My mother has dementia. Earlier this year we moved her from the independent living apartment she shared with Dad into a memory care cottage. She hasn’t been able to communicate well for quite some time. Daughter and I came to Dad’s apartment from our conference. We came, and have been visiting Mom daily. The first day we took her for a walk. She was slow to recognize us, but I think she enjoyed the walk. I told her we’d be picking her up for a cookout at Sister’s, and went through the list of who would be there. She didn’t seem to understand.
Yesterday we took her to Sister’s for a cookout. Daughter walked over to the cottage to get her ready, and then I drove Dad over to pick them up. She always recognizes her granddaughters, even when she doesn’t recognize her daughters—I’ve teased her about that several times. Daughter said Mom was surprised we were going out, and had no memory of our conversation the previous day, which didn’t surprise me. When we got to Sister’s, it was a relatively small group—just 9 of us. Removing Mom from her routine and getting her around more people is hard on her. She is quickly overwhelmed. She did well with parts of the day. She ate all her hamburger, even though she took parts of it apart to eat it. We were attentive and took her to the bathroom any time she began to get restless or wander, as that is often a sign of a need to use it, but she can’t always remember where it is or what to do when she gets there. Even with our attempts to anticipate her needs, Sister had to intervene when Mom walked through the house pulling down her pants.
At one point when I took her to the bathroom, and she was obviously distressed, not physically, but emotionally. I finally suggested it was hard when she was around so many people, and she couldn’t follow all the conversations and felt overwhelmed. She began to cry. I hugged her and held on. When I walked her back into the cottage, she didn’t want me to leave. I promised I’d be back to see her today, but I’m not sure she understood that I would return, just that I was leaving her there. Finally I walked her into her room, where she pulled a cardigan out of her drawer and set out to walk the circuit around the perimeter of the common areas of the cottage. She will walk, pausing every so often to refold the cardigan, until she wears out. Hopefully the walking will help her to forget.
I came back to the apartment, where Dad slept through a movie he wanted to watch. On top of the television is an electronic photo frame that shows a slide show of photos from my parents’ life together. I kept seeing the pictures of her, bubbling with joy and life. There are pictures of her showing off the appliances and cupboards in the new house they bought as a young couple over 50 years ago. There are pictures of her in the dirt backyard pregnant with me shortly after they moved in. There are pictures of her beaming with pride as she shows off each of her babies and at all the graduations and important events in our lives. It’s hard to equate those pictures with the woman we took to the cookout. Now, we celebrate when she recognizes us. We’re thrilled if she responds to conversation in a way that indicates comprehension. She called me a brat today in response to some gentle teasing. I rejoiced. We watch her more closely than we watch her 3 year old granddaughter, concerned that she might wander off, or fall, or not be able to find a bathroom when she needs it.
It is hard visiting her now. It is especially hard when I realize that she knows what she has lost, and is grieving. I grieve, too. The first day we were here, Dad went in to take a nap. When he awoke, he said, “I sleep better when there are people in the apartment.” We all miss her. We all grieve.