Trying To Find A Silver Lining In Dementia

October 25th, 2016 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized

Dementia has been the primary villain in my life lately. I saw it as a terrible thief that robbed my mother of much of what her so extraordinary -- the most vital, hardest-working person I've ever known.

Mom worked as a nurse until her late sixties and always kept herself in great shape. In her sixties and seventies, she went dancing three times a week. Well into her eighties, she walked three miles every day, up and down the hills of her suburban Pittsburgh streets.

But a few years ago, as she approached her nineties, she started to fade. When I called, her voice, usually so booming, was tentative. After just a few minutes, she would hang up, for no apparent reason. Almost overnight, she began to have trouble caring for herself. Just before she turned ninety, my siblings and I moved her into assisted living.

For about a year, Mom thrived. She was always a very social person, and now she had a group of ladies to share her meals with, activities to keep her engaged, and a dedicated staff who seemed to really care about her as a person. Her mental decline seemed to stabilize.

But a few months ago, she began physically declining. She went from walking unaided to using a walker and then a wheelchair, all in a couple of months. When I visited in September, the staff recommended she go into hospice care so she could get extra care while staying at the facility.

So now, every time I visit or Skype with Mom (with the help of my brother), I know it could be the last time we speak. But somehow, I am starting to make peace with the illness that took away her independence and her ability to ask me questions non-stop for at least an hour every time I called. Maybe it's because her body seems to be catching up to her mind.

Here is a snapshot of my mother at 91, focusing on what I'm grateful for, the silver lining of her mental decline.

• She thinks everyone is her friend. Mom always was the most positive, social person I know. And now she looks at every single person at her facility as a good friend -- the staff and other patients. After someone asks Mom how she's doing, she often turns to me and say, "She's my friend" or even tells them, "You're my best friend." Mom has more best friends than anyone I know. And it's nearly true. Both patients and staff tell me privately that they love my mother because she's so caring.
• She never complains. Whenever anyone asks her how she's feeling, she says, "I'm doing good, thanks." Most older people her age have a long list of physical ailments they love to share. Not my Mom. I don't know if she honestly doesn't have pain, or somehow it just doesn't register. But she always seems to be happy.

• She's not as anxious. Mom used to worry a lot about her children and then her grandchildren. Now we talk about the positives in everyone's lives. Even a year ago, she would watch the news and get concerned about me if she heard about bad weather in North Carolina, where I live. Now, she doesn't follow the news and so Hurricane Matthew was a non-issue.

• She's accepting of her decline. From the very beginning of her dementia, my mother understood that she needed help. She was not upset about moving into assisted living and welcomed people helping her with the tasks she used to do on her own. Maybe it's because she was a nurse who worked at a nursing home, but she's never shown any resentment. For example, she didn't question using a wheelchair. She forgets sometimes that she's not supposed to walk on her own, but is never angry or resentful.

• Mom still enjoys many things. She takes part in most activities, even if she nods off now. She loves getting visits, looking at photographs, Skyping with her family, and eating meals. Her world has gotten much smaller, but for her, it's a happy, pleasant world. She just started eating most of her meals at the facility's memory unit because she has trouble using utensils. I thought it would bother her to be surrounded by people who barely speak, but it's another non-issue.

• She always offers to help others. My mother was always the most giving person I ever met -- in her work as a nurse, volunteering, and with friends and family. She still tries to be. When I ask her how she likes her meal, she always asks if I want hers. She even sometimes asks her aides if they need any help, forgetting she's no longer a nurse, but a patient.

• She still knows she's my mother. As I wheel her around, she proudly announces to almost everyone she passes, "This is my daughter." Last week, Mom talked about me in the third person and thought my sister's kids were mine. Hey, she always wanted me to have kids, so now I do. Perhaps her two daughters are merging in her mind. If there comes a time that Mom doesn't know that I'm her daughter, I will probably become angry again. But for now, she knows we are family and I love her.

I believe that while dementia has robbed my mother of the ability to distinguish between a fork and a spoon, it can't take away what really matters. I still hate dementia, but maybe, just, maybe, it has helped to distill the essence of who my mother is. For nearly a century, Mom has been a loving, unselfish, and happy person. That's pretty much all I see when I look at her today.

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Source: Elder Care Huffington Post

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