Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dementia Roller Coaster

Like many other illnesses, dementia does not progress in a linear fashion. One day your loved one may be unable to speak and the next day they are very chatty. One day they are so fatigued that you can barely wake them up to eat, the next day they can get out of bed on their own. It is a roller coaster ride of up's and down's.

As you may have read in my last post, Mom has progressed nearer to entering into end of life issues. Within a weeks time she became bed ridden, unable to hold up her own weight, rarely opened her eyes, and talked infrequently.

Today, Mom is a very different person. Her eyes were open the whole time I was there visiting. She looked brighter, had less Parkinson's shaking, and less anxiety. And, she was talking alot compared to where we were a day ago. Still she could not always get out what she was trying to say, but she could answer with more than just "yes" or "no" and was even using short sentences.

For Mom, and for many people with dementia, they will perk up and do better when they have company, particularly people they do not see on a daily basis. My brother and sister-in-law are in town and that really helped Mom perk up today. It is wonderful that she will have a few days of increased activity and fun while they are here. She is definitely on the up side of the roller coaster ride today.
Cedar Point Iron Dragon, Photo by Jeff Norris

With all the up's and down's, this roller coaster ride can be quite unnerving. You are never sure what each day holds and every time things get worse you don't know if it will stay that way. The other day I was worrying that I would never have increased communication with Mom, and that was scary. And yet today we were blessed with a great visit, which is wonderful. But is is also emotionally hard to handle. You can't prepare yourself for anything. Any increase in ability means you have more hope that your loved one will get better, yet you know in reality with dementia that even if you have a few months of better, eventually the bad will come back again. You feel like you barely get a breather before another severe drop in health occurs.

I also think of how hard the up's and down's must be on Mom as well. To be exhausted just trying to open your eyes and answer "yes" or "no" one day and then a few days later be able talk about how good lunch is. True, she has dementia and she probably does not technically remember how she was doing a day or two ago, but I do think on some level emotionally she feels the toll this takes on her. I can see how she is always just a bit unsure of how much she will be able to communicate with you each day. How badly she wants to open her eyes and speak on the days that she can't. Whether or not she remembers it, it has to be tiring for her.

Both the caregivers and the person with dementia need to find ways to ride the dementia roller coaster so it is as smooth as possible, enjoying the good days and making the best of the bad days. You can not read too much in to the bad days or the good days. I wish I could think that because Mom was doing better today that she will recover to where she was a month ago, but that is probably not going to happen. However, that does not mean I won't enjoy these times with her as much as I can.


Rev. Katie

Monday, June 25, 2012

Crossing Into a New Phase: End of Life Issues

I am not really sure how we got to where we are today. Mom started to get worse over the last two weeks. Less able to walk, less able to talk, and having a harder time eating. She went to the doctor last Monday and her mini mental-state test score went down from a 10 to a 3. On Wednesday she was in a wheel chair most of the time but could still walk a bit to get to the bathroom when we lifted her out of her chair. Over the weekend though she has gotten even worse.

With those of us who see her on a daily basis, she barely talks, maybe saying yes or no and two or three word sentences. She rarely opens her eyes and sometimes smiles. Fortunately when other people visit her or talk to her on the phone she speaks more so that is good. She can't feed herself at all and we feed her. She can't walk or support her own weight so we lift her to get her in and out of bed. She can't use the bathroom anymore. She now clenches her hands, which is very common in late stage dementia. It can be bad because the skin on her hands can breakdown. She knows who we are but usually doesn't say our names, except for when she asks for my Dad.

Today when I was there she never opened her eyes or talked to me. Yesterday she talked to me a little but only opened her eyes when my husband Jeff or my son Jeffrey talked to her. She especially liked when my son did some karate style moves for her.

While I take care of people in the end stages of life for my job, it is different when it is your own parent. I am still in a bit of shock as I did not think we would get here this quickly. It was hard for me to walk into her room the other day and see her looking like the clients I work with who are dying.
We are getting orders for hospice and for probably a Hoyer lift to transfer her in and out of bed. Starting tomorrow we will have two people in the house with Mom at all times, so we have hired caregivers 24/7. We have been unable to wash, turn, lift, and do basic care for Mom all on our own now that she has gotten so bad so quickly.

Fortunately Kendal at Home, a senior continuing care community that allows members to age well in their own homes, coordinated all of these things for us. In one day they found all the caregivers and will be getting in touch with the doctors for the hospice and all the orders we need for medical equipment. They coordinate all the equipment rental, all the care supplies, everything that we will need to make sure we can care for Mom safely and comfortably in her home. I am so glad my Dad joined the Kendal program because I don't know how we would have coordinated all this so quickly and also made sure we got people who were responsible and trustworthy. And, if there are any problems with any one system, we just call Kendal and they take care of it.

As we go forward I will keep you posted on what works for us in caring for her so that if you are in the same situation in the future you might get some help and support from what we do.

For right now, in terms of activities for Mom, she is not longer able to do activities. But, we can read to her the types of novels she has always liked. Since she does not open her eyes much reading and music would be a good option at this point. We can still try looking at photos when she is opening her eyes. We can talk about old fun family stories and just be there with her as best we can. And, since she is more alert when visitors come over, we will invite people over more so that she has some fun each day.


Rev. Katie

Monday, June 11, 2012

"I Want to Go Home"

You often hear about people with dementia in nursing homes repeating over and over again "I want to go home." In everything I have read, this is assumed to happen because the nursing home is not the person's home so clearly they miss where they used to live, they don't understand why they are in a new place, and logically they want to go back home. However, is this really an issue of living in a nursing home and having dementia or is this a common problem with dementia in general no matter where the person lives?

Over the past few months, Mom has not recognized her home. She thinks where she lives is two houses instead of one. She often asks what happened to her house, says that she wants to be in her own house, and asks where her house is. When we ask her to describe what her house looks like, she describes the house she is currently living in so it is not like she is remembering a house from her childhood or another time in her life and so she does not see her current home as hers.

The only thing that has changed in her house is that what used to be the "great room" (a large living room) was sectioned off and a bathroom was added four years ago when we moved in and in anticipation of knowing Mom would not be able to use stairs in the future. However, the rest of the house looks the same. That change may explain why she thinks there are two houses, but she does not even feel like one of the two is her house.

For some people, what if dementia means you never feel like you are at home? Home is not just a physical place, but an emotional and spiritual one. If home is a place filled with your memories and hopefully a feeling of safety and with dementia you are losing your memories and everything feels unsafe, maybe there is no place you can call "home." Maybe when someone with dementia says "I want to go home" they are not asking for a physical place, but they are expressing how unsafe they feel. They may be telling us how unsure they are of life and everything they once knew.
Photo by Jeff Norris

This would not surprise me. When I was little and started having problems with anxiety and bipolar disorder when I was anxious and scared, I would rock back and forth and say to myself "I want to go home" yet I was in my own house. Home was safety, a feeling that the world was alright. I didn't feel that way so I was not at "home." I still say "I want to go home" when I am having a bad day.

Maybe the feeling of wanting to go home is common for those of us with certain brain illnesses because we are looking for emotional and spiritual comfort rather than an actual physical space we call home.


Rev. Katie