good care of her.

 

Ice Cream and Car Keys

What irony that I am posting this reminisce on the very night that my mom got into a carton of ice cream behind my back. She had no recollection of where the empty carton came from, but her tummy remembers. Continue reading “Ice Cream and Car Keys”