Saturday, November 29, 2008

Caring for a relative with Alzheimer's

I'm writing from my "mother-in-laws" home in Mill Valley, CA. I put the word in quotes because Joe and I can no longer get married with the passage of proposition 8. If we ever can it will be here:

This is Sea Ranch Lodge. It was our get away before having to caring for Betty, an absolutely charming 86 year-old mother who still lives in Joe's family home in the bay area. She is in the middle stages of Alzheimer's where her short-term memory simply no longer exists. We're not talking about forgetting what happened a few minutes ago. We're talking about forgetting what she said at the beginning of a sentence before finishing it. Roughly 20 times an hour she asks whether or not she still has a haircut appointment. "Haircut appointment 2pm" is on a kitchen chalkboard, in her daybook, and out of our mouths constantly. It is really not a frustration- more a rhythm.

The time together has been good for Joe and I and given me a small understanding what primary caregivers like Lawrence Johnson face. The big difference is that we get to leave.

There are other considerations, like laying out clean clothes so she doesn't wear the dirty ones by accident, finding purses, taking pills, getting Betty to finally feel that she is in a safe place at night and stops getting up from bed. It ended at midnight last night and that's pretty darn good.

I think the only scary part is that she turns up the thermostat about every ten minutes because she feels cold. We have found it up to 85 degrees this weekend and WE are the one's who forget to check it about every 5 minutes. A special thermostat is on the list to buy this Christmas!

I overheard her saying to a relative on the phone, "it must be tragedy- these people who have no-one to take care of them." Her condition will eventually worsen to the point where family can no longer provide adequate care. But at least this one weekend has not been as bad as we expected.

Even the rhythm of asking the same questions seems to stop occasionally. But after a few silent minutes I'm now in the habit of asking, "Did you know that you have a hair appointment today?"

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