(ICK WARNING) Mom has been vomiting for about a week now what is being described as a dark to light brown substance. It’s just once a day in the morning or evening and it’s a small amount. She’s also lost 10 pounds in a month. Other than the weight loss and her vomit episodes, mom appears to be fine and doesn’t seem to be experiencing nausea, pain, or fatigue. In fact, I hear she’s her normal happy self.
But a trip to the doctor was in order, and we were fortunate to get her in today. The doctor doesn’t know what’s going on, but has ordered blood work and an ultra-sound scheduled for Monday morning. Her gall bladder was tender to the touch, and he’s thinking that could be it. Hopefully we’ll find out soon, and I’ll let you know when we do.
My husband Vince recently had the good fortune of visiting Minneapolis for business. And this was a great opportunity to visit my family while there! Vince did the usual things with my dad and brother that included going to a locally famous hamburger joint to eat “Juicy Lucys,” watching Monday Night Football, and then going out for steaks on another night. Priorities! But he also got a chance to visit my mom and see her new digs for the first time.
I was pleased to hear mom recognized Vince and was happy to see him. He reports that her language has definitely diminished since he last saw her in 2010, and communication was difficult. But they went on a walk together and my dear husband was patient and they chatted as best they could. He brought Christmas gifts for her, and here are a couple pictures of her opening them.
Vince said mom was confused on how to open the packages and she needed help, which is new. We gave her a Christmas fleece in her favorite color and a new book called “Blue Sky, White Clouds” by Eliezer Sobel which is a book for memory-challenged adults. I hear she enjoyed it and they read it together. But this book gave me an idea to create her own personal “Memory Book” that includes her life story in simple pictures and words to include names of her loved ones which I think she would love.
Mom tried on her Christmas fleece which looked like it may have been a bit short, but then it was put on over her sweatshirt, so I don’t know. I wish her eyes were open here — but you get the idea.
It was so nice that Vince was able to visit. Since I couldn’t go he sort of carried my love and hugs and gifts to mom for me, which was just beautiful! (sigh) Merry Christmas far away mom, dad, brother and sister in Texas! You’re in my heart on Christmas and every day.
Mom’s new caregivers have started texting me photos of mom using their camera phone. So while it’s not the best image, it’s still very much appreciated and I enjoy the updates immensely. This picture of my mom feeding the birds was recently sent along with the caption “Ruth has become our resident bird feeder. She goes out daily to the back yard and enjoys just looking around at nature.”
Mom has always been a nature lover and especially a lover of all animals. This bird feeder stand sits right outside a large picture window where my mom spends a lot of time. It’s an added blessing that she has birds and squirrels to watch from her window because I’m pretty sure this brings her happiness. The fenced in yard is nice too since being outdoors has always been important to mom. Plus I hear she sometimes chats with the neighbors, which is such a sweet thing for me to imagine. I wonder if the neighbors speak Alzheimer’s? ; )
I would hold on to the sweet memory of scooping my young children into my arms after they’ve played outside on a warm summer day, kissing them on their sweaty necks and taking in their delicious scent, smelling all their imaginary play, their new discoveries, their hopes and dreams.
But this isn’t how it plays out.
An Alzheimer sufferer becomes the child and this sweet memory of a mother with her children will not survive. The Alzheimer’s “child” will find THEMSELVES in the arms of their imaginary mother who is holding and comforting them. And as the mother inhales everything this child is and was, the “child” will whisper in her ear “help me.”
This just in! A text photo from my mom’s new caregiver! This is the first text I’ve received from my mom’s Assisted Living Home that I’m thrilled to receive because it helps close the miles between us. For those of you who don’t know, my mom was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s in 2005 when she was 68 and she was moved into an Assisted Living Home in May of 2012 at the age of 74. She lives in Minnesota and I’m in Virginia so updates like this picture are a joy! Since mom’s Home is in a neighborhood, I understand the neighborhood children come into the house every Halloween and walk down the line of residents who pass out candy. I bet mom loved that!
Visiting family and friends in Minnesota is one of my favorite things to do, but it always goes by too fast. With my mom in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease and her recent move to an Assisted Living Home, I feel the need to visit more often. If you’ve seen “The Stages of Alzheimer’s and My Mom,” you’ll understand what I mean.
Mom was completely surprised when I arrived at her place on Saturday morning, and then she burst into tears. This was a new reaction that concerned me as she continued to cry in my arms. But her tears eventually turned to smiles and I decided to think of them as her heart recognizing me. I like that. But still, I have to wonder — does she know what’s happening? Is she being treated alright?
There were just a few subtle changes with mom. Her language continues to diminish. It’s very difficult for her to communicate and knowing context is critical to understanding her. It occurred to me that she doesn’t use a lot of nouns anymore, maybe because she has trouble naming things. But Mom speaks in a happy voice, with her upbeat sentences sounding something like this: “Sometimes I go . . . and then we see. . and so forth . . . and I say, why not!” Then a reply might be, “Exactly! Why not?!” Then laughter usually ensues. Mom loves to laugh and make other people laugh. Laughing with my mom is such a gift, because it’s right there in that opening that a connection is made. I found mom’s high school yearbook when I was home, and next to her senior picture it appropriately says:
“Laugh and the world laughs with you.”
Another subtle change could be seen in mom’s motor skills. Her gait and footing are not as steady as they used to be. She also needs some help getting dressed, when she didn’t need help before. Losing motor function is a late stage characteristic that could last for years. The caregivers and I discussed mom’s eventual need for a walker.
The other change is a good one. Mom used to fixate on giving back rubs and back scratches to almost everyone. A simple hug would end with a vigorous rub or scratch — whether you wanted one or not. This friendly but compulsive activity is almost completely gone. Yes, this is a good thing.
Mom “knows” everyone, and everyone is a “friend.” So when we go out, I am used to gently moving her along when she engages a little too long with her “friends.” We went to a local park one afternoon and she suddenly gasped and couldn’t believe her friends were there! She rushed over to say hello to a strolling couple and as I prepared to intervene, her “friends” said “Ruth! How are you?!” They knew her! Mom was right! They were friends, and for some reason it just blew my mind. We chatted a bit before parting, then we saw the couple again about five minutes later and mom gasped in surprise and couldn’t believe they were there!
Mom turned 75 in September. I gave her a baby doll for her birthday, because I’ve seen women in nursing homes holding baby dolls and I thought mom might like one too. I was just thinking that if she got familiar with a doll now, it might offer her comfort later. Anyway, it was fun to watch her hold and feed the “baby” while feeling just a little bit silly it seemed.
Overall, mom is doing well. She is happy and seems to really enjoy her new home and the other residents. Mom gets a fair amount of visitors with her most recent being a dear school friend from her hometown. While visiting with mom’s friend who is sharp and has a very active life, I couldn’t help but wonder — what if? What would mom be like at 75 without Alzheimer’s disease? I try not to go down that road, but it’s easy when I’m with someone mom’s age.
For those of you who know my dad, his ankle has improved after replacement surgery in May and he’s getting around with a cane now. He has a fairly full social calendar that includes visiting mom a few days a week. But he struggles with living alone, and he has no interest in cooking. This has been a difficult adjustment for dad and he’s another reason I visit more often.
A highlight of my visit was reconnecting with my dear friend Judy. A beloved, life long friend with x-ray vision as her super power.
The National Institute on Aging, part of the NIH has just published a 24-page booklet about Alzheimer’s disease — what it is, prevention strategies and what we can do to help fight this disease. It’s a general overview that’s easy to read for those of you who may be in your own race.