Thursday, October 13, 2011

Alzheimer's: To laugh or cry

Dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer's is a heartbreaking ordeal.  You see someone who was once vibrant slowly lose everything about them.  In the last four years of my mom living in a memory care unit of assisted living I have watched many more people than just my own mother deteriorate.  My mom has outlived everyone that lived there when she first moved in and many others that came after.  At first, the residents all seem to be just a little crazy and some of them are mean or rude.  Others are as sweet as can be.  But whatever the personality differences, we see so many of the same symptoms in each of them.  Alzheimer's patients don't like to shower and will fight to get out of it. They tend to worry about money which is often manifest in trying to pay for their meal as if at a restaurant.  They all want to go home even though they don't know where home is.  The mobile ones will walk around the building opening every door looking for a way out.  They all have to get home for something.  My mom needed to get home to take care of her children, another man needed to take care of his horses.  One lady today wanted to go out to see if her grandmother was still alive.

After spending some time with the residents, you get to know them and their quirks and you find that there are many that you love.  I loved Robert who at 94 was happy to dance with anyone who was willing.  His favorite song was You are My Sunshine and he always requested it when we came to sing on Sundays.  And I found his outbursts rather charming in their own way.  Out of the blue he would call out announcing the time of day, or what his bedtime was or my favorite, announcing that he had his false teeth in and then he would gnash his teeth together to show it.

Most of the residents have very endearing traits. But it can be hard to watch them struggle.  I've seen residents cry because they don't know where they are or because they can't go home.  I've seen some get very angry over different things which are often quite silly.  Some get depressed.  One day my mom wondered aloud how long she would have to go on living this way.  I think she was referring to her physical discomfort but I wondered if she had some awareness that day of her mental deficiencies as well.  All these things and many more are hard to watch.

So to cope with all this, I think you either have to laugh or cry.  Laughing is much more pleasant.  I've cried enough as well but I try to find the humor in the daily situations.  So I'll share with you several of my favorite funny moments in assisted living.

My mother doesn't enjoy mornings very much and was often difficult with the staff about getting out of bed. The aide came in to get mother up one morning and said, "Can you stand up for me? My mother replied, "I am standing up.  I'm just doing it lying down."

Some residents are always getting in to things or bothering other people.  The staff try to find things to do to keep them occupied.  There are a few women who are very happy to be given a doll at take care of.  The dolls are real babies to them.  One lady talks, coos, and tries to feel her baby all the time.  I rarely see her without her baby now.  I found it amusing when she proudly showed her baby to one of the staff and said, "Isn't she just a doll?!" The aide agreed with her, "Yes, she is a doll indeed."

And my last amusing moment to share was a conversation that I overheard between three residents.  One woman (#1) was confined to a chair.  One woman (#2) loved to flirt and and latched on to one of the male residents as her husband.  One must understand that she can talk well enough but she never makes any sense.  And I mean never.  Her brain just doesn't connect well enough to have a real conversation. 

Our man was walking past woman #1 presumably to go to his room.
#1: I want to get you a chair. 
Man: What?
#1: I want to get you a chair.
Man: Why?    (#2 joins them)

#1: Because you look tired.  
#2: What? Did you find the cat? 

Man: (with growing bewilderment) What?
#2: Did you find our cat this morning?

Man: What are we talking about?!!

Maybe it doesn't translate in writing but I found it hysterical.  Poor guy was so bewildered by both women. 

So to laugh or cry.  Mostly I choose to laugh.  


Lars said...

That's why I loved Eva she made me laugh in an emotionally difficult situation. I can't imagine having to deal with it daily but love you because you do.

Artista said...

Laughter, as always the best medicine. I will tell you my one regret...when my mother asked for a shake i told her she couldn't have one because of her blood sugar. She died a few days later. I would give anything to go back and bring her a shake, no matter what the nurses would have said.

Anna-Kare said...

I hope you will regularly include funny moments from the Homestead. If you can find good cheer there, surely we can find good cheer anywhere.