My Mom just turned 83. I realize that I have looked forward to celebrating birthdays and anniversaries with my parents. It makes things feel more normal than they are. I am not visiting to make sure they were doing well or just pick up bills, I am able to visit to celebrate a milestone. Something we would have done before they had dementia.
Last year for my Mom’s birthday, I gave her 82 small gifts. I went to Micheals and purchased wedding favor boxes in a variety of colors and filled them with a variety of chocolate treats. There were a few bigger presents in the basket I gave her. Each one was numbered and she went through all of them on her birthday, one by one. She was positively overwhelmed with all the small boxes and enjoyed treats for the next month. She won’t throw away the boxes, she kept every one of them.
The year before, I cooked my Mom her favorite brunch and had them over to my house.
When I asked my Mom if there was something she wanted to do this year, she said that she would like to go to the dime store and shop. There is a dollar store down the street from my Mom’s retirement community and for years, my parents would arrive at our home with plastic birds, squirt guns and games that they picked up from the dollar store.
This year, when we arrive, my Mom is asleep on her bed. We decorated her room while she slept and when she awoke was very surprised to learn it was her birthday. She ate quite a few of the chocolate covered strawberries as well as wanted a piece of birthday cake. We took her to the dollar store and purchased a larger vase for roses as well as a few puzzle books and some small craft projects. Halfway through the store, she stopped talking and just said she would follow me. The store got overwhelming for her so we checked out.
Three generations got a manicure.
During the trip, my Mom noticed she had a broken nail. As I just shared, I’m having trouble keeping Mom kempt, and her nails are very long and in need a trim. I ask her if she’d like to go get a manicure. At first she says no, but when I tell her that I will help with her nails when we get back, she decides a “professional” manicure might be better. The three of us got our nails done together and I could return her home a little better off than I found her. I will add that to the list of birthday activities you can do with a loved one who has dementia. Celebrated.
Five Birthday Activities / Ideas for Someone with Dementia
- Bring their favored home-made meal or serve them at your home.
- Create a basket with numbered boxes filled with candy or other treats that represents their age.
- Take them on a car trip / shopping trip to a beloved retail outlet.
- Ladies: Go get a manicure / pedicure or shampoo and set or blow out together.
- Men: Go get a manicure / pedicure or shave together.
Consider getting flowers and / or balloons that can remain in their rooms as a reminder of their recent celebration.
Mom is now sleeping in her clothes. When I’ve gotten her into the shower, I realize how hard it is for her to dress and undress. I understand that she wants to manage, but in this area, she won’t allow me (or anyone else ) to help most days.
I wonder if the days that she won’t allow me to help are days she doesn’t really recognize me anymore.
I scheduled a hair appointment but when they tried to get her to her appointment she refused to go. Maybe it would have been more successful if I was there. I can’t always be there when she needs to dress, shower and get her hair done. I hoped it would be easier for her community to help, but now it just feels like another reminder that Assisted Living isn’t the right place for someone with memory issues.
I return the next day and walk with my Mom to the beauty parlor. It’s just the next building over through one connected hallway, and it takes us almost fifteen minutes to walk there. The lady who has been doing my Mom’s hair every other Tuesday for several years greets us and she says she can get her in this afternoon. She will come get my Mom if she doesn’t show up. I’m hoping that my Mom will go now that we have her scheduled with her regular hair dresser. I’m thankful that she is willing to go pick my Mom up from her apartment and already knows where she lives (having had to do this before). I write-up an appointment card and try to get my Mom to stick it in her pocket. She wants to hold it to help her remember.
When we get back to her apartment, she asks me what she’s doing today. I run through the activities. When we get to the hair appointment, she asks if we can walk there so she knows how to get to her appointment. When I tell her we just did that, she responds, “I hate this, I should know that we just did that.”
“I know Mom. It’s okay, you have lots of friends around you who will make sure you get to your appointment today.”
I have been working harder to coordinate with the floor staff. But I know my Mom will just sometimes refuse to shower, change clothes, get her hair done … it takes a village to age them, as well as raise them. Reminded.
NBC News just reported that a Russian crime ring stole over a billion passcodes. Our lives just got one notch more complicated.
Most adults average 28 online accounts. My last count was 87. That is A LOT of usernames, passcodes, PINs and information to remember. I manage several accounts for my Mom, some for my children (school, dance, soccer and track registrations), most of our household accounts and then all of the accounts for MemoryBanc.
We fail to recognize how many accounts we keep track of in our heads, on our mobile phones and even under our keyboards, I quickly realized how much information surrounds a household when I stepped in to help my parents. I started by documenting medical information (prescriptions, doses, doctors, history, follow-ups) so I could be a good health care advocate. Then I needed to pay bills and manage their finances, then came household services and ultimately online accounts. The binder I created to keep track of all of their information launched MemoryBanc. I quickly moved our own household to the print, then the digital edition of the MemoryBanc Register. Given I have more than 87 online accounts — I have made sure to document them all.
The NBC News story provides users with many options on how to create unique but varying passcodes as well as suggestions for online password storage sites. Most passcode managers have encrypted data and 2-factor authentication to prevent hacking — but nothing is 100% secure (just look at the issues the US has had with data breaches) and those protections also leave your loved ones without access should they need to act on your behalf. Make sure to have a solution that allows you to print out a copy of your passcodes. Should the company that owns your password manager have a critical failure … you should have a plan B.
If you don’t have have a list, I hope you will take this opportunity to document your accounts, I have included a simple excel spreadsheet that contains all the information you should be documenting. You can download it and document your usernames, passcodes, PINs and security codes (don’t save it on your computer please).
If you are worried about sharing this information, consider how helpful it would be to a loved one should you ever be unable to act on your own behalf. Pleaded.
My gift to you is this free worksheet that will collect and organize your usernames and passcodes.
I return to visit my Mom a few hours after she was found on the floor. We aren’t sure if she fell since no one saw what happened and my Mom doesn’t remember. Within an hour of the “fall” that resulted in EMTs being called, she gets up and is moving around. For several months she has been walking more stiffly and taking shorter steps. There appears to be no change in her movement, speech or behavior. I discuss with the staff that I would just like to keep an eye on her and let them know I would be returning later in the day. When I return she is still sound asleep and the night shift has set aside a meal for her should she awake and be hungry. For several months, she has days that she sleeps through. So this isn’t out of the ordinary either.
I return to check in on my Mom the next day. The EMTs had asked if I noticed any changes in my Mom when they were assessing her. While she seemed to have more trouble sitting up in bed initially, I wonder if we just haven’t seen her try lately. I remember being surprised when I realized how long it was taking her to dress now. There seem to be no other changes in her movement and the day after she is back and engaged in the morning and afternoon activities the community offers.
I know that as the family member, I am probably going to be the first one to notice changes in my Mom. I remember being dumb-founded at how long it took for any doctor to initially diagnose my parents. A month before my father passed away and well into moderate Alzheimer’s, he got a 29 out of 30 on the mini-mental or folstein test often used as the first gate down the pathway to a dementia diagnosis. I tell those that ask that if you are noticing a change in behavior, you need to pursue your concern. It’s important to request a Neuropsychological Evaluation that will take at least two hours and is administered to understand where there might be cognitive decline.
My siblings and I will continue to keep a vigilant eye on my Mom. I can’t imagine how our health care system can effectively manage those individuals without someone who can be their medical advocate.
For now, I feel like the skies are still gray, but the thunderstorm has passed. I feel a butterfly in my gut as I imagine what the next crisis might be. Squeamish.
The issues are starting to snowball now. I got a call from the community to let me know that they found my Mom on the floor and have called 911. I let them know I’m on my way.
Before I can leave, I get a call from the EMT asking me some questions about my Mom. She doesn’t want them to touch her. The EMT asks for permission to assess my Mom. After I say “yes” she asks if I could get to my Mom’s apartment. I let her know I was planning on coming after I got the call and hope that it will only take me 30 minutes to get there.
After 40 minutes, they call again as I’m finally walking into my Mom’s apartment. She is laying on the bed now. My Mom is now asleep. I find out that when they found her she was asleep on the floor. She thought she was asleep in her bed. We assume she fell, but it’s another mystery.
I try to get my Mom to wake up and get out of bed. They tell me she was complaining of her back hurting when they moved her. I explain that she has been complaining of a back ache for more than a year on and off. When we have seen the doctor, she denies having back pain.
The EMT offers to take my Mom to get an MRI to make sure there is no injury. I recall how they did this for my Dad when he fell in the bathroom a week before he died. I suppose it’s standard operating procedure, but I would think you would first find out if she has pain.
I hesitate to go down this path because I feel like we are checking the boxes, not really following up on an issue. I also know the new environment will only bring out mean Mom (the lion). I work to get my Mom out of bed which takes time. She just wants to sleep and asks me to come back later. The EMTs have already been her for 50 minutes now, so I can’t let her finish her nap. I ask if she will get up and help me. She tells me to “buzz off and come back later.” I try to convince her that I need her help making sure it’s her clothes in the laundry and she tells me she doesn’t care. I finally get her up. We all watch as she slowly sits up with trembling arms.
The biggest concern for me is that my Mom can’t verbalize her pain. I tried and failed to find why my Dad was slurring for months before he was finally diagnosed with a tumor on his tongue.
The only way to really tell is to have my Mom get up and walk around. After she’s up, she walks across the room and out the door. She seems to be her same frail and stiff self and says nothing hurts.
I decline to send my Mom off for an MRI. She crawls back into bed and goes back to sleep. Eye-witnessed.
One of my favorite cartoons is Scooby Doo. When I arrive to visit my Mom today, I feel another mystery lurking. A vase of flowers is in my Mom’s apartment. I don’t dare ask where they came from because she will be unable to give me an answer. This cycle has repeated itself dozens of times in the past few years. If only she could share a memory. Those days are long gone and I’m happy she remembers me. Most conversations are me sharing my day or recounting a memory from our past.
The mysteries I face usually center around something that is missing — like her PJs. We would buy new pairs and they would disappear from her apartment within days.
Today, a vase of flowers has appeared and I’m curious where it came from. I feel like Daphne from Scooby Doo (except for the rich and glamorous part). She was never one to solve the mystery but was able to help through some clumsy act. I’m hoping I will fall over a clue as I visit with my Mom. Today, I am unable to unearth anything.
It’s nice to know that someone shared an act of kindness on my Mom. Even if she doesn’t remember, the positive energy shared on her spills over to everyone that visits. Pleased.
This is the year of 50 for me and my high school buds. As I have witnessed my parents dementia’s, I pledged early on to lead a different life. I believe what Dr. Oz told me when I appeared on the show, and have found many other research studies confirming that your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s is more closely tied to your lifestyle than your heredity.
Parade Magazine recently shared the 5 Surprising Tips on Staying Vital and they include:
1) Start prevention early since the process can begin 20 to 30 years before you have symptoms.
2) A few simple changes will help you fight a whole range of disease — smoking is forbidden and one hour of aerobic exercise daily is recommended. They also mention strength training and I was surprised when I recently learned that with every decade, you lose 10% of your muscle. The only way to combat it is to increase your training.
3) Helping your body helps your brain. The article states that “aerobic exercise is more important in enhancing brain function and memory than any other activity.”
4) Being social plays a huge role in preventing dementia. I have worked very hard on this but have found it immensely rewarding.
5) Moderate amounts of Alcohol are healthy. After I witnessed my Dad’s inability to stop drinking (he thought every drink was his second), I considered eliminating alcohol all-together. However, I have just worked on changing my habits instead of going def-con five.
In line with my effort to socialize, even with a 6 a.m. start looming, I met two friends out last night to visit. One was only in town for the night. We celebrated our 50th birthday together. As we were chatting, one commented that she wanted to live to be 100. Two of us groan. I have no desire to live a life without quality, so I’m not sure I’m willing to just say I want to live to be 100. The second groaner is watching her mother progress into Alzheimer’s and said she felt doomed. I told her we are in no way doomed and she even shared the many ways she was living a life very different from her mom.
May we all find the balance and ability to work to prevent the pesky inconveniences of aging. 50 is the new 30, right? Cherished.