Every now and then, I share something going on with my mom, such as increasing delusions or nearly complete loss of short term memory. I am sometimes asked, “How do you deal with it?” The first thing I say is that I write about it. I have this blog to help me express and share my feelings and experiences. I always found that putting something down on paper helped me process and understand it. Otherwise, it just ping-pongs around my brain without any resolution. But there are other strategies that I find I unintentionally use.
Accept the Change of Roles.
By the time a parent suffers from dementia, most of us have related to our parents as peers for a long time. (Well, maybe we change our language a little bit.) It is sad to experience a parent losing memories, being confused, and having delusions, but it is not threatening. I am not a confused insecure child with a parent who, for example, has mental health issues that are scary to me. A child does not understand what is going on and is not equipped to take care of the parent, although he tries to do that very thing.
As an adult, I can easily move into the caregiver role just the same as most people do as their parents age and become increasingly dependent. The parent with dementia becomes much like a toddler. They need a lot of reassurance, care-taking, help with communication, soothing from fears, and explanations of what is happening at any given time. All this is done with love and respect for the person inside.
Delusions: Don’t Panic!
It is important not to think that every downward step is here to stay, that this is how it will be from now on.
Earlier this week, my mother asked me, “Have I told you what has been going on here for the past two weeks?”
She then went on to tell me that a group of people from England were staying with them.
“Oh, how nice,” I responded, thinking she was viewing her fellow residents in a favorable light.
“No, it isn’t,” she retorted.
She went on to describe how odd these people were because they never left, except for one man. Mom seemed somewhat incensed that tourists would never leave the house, that they were eating all their food, that they never spoke at dinner time, and that they expected the staff to just take care of them. However, her biggest outrage was reserved for the fact that these tourists had given no one any idea of how long they were staying! How rude!
This was an obvious delusion which held fast regardless of my questions as to where these supposed “tourists” slept, what the staff said about the situation, and other logical responses. I could just imagine staff being non-committal as Mom asked when the other residents were leaving. LOL.
Mom repeated the story three times as I responded, asked questions, commiserated with her regarding the ‘situation,’ and offered some explanations.
But, there hasn’t been a word about it since. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back. It, or something quite similar, may very well resurface at a later date.
However, that night I didn’t go home thinking, “Oh, god. Now she’s perceiving her life this way, and that’s how it’s going to be from now on.” Instead I thought, “Well that was interesting. I wonder how she’ll be tomorrow.”
And ‘tomorrow’ and since, there hasn’t been another word about it. What I’m saying is, you cannot depend on consistency, so there is no reason to panic and think this is the new normal.
Find the Humor.
Humor is always an excellent coping skill for any situation. It is in both our personalities that my mother and I laugh a lot about annoying situations. It is so good for her to laugh, for me to laugh, for us to laugh together. We speak for the resident cat as we imagine what she is thinking. We make jokes about ourselves. In our opinion, we are hilarious. This keeps Mom in a good mood and definitely helps me “deal with it.”
Enjoy This Time.
Would it sound odd if I told you that I really enjoy this time with my mother?
For the most part, we talk about what went on today which allows Mom to respond with her natural intelligence, ask appropriate questions, display her personality, and see the humor in even frustrating events.
I am more relaxed around her now than I have probably ever been in my life. In the past three months, my relationship with her has improved enormously. I used to be a bit nervous and frequently had to make allowances/excuses for her comments or behavior based on what she went through in her life. Now, I thoroughly enjoy being around her. She is consistently sweet, something I am not used to.
This is a healing time for our relationship. When she dies, I will feel much differently than if she had died three months ago before I had this opportunity for daily contact. This time is a gift to me. I don’t visit her every day because I feel I have to. I visit her because I enjoy being with her. If she changes and becomes combative and difficult, I still will have this time to remember.
So that is how I am dealing with ‘it’ (delusions, loss of memory). I’m aware that some of these strategies may not work at all stages of dementia, for everyone, or when the relationship is different—a spouse, a friend, a sibling. My mother is three and a half years into this disease. I don’t know what the entire journey is going to be like, but this is where we are right now.
Because this entire blog is about dementia, many posts cover delusions and memory loss. For just a few related posts, click here for “Inconsistent Memory vs. Nightly Rituals.” Click here for “Mom Discovers I am Her Daughter.” Click here for Creative Conversations,” and click here for “Happy Birthday to You: Birth and Death.”