Monthly Archives: April 2017

Forgive and Forget: Humor with Dementia

It’s a blessing being able to have a sense of humor about yourself and others.  One doesn’t usually expect that someone with dementia can retain that wonderful coping skill, but it is possible, at least for a while in any case.

I was sitting with my mother at her care home, talking with her and teasing the staff. Mom said to me, “I don’t know what you’re going to do when I’m no longer here.”

I startled. “What?”

“Oh, I see.,” she responds slyly.  “You’ve got me . . .” (pointing down) “underground, you naughty girl.” She’s laughing.

I’m laughing, too, but also wondering what the heck she’s thinking. She is clearly making the connection that coming to visit her is a fixture in my daily schedule.  However, where is she planning on going, confined to a wheelchair as she is?  I just can’t picture her hopping a bus, nor even knowing where she would ask to go. Or is she contemplating returning to Northern California where she was previously living?

“Well, I may not be” (pointing) “here. That’s all,” she explains.  Still laughing about my assumption that she was talking about her eventual death, Mom raises her chin and places a hand over her chest. “It’s a good thing I’m a forgiving person. It’s one of my . . .”

“Finer qualities?” I fill in.

“Yes. I’ll forgive you. Forgive and forget.”  She is magnanimous, and I’m still trying to figure out how I ended up needing to be forgiven.

“Well, thank goodness,” I say, relieved to be let off the hook.

Practically choking with laughter, she adds, “Of course with me forgetting is easy.”

“Lucky for me,” I laugh.   This is priceless, I think.  She’s able to see the humor and make a joke at her own expense.

“Yes.”

Mom may have dementia, but she can manage to joke about it and zing me at the same time. I have to work hard to keep up.

Surprisingly, there are many humorous aspects of dementia.  Several of the posts on this blog include humorous occurrences or conversations.  For a few, click here for “Immigrations and Dementia, click here for “Mom Discovers I Am Her Daughter,” click here for “Confabulation Can Be Wonderful,” and click here for “Care Home Surprises.”

 

Choosing a Care Home



Finding that right care home in which your loved one will live, possibly for the rest of his or her life, is rather daunting. You choose the location parameters. You have a budget to help you narrow things down. Then, what?

I visited several facilities when I was looking for a care home for my mother. I am happy to say that only one was truly depressing and elicited a resounding “No, I would never place my mother there.” That place was a large facility. As the designated staff person took me on a tour, I was dismayed to see residents lying face down on sofas in the hallway or holding their heads in their hands out in the grounds alone. It had the feel of a State mental hospital or the homeless section of any big city. It was depressing. No amount of interesting animals on the grounds or daily exercise or activity time could make up for the atmosphere.

Everywhere else I visited was a home in the true sense of the word. These care homes were houses in residential areas that appeared no different from their single family neighbors. Generally they were intended for six residents, sometimes eight. Some had nicer furnishings than others. Some had more interesting menus. In some, all the residents were in their bedrooms watching tv. In others, residents were socializing in the living room or tv room. Some had nice yards; others not so much. Staff varied, as well.

I gradually developed certain criteria that helped me decide which care home to choose:

1. Ease of Communication

I knew it was important that my mother be able to understand the staff. Language difficulties make life even more difficult for people with dementia. They have enough trouble understanding what someone wants them to do. If they have to guess what someone is saying, it’s not going to go well.

2. Amiable Staff

I also believed that staff personality was vitally important. A resident becomes reluctant to even ask to go to the bathroom if staff seems stern, impatient, resentful, or frustrated. A cheerful, encouraging, patient, and friendly staff eases every day and makes the resident feel loved rather than a burden.

3. Level of Socialization

There seemed no point in a lovely living room that was covered in plastic. Clearly no one spent any time there. An opportunity to socialize was important. Maybe it is easier for the staff if residents stay in their bedroom, but it seemed a lonely cell-like arrangement to me.

My Care Home Decision

When I made my decision, I based it mostly on the staff. It wasn’t the prettiest home I’d seen, but the staff was awesome—protective, outgoing, lively, attentive, kind, loving, patient, and understandable. Most of the residents spent the day in the living room rather than their bedrooms. There was even a resident pet to add entertainment and a homey feel.

The Results

With the increased attention and socialization, Mom improved after moving there. She started eating again. Her swollen and bruised ankles returned to normal. Her mood lifted. She no longer cried and stated, “I hate it here” as she had at her assisted living facility. It pleases me no end to hear her bantering with the staff and calling them “honey” or “lovey.”

Just like a job that is made or wrecked by the people you work with, a care home is made by the staff. I highly recommend making that your first priority.

 

To read related posts, click here for “Mom Stopped Peeing on Me. Thanks, Care Home!” and click here for “Care Home Suprises.”

Upside of Dementia, III: Preserving Family History

When a parent has dementia, preserving family history almost seems to slip away before your eyes.  This is the time to talk to your loved one about whatever they can remember, which will most likely be their childhood.  It is also the time to reach out to extended family for more recent information.

Mom asks me questions about her family because she doesn’t remember much beyond the childhood and young adult stages of her life. Most of the time I can fill her in, but sometimes I can’t.

One of her brothers settled in Africa, married, and had two children. I know my cousins’ names, and that is all. We’ve never met them. I don’t know if they still live in Zambia or if their mother, who was from Yugoslavia, is still alive. Their father, my uncle, died years ago.

Preserving family history is a precious undertaking, and certainly at least knowing about remote relatives is important even if there is little likelihood of ever meeting them. I have tried searching for my cousins on Google without success. Mom’s questions as well as my own spurred me to reach out to my remaining uncle who lives in England for whatever information he has. This has led to finding out my cousins left Zambia and moved to South Africa decades ago.  Their mother is still alive.  I now have information about employment, marital status, and current names.  This is a huge help which will allow me to find out even more.  A few more years, and this information would no longer be available to me.  Carpe diem!  Seize the day!

Much like having aging parents makes gathering family history pressing, so does dementia when it strikes at any age. There is little opportunity left to find out information, so reaching out to other relatives is a vital resource. I urge you to do it. Now.

Click here to read Upside of Dementia, I: New Relationships.

Click here to read Upside of Dementia, II: Conversation.