73 years old

Today, June 6, is Mom’s birthday. She is 73. She has been struggling with Alzheimer’s for at least six years, we estimate. Who knows how much longer before that she might have been showing symptoms that we didn’t yet understand. I always think of her as a young patient at the Alz center, but she is not the youngest.

Patrick came with me to the Alz center today to have a very small party with Mom. I wanted him to come along. We didn’t bring any gifts, just a container of double chocolate brownies. I have seen so many of Mom’s belongings disappear. I didn’t see any point in giving her any new gift that would likely wind up in someone else’s room. I thought about a stuffed animal, but she isn’t really carrying dog/cat around anymore. I thought about a lipstick, but four or five previous tubes are long gone. I thought about a new bracelet to replace the lost eight or ten bracelets that used to be her trademark look. But that fashion statement obviously is no longer important to her. So I settled on brownies.

When we arrived, she and Mr. R were in a distant corner of the program area. She was on the couch, and he was in a chair next to the couch. We walked over and I said, “Hi, Bonnie. It’s your birthday! Happy birthday!” And she said, “Really?” And she stood up and hugged me. While we were hugging, when I started to pull away, she gave me an extra strong squeeze – perhaps the first time in my life she has ever done that. I introduced Patrick to Mr. R. Mom asked Patrick his name. But she seemed to recognize him somewhat. She seemed interested in him, for sure. The last time he visited, Mom said she didn’t recognize him.

We pulled two more chairs over to face Mom and Mr. R and opened the brownies to have a snack. Mr. R declined to take one. I handed out small pieces of paper towels to serve as napkins. Patrick and I each had two little brownies. Mom ate at least one. Then she started fiddling with the container. She couldn’t quite figure it out.

I noticed Mom didn’t have any shoes on. She said she couldn’t find them. She had a Buckeyes Football T-shirt on, and I said, “Buckeye Football.” She said, “What’s that?” And I said it’s a popular sport at Ohio State. It didn’t register. So much that I say seems to be meaningless information to her, really. I left to look for her shoes. I found her two pairs of Crocs tucked in a little night stand in her room. I know if she ever really lost her shoes, a staff member would find them. Everyone seems to know that Mom wears Crocs. Patrick said that while I was gone, he asked Mom if she had any memories of past birthdays. She said there was a boy once. He asked if that might have been her sister. He said she sort of appeared to agree with him that that could be the case, but then she started talking about something else entirely.

I finally had remembered fingernail clippers, so I trimmed Mom’s nails. She picked at her chin, and told me the hairs there were bothering her, so I plucked a few. If it hurt, she would yell out somewhat dramatically. “You sound like a cat,” Patrick said. And then every time she winced as I plucked, he would growl like a cat along with her – even if she didn’t. It made us all laugh. As we all sat around together, she did ask a few questions. She asked what I’ve been up to lately. But she didn’t seem to absorb the answer. She asked Patrick what his job was. He said he works with people with disabilities. And that he used to be a teacher. A little while later, she asked him, “Are you a teacher?” She laughed at some things he said. She said it was nice to see old friends. I could tell she was enjoying the concept of the visit even if the content of our conversation was somewhat lacking.

The birthday girl laughed and smiled a lot today.

After about 40 minutes, I said we had some shopping to do and should probably get going. Mom seemed to take the news just fine. I kissed her goodbye and Patrick hugged her goodbye. I shook Mr. R’s hand. He was very friendly today with me and with Patrick.

On the way out, we ran into Penny the nurse and had a chat. She said Mom is essentially off the list of residents who get showered. She used to not like having water on her head, so then staff kept shower water below her neck. Eventually, though, she rejected having any water touch her body at all. So she gets a thorough wash-up at her sink each day. “All the parts that need to be washed get washed,” Penny said. She said it appears to be a disease-related phenomenon. Mom is not the first resident to reject the shower and she won’t be the last, Penny said. And on Mondays and Wednesdays, staff members and Mr. R try to convince Mom to go to the beauty shop to have her hair washed. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Her hair looked fairly clean today, and very curly. Penny also said that when Mr. R is showered, Mom paces around, looking for him. He is her everything, I guess. There will be a care conference in a few weeks, when I will learn much more, I’m sure.

3 comments so far

  1. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    A short time ago I found the age of your Mom stunning. Then I ran into what my good friend is going through with her sister who is in her late sixties.

    This has been a brutal week with my Mom. She fell (again). No one can figure out what happened (she has no memory of the event). She is bruised from top to bottom. Her face took the brunt of whatever went down. She has two black eyes, a swollen black cheek, forehead and stitches. My oldest brother decided to take a picture of her after he stopped by. He then sent out the picture with a list of cleaning (blood from carpet ect.) that needed to be taken care of. This was followed by “she might need to see a Doctor”. After many attempts I was able to reach another brother who took her to the emergency room.

    I live many states away. I cannot believe that the Dr. on call did not turn all of us in for Elder Care abuse. This is just crazy. We are all letting her call the shots. This is just tearing me apart. The whole aging parent thing is just so hard. My husband and sons just don’t get what this is doing to me.

  2. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    Sorry, I got a bit carried away. Happy Birthday to you Mom!

  3. momsbrain on

    Oh, Jennifer, I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s fall. I must say I have seen patients at the Alz center with bruises before, some of them all over their faces. And I always assume it is because of a fall. My mom actually had two bruises on her arm yesterday. I’m sure it is especially hard to not be close by when something like this happens. Thanks for your comments!

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