This was NOT the plan

Mom and I during our impromptu neighborhood get-together we decided to have in the backyard last night.

I came to Minneapolis to assist my parents after my father’s ankle surgery.  But when I leave on Saturday, my mother will be living in an Assisted Living Home.

This was NOT the plan. 

The plan was to help my parents, get my mom set up on a ride service to and from her Senior Day Care and then visit a couple of residential facilities to get a visual for down the road.   My sister, brother and I were thinking this coming autumn would be the time to get serious about what’s next for mom — and so I was exploring options.  This was a covert operation.  I didn’t want my dad to know while he was dealing with pain and recovery.   Besides, he always says, “next spring,” or “next summer”, so I didn’t want to bring it up.

But one day, after visiting a Residential Home (that I fell in love with on the spot), mom and I were late getting home and my dad asked where we had been.  I told him about our visit and that I was just looking.  He started asking questions and became real interested.  The next day, on my way to Day Care, I asked my dad if he had any questions for them about the ride service being set up.  He said no, but to ask about “that place” I was talking about to see if they knew anything about it.  Interesting . . . .

So I did, and they gave me a big thumbs up.  I went home and told my dad and he said “I wonder how soon we can get her in there?”  I said “probably this week dad because they have an opening.”  He said, “then what are we waiting for?  Let’s do it while you’re here.”

And that was it.

My mom is leaving her home of 47 years and moving into her new home today.

While it seems sudden, it really isn’t.  The timing is perfect.

The timing is perfect because it’s what my father wants.  Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s is one of the hardest jobs there is.  So when he said NOW, I had to listen.  Plus, I don’t want my dad caring for my mom when he’s ready to be done.  He’s been doing it for 7 years.  And done is done.  And I don’t want my mom’s caregiver to be “done” when she deserves the best care she can get from someone who isn’t done. Understand?

My mom’s new home is a regular house in a neighborhood.  She’ll be living with 6 other women plus caregivers and two cats.  She will have a bigger social life, plenty of activities and will be well cared for.  I love this place and I trust them.  I can’t explain it — it just feels right.

A few nights ago my dad was getting up out of his chair to go to bed and my mom asked “Oh, are we going home now?”  And last night my mom asked me something similar — “are we leaving now?”   It’s clear she doesn’t realize she is in HER HOME.

This is hard and sad, but it’s the right thing to do. 

My mom will be okay.  She’ll be okay.  Yes, I’m still in shock.

The front view of Richfield Senior Suites.
Mom making herself at home during our second visit. There are two resident cats -- a definite bonus for my mom the animal lover!

 

Alzheimer’s — Not Afraid to Love

Mom, 1940, 3 yrs. old, Wadena, MN

I live far away from my parents and I’ll admit, I need to mentally prepare myself to be with them . . . especially my mom when I visit.  My mom is not my mom anymore. It’s like a stranger is inhabiting my mother’s body — except my mother’s body doesn’t look like mom anymore either. Alzheimer’s disease has changed my mom both inside and out. She used to care how she looks, and now she doesn’t have the capacity to care.  She used to be a familiar harbor, offering motherly comforts, and now she’s the one who needs comforting and reassurance.

But, I’ve been visiting my parents for almost a week now, and one thing is clear — my mom is full of Love.

Mom loves strangers.  She actually believes that everyone is an old friend.  She talks to most people, and she hugs them and tells them she loves them.  She kissed an elderly woman she didn’t know on the lips, and since the woman seemed to enjoy it, I’m pretty sure she had dementia too.  It’s interesting to watch.  This activity used to bother me, but I’ve learned to relax and I’ve noticed that most people don’t mind.  But sometimes I wish I had a card that said “Alzheimer’s — she’s harmless.”

Or, “Alzheimer’s — not afraid to love.”

Mom also loves children.  She gets down on their level and tries to make them feel special.  Children are usually more receptive to the joy my mom has to give, but the parents – not so much.  She high-fived a family of six the other day, and afterward she told me, “I like to do that so they know they have something here.”

My mom loves just about everyone and everything.  She loves raisins, the sunshine and the clouds in the sky. She loves animals, pine cones and waking up to a new day. Mom told me once, that when she wakes up in the morning and opens the blinds to let the sun in — she could just cry. She cries lately; but they seem to be tears of joy — like the innocent joy of a new day.

My mom is like a child — a happy child finally free from the worries of the world — who is not afraid to LOVE.

Ruth Joanne Hall, 1939, 2 yrs. old

Mom: A Brief Biography

Mom, 3 yrs. old, 1940

My mother, Ruth Joanne Hall was born 1937 in Wadena, Minnesota. She was the oldest of three children born into a middle-class family. She had in many ways an idyllic childhood — along with a successful father and nurturing mother, she was a Girl Scout, had a paper route, sang in the church choir and yes, she even wore bobby socks and poodle skirts as a teenager. Mom graduated from high school in 1955.

Mom in 1959, age 21. On the back of this photo, in my dad's handwriting, it says: "She's Wonderful!"

After graduation, Mom completed secretary courses at the Minnesota School of Business, where she learned shorthand, dictation and other “cutting edge” office duties. Mom went on to work at IBM for five years where she was like a “Mad Men” secretary with cat eye glasses.  She loved her job.  She met my father during this time, they married in 1960 and my older sister soon came along in 1962. Mom stayed home after that, but her secretary training would prove beneficial throughout her life as she ran our household like a business. She had impressive organizational skills and balanced the checkbook down to the penny every month. (My dad benefited from this arrangement until it all came crashing down with my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.)

My parents, 1959 -- channeling Ralph Lauren.

My parents had three children under four years old in 1966. It was only after having children of my own that I appreciated how difficult this must have been for my mom. Especially in those days without the modern conveniences we have now. I have vivid memories of my mom rinsing out cloth diapers, washing them in an old fashioned tub, running them through a “ringer,” and then hanging them on the line.

Marilyn, Joanne, and John -- 1968 I think.

When the three of us were grown and mostly out of the house, my mom began working part-time as an office assistant at a nearby company. She loved it and I’m sure she felt like she got part of her life back. She had about 20 years or so to rediscover herself, travel and spend time with her grandchildren before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in 2005 when she was 68.

The long and slow descent into the fog of Alzheimer’s is her journey now. Click Here to see what Stage she is in today. Her family is on that journey with her and as many of you know, it’s a long and challenging road.  It’s been called “The Long Goodbye” — I can’t think of a more perfect description for Alzheimer’s disease.

My parents, 2010

 

 

The Stages of Alzheimer’s and My Mom

Narrated by David Hyde Pierce from Frasier, the clear and concise video below has helped me understand the approximate stage of Alzheimer’s my mom is in.   The brain function descriptions without all the medical gobbly goop is as refreshing as it is educational.

It’s obvious that my mom’s Alzheimer’s is progressing along the described path.   According to this video, there are 7 steps in the progression of the disease, and I would say that my mother is in Stage 4, moving into Stage 5.  This is how the video description is playing out in my mom’s life:

1.  Mom has zero short term memory.  She doesn’t remember what she did yesterday, 2 hours ago, or 2 minutes ago.  She repeats herself quite a bit.

2.  Mom’s words are disappearing.   She has great difficulty forming coherent sentences and uses “filler” words and phrases to help with communication.  Quite often, the end of her sentences have nothing to do with the beginning.

3.  Mom can no longer solve problems, grasp concepts and make plans .  She can’t be left alone because her lack of judgement and problem solving makes her a risk to herself.  She is not able to accomplish a task without one on one guidance.

4.  Mom has become more emotional and I hear that she has her moods, but unfortunately, I haven’t been with her enough lately to witness her mood swings.

The remaining stages are approaching quickly, as there’s already been incidence of hallucinations. The average Alzheimer’s course is 8 to 10 years, and my mom is in her 7th.

Click on the video below to see how Alzheimer’s disease moves through the brain.