I’m going to begin with excerpts from a report our friend Al sent after he visited her last week, then add my own comments at the end.
Hi, Tina: I did get out to Quiet Oaks to see your mother today. I was running late, so they had just taken her in to the dining room–about 12:10 I think. She was seated at a table when I arrived. Her spirits seemed good. I do think QO pays attention to their people. They brought me a chair without my asking so the two of us could talk in the dining room. I found the staff friendly and helpful.
I had to get very close to her so she could hear me. Her hearing aid was in place. As usual, she didn’t know who I was, but I refreshed her memory. She said she was well taken care of at “this place in the woods.”
I told her that U. S. 78 was heavy on traffic and had a lot of slow trucks on it, and that you have to be careful in driving, since there are many curves. Your mother said: “Let me say a prayer for you not to have any accidents and you can say one for me.” She prayed that I wouldn’t have any accidents–at least any major ones. If the Lord allowed a small one–“one that iodine helps, well that’s all right,” she said. I thanked her and prayed she’d be well taken care of in her new place now.
This led her into her worries about “going home.” I finally understood that she was talking about Ohio. She said she had to be ready to go there to take care of relatives and that she was supposed to leave tomorrow. The main thing she was worried about was her mother. She thinks her mother is still alive. “If we drive up, I’ll pay for the gas,” she said. This “going home” or “I want to go home” is very common in dementia patients, as you already know. My wife’s Aunt Eloise is always wanting to be with her mother and father and see them and talks with them all the time now.
Although I am pretty familiar with nursing homes, it was a shock to see Esther in one–even a good one. Seeing so many together in the dining hall and noting how many were really out of it, hit me hard. I imagine you had the same feeling–realizing the transition has taken another step.
Alice told me about a book I’m going to buy, “Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s.” She said she found it helpful is dealing with her late mother. Apparently my decision to follow Mother’s wishes of last spring to “tell her the truth” is not the best.
So when I visited yesterday I decided to try some of her suggestions. “Enter, deflect, and distract” were the words Alice used. The idea (I think, not having read the book yet) is to “be” with the person where ever they think they are and distract them with questions designed to lead them away from whatever impossible or illogical focus is their current concern.
Mother wanted to know where she is now, how long she has to stay there, and how far it is from “the folks.” I answered, and then asked why she was so concerned.
“Mom will worry if she doesn’t know where I am,” she sobbed. “Will you tell her? Will you help me write her a letter?”
I did okay for a little while, but she would not, could not, leave it alone. She wanted her mama.
I fell back to the verbal exercise I’ve used dozens of times. Asking her how old she is (she never remembers). Once we determine her age, how old would her mother be? People just don’t live that long. Your mother died before I was born. I never met her. I’m your daughter, not your cousin/step-sister. Yes, it’s using logic on someone no longer able to think logically, but it was the best I could do, lovingly, holding her hand.
What finally worked? We took the dogs for a walk—them in her lap, me pushing the wheelchair. Changing her focus to protecting them, keeping them safe.
I’m still learning.