Saturday, 18 September 2021

Update On My Mother

The last time I wrote about my mom was here.

The boundaries I set at that time helped my feelings of stress and despair, although it took a couple of weeks to feel my body start to relax.

But slowly my mother started pushing the boundaries again. She began to call me to see if I had gotten home safely from her house. It's a two-minute drive, people. Two minutes. I resisted at first but gave in one day when she hadn't been able reach me right away and when she did she said she was about to start walking to my house. Then she asked me to call her every night instead because she didn't know how long it took me to drive home. She is not particularly anxious about it; it just made her feel more comfortable (in her words).

After a week of that, I began to feel suffocated again. I often do my shopping in the evening because there are fewer people out and about and also just because I'm a night owl. I felt I could not keep my usual routine and it was like I was seventeen again and living under her roof, being told what job I could take and that I had to call home from university every Sunday (both of these things are true).

In the meantime, I was also guilty of allowing the previous boundaries to stretch. I found myself watching the clock to see if "enough" time had gone by so I could end the nightly pill visit. My self-imposed minimum visit was 30 minutes (why? I don't know), but I felt I was doing a better job if I stayed 60 minutes or more. But no matter how long I stayed, every night she followed me out the door, onto her front steps, and continued talking until I had to literally walk away to stop her.

I am quite willing to help Mom with her needs: medication, groceries, a certain amount of socialization. But I have to keep my brain and body healthy, too.

So I told myself to stop watching the clock and start watching my feelings instead. I need to deliver her pills daily, but anything beyond that is at my discretion, or if I see she has a genuine need for more time, like replacing a battery, sewing on a button, or listening to her for a few minutes.

I also told my mother I would no longer be checking in with her, and that I wouldn't be answering the phone if she was checking in with me right after a visit, because I'm an adult and go out and about quite safely lots of times that she doesn't know about. She didn't argue the point at all, which says to me that she knew she was asking for something she didn't have the right to ask.

That brings us to her geriatric evaluation. Her family doctor advised me that she did satisfactorily in many areas, but poorly in memory and orientation. This is consistent with my observations: she often repeats what she has just asked or said, and she cannot reliably remember what day of the week, month, or season it is and does not recognize streets other than the one route to the grocery store. The memory problem results in things like forgetting to pay bills and whether she has just called me three times already to ask about something. But she is still able to take care of her basic needs like feeding herself, personal hygiene, and laundry, and she is still able to use logical arguments when discussing problems, and remembers certain new information like the eye appointment she finally agreed to have because her cataract is getting worse.

She was quite able to argue over a dental appointment she asked me to make for her. When I gave her the appointment information, she started asking how much it would be, and that she was concerned about being so close to the dentist during Covid, and that at the age of 91 she doesn't feel she will get her money's worth from dental work, and she didn't want the dentist damaging any of her teeth and making things worse, and that dentists are all just out to make money . . . (note especially that she is not equally worried about being close to the optometrist! also, she can easily afford any amount of dental work and used to have regular checkups up until her dementia began)

The interminable questions, which involved me having to contact the dental office several times as Mom repeatedly objected to the cost, wore me out and we ended up in a heated exchange. I pondered the situation for a day, and realized maybe she simply no longer wanted the bloody dental checkup because it didn't meet her expectations, cost-wise, and wasn't high on her priority list, unlike the eye appointment. When I asked if she wanted to postpone or even cancel the dental appointment "for now", she quickly agreed.

I had invested so much time and energy in getting that appointment, I couldn't see what was right in front of me - she no longer wanted it.

So what have I learned in this section of my dementia caregiver course, fellow life students?

I'll tell you what I've learned.

I am my own worst enemy sometimes, but I have to learn to be my own best friend and watch myself for signs that I've broken my own rules, and not blame my mother for that. As a people pleaser, I feel compelled to give until it hurts, but I have to learn how to not do that.

I've also learned that if I run into resistance from Mom, it's probably because there's something else going on and I need to ask questions to find out what it is instead of getting steamed up because she has just upset my plans to help her. 

And lastly, I have learned that she probably still has more capacity to make decisions than I was giving her credit for. When something is important to her, she seems able to harness more ability to think. This reminds me that the person who did her geriatric evaluation told me there is a medication that can be prescribed to help concentration and that it might help with memory issues because it increases a person's ability to focus. I'm not sure how to bring that up with my mother but all I can do is try.

I feel quite sure that any gold stars I might award myself for learning these things are completely cancelled out by raising my voice at a 91-year-old with dementia, but there it is: the brutally honest update.

May I also add that this post was twice as long and a hundred times whinier in its first few drafts. I'm glad I didn't post it before I calmed down, because it probably would have killed a few readers through boredom alone. My conscience can't take that right now.

*****

Funnies? Well, why not! The theme today is "how I'm feeling".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 









And.........my personal favourite today; if I were to ever get a tattoo, this is what it should say:




Thanks for reading, my friends.

Wishing you a good week, where your battles are few and your judgement  impeccable. 




41 comments:

  1. LOVE that tattoo.
    I am also a people pleaser. A failed people pleaser. Try as I might, I don't succeed.
    I do hope that you can set (and reset when necessary) boundaries for yourself. If you drown you cannot help anyone. Something I frequently have to remind myself.
    Hugs, oh sister across the seas.

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    1. You always get it, EC, and it has made me teary this evening. Thank you. And hugs back to my chosen sister.

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  2. Pick fewer battles. I like that.

    Do you have kids? Your mom may just be lonely and that's why she follows you out and calls you. Also, she may really be worried about you. I have kids and I hope when they are adults they still love me. �� My mom and I have had struggles. I don't want to have struggles with mine.

    Cut yourself some slack. You sound like a wonderful daughter, kind and helpful. It is perfectly fine to take care of yourself too and have boundaries.

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    1. And there's one result of editing myself! I think that much of what I took out of this post might have helped you understand my mother more. But I didn't feel right being too hard on her. Of course she is lonely, but I have offered several solutions to help with that (solutions that don't involve me as much), and none are acceptable to her. I'm only one person; I can only do so much. And she has often, through my life, had trouble respecting my boundaries as an adult. Sigh.

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  3. Love the funnies!

    Have you seen this talk about how to talk to people with dementia? It's quite fascinating. She talks about entering their reality instead of trying to drag them into ours.

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    1. Yes, I have seen that video. I think it's meant for more severe dementia cases. My mother is not there yet. She knows enough to still form logical arguments, especially when upset and very focused. She's not in another reality yet. She is just repetitive and extremely forgetful. She did have an MRI recently, and it showed atrophy, which her doctor translated as "some dementia".

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  4. As I was reading about the dental appointment it was going through my mind, at what age should you no longer bother with anything more than cleaning your teeth. It seems 91 is perhaps the age, if not younger.

    You are on the right path now. Give because you are obligated, you care and you are a kind person, and do so with good grace. Don't give to the point where you are frustrated and annoyed.

    I love the last cat photo. The caption, so true.

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    1. Yeah, dental care, like some medical care, should probably be undertaken only if there's a clear benefit. Mom wanted one specific tooth checked because she feels a ridge at the gum line. I suspect it's the edge of the enamel, where the gum line has eroded due to hard brushing and age, but she worries it might be a cavity. She has no pain so it made sense to put off the appointment for now.

      I try to help her with good grace but when I'm stressed over her behavior it's hard and I fail.

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    2. My siblings and myself care very much for our mother, but we don't let her get under our skin, whereas my partner goes ballistic, not in front of her, over her behaviour and nonsense. In spite of me saying to him not to get stressed by her, he does. I just say, she has always been like that, only worse now. I note in front of her grandchildren and great grandchildren she does not go on and on about her medical problems and impending death and they will have good memories of her. The grand children have a strong connection with her when they were young and will remember what fun she once could be.

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  5. I remember these feelings well, from when my mom lived across the courtyard from me, and I visited her nightly to give her dinner and get her ready for bed. She could still help herself somewhat then, but she was needy and anxious about my safety. I chafed so often to be free of the routine but of course as soon as she wasn't there any more I missed her terribly. This is how it goes unfortunately. It's a hard passage, caring for our aging parents. You are such a good daughter, but yes, you must, absolutely must care for yourself too, set and reset those boundaries as often as needed. Your mother loves you and will understand. Hugs.

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    1. I don't think she does understand, and that's frustrating. She has become even more self-centred than she used to be. I edited a lot of this out of the post; maybe I should have left it in so readers would have the whole story, but it felt wrong to write about it, like I was blaming her for the dementia. I'm blaming her for her personality, not the dementia. Maybe that's wrong too. I'm not sure anymore. I just feel so alone with the problem. My only sibling lives quite far away and is supportive but unable to do the day-to-day stuff to any degree. The isolation and limitations of Covid are not helping, either.

      I know you understand the burden of caregiving and that is a comfort - thank you.

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  6. It's very difficult to deal with the irrational. The irrational is a whole new ball game. Each situation is different. I wish you well on this journey.

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    1. Thanks, Red. My frustration level is pretty high at the moment. I'm hoping the reinforcing of boundaries will bring some relief once again.

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  7. I am happy to report I have no one to boss around and a daughter to resist the bossing of. But I do love her dearly, and when my leg is better she better not boss me any more or I will boss back and then she'll be sorry. I Love You!

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    1. I can't imagine you being bossed around, Joanne :D

      Sending love back, my friend.

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  8. I would have raised my voice too, exasperation is rife when it comes to dealing with elderly people. I think learning to ask the question behind the questions/reasonings/complaints is a great idea and may even save you some time. Perhaps you could just put the new pills in with the old and she won't notice taking one extra?

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    1. She is like a hawk when it comes to the pills - she'd spot it in an instant and refuse to take it. Ironically, although she knows which pills should be in the little cup I leave for her, she was completely unable to figure out for herself which ones to take. So I figured it was better to take them to her every day than to chance her taking too many or not enough.

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    2. And thank you - I think the digging for answers behind the obstructionist behavior will be a help, too, in terms of both time, as you said, and feelings saved - for both of us.

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  9. Jenny, I think you have made something of a breakthrough. Watch your feelings not the clock is a brilliant strategy. One I'm going to adopt, so unlike the kitty you are giving out good advice. My favourites are "going to rock bottom" and "not completely useless", so you can tell where I'm at today, but thank goodness I can still laugh/snort at your funnies so all is not lost. hang in their kid and be good to yourself.

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    1. While I don't wish anyone to be having a hard time, I do feel less alone knowing there are others who are going through stuff along with me :) Thanks for your encouragement, Susan.

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  10. I tend to think that your current frustration is backed by a lifetime of obstructionist behaviour.
    Cut yourself some slack, keep your boundaries and remember it can't last forever :)

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    1. What you tend to think is right :)

      I do know it can't last forever, but I am truly afraid that the stress, combined not having the energy or time to take care of my health, is going to get me before Father Time gets my mom ...

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  11. I think you are learning a lot about how to best handle your Mother's situation. It's natural that you would run into bumps here and there, but you do seem to be establishing a good routine with her. Most importantly, you are learning to look out for yourself and your feelings. Is it possible that your mother has developed a fear of going to the dentist and that is why she reacted as she did. I only say that because I hate going to the dentist and I sometimes will come up with excuses for why I should not go!

    I know this all must be frustrating but you have definitely earned those gold stars! It's only natural to lose your patience once in a while. Overall you are doing a great job and going in the right direction, just keep looking after yourself! Big Hugs!

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    1. You're always so encouraging, Bonnie - thank you. I don't think my mother is particularly worried about actually going to the dentist, but maybe that fear is just well buried and I can't see it. I know what you mean about the anxiety about going to the dentist. I've put off my own checkup for awhile now for other reasons but now it's only the fear that's left.

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  12. from all you have shared dear Jenny and your answers to comments specially to Sandi ,i understand that your mom wants all of you for herself .For this envy you honestly because this was the only thing i wanted from my mom .i attended elderly people when i even had no idea why i felt compelled to do so but when it came to look after my own parents the opportunity was snatched brutally from my hands. my mother turned into a stranger completely and all she wanted to money from younger daughter for the (in her words ) service she provided to her and her household .in response she wanted her to pay for her treatment though while she came to visit me we took her to the best doctor in the city who said that she is too weak and old to bear autopsy so keep her on medicines so she live her life which can be one year to ten years or more or less depends on her response to medicine . she did not care not for her health nor for my bagging but started hunger strike to force us take her back to Islamabad to my sister. her behavior left me pain which seeped into my bones forever .

    may be dementia has made your mom feel she is younger and so are you and she is worrying for you as you are teenager . it could have solved if her dementia was treated in early stage dear Jenny .i know so well you were really busy with your life and looking after your husband so it was impossible for you to keep eye on her worsening mental state.
    i feel for you my friend .you are amazingly kind and sensible person and i learn so much from you . making everyone happy is impossible task and i am with you to set and stick with you boundaries because you have life and family to deal with and for this you need energy and focus .
    my heartfelt best wishes for your well being and for your precious mom!
    hugs and tons of healing energy on your way my dear friend!

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    1. That is very sad that your mother declined so much in the last part of her life. No wonder you felt such keen pain when all you wanted was to help her and she would not accept your care. I'm so sorry you had to go through that with someone I know was very precious to you.

      Thank you for your kind wishes for us, baili! Sending hugs to you too.

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  13. 0_Jenny, that was an especially moving personal essay. I'm only a boy in my 70s but feel the encroachment of absent-mindedness. I keep a little tablet in the car of addresses and routes to places oft-visited for necessities. It also takes me 24 hours to remember who portrayed Grampa Amos on "The Real McCoys". One remembers these things in elders but, the older I get, the more I understand. You're doing a great and loving service. My admiration and compliments.

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    1. I don't feel like I deserve admiration, Geo.; I feel like a grumpy gnome, to be honest. I understand regular absent-mindedness and even the memory loss of dementia, but it's my mother's underlying personality that is giving me such difficulty. And also the fact that she won't accept any help but mine. It's frustrating and stressful and I don't know how to relieve those things.

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  14. Feel free to write whatever helps you sort out issues or feelings. Why the heck not? Glad you have determined to follow your feelings, especially in light of the fact that it isn't just her on-coming dementia that you are dealing with, but a lifetime of frustration from a long-term meddling mamma. On top of everything, you are dealing your own burden of grief and, for cryin' out loud, you are only human! You're entitled to the occasional angry outburst at your mother. The good news is she is likely to forget it. :)

    Hang in there, Jenny. You are a gold star person. Don't let yourself (or anyone else) tell you otherwise.

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    1. I'm thinking of writing more on this to fill in the blanks caused by my editing. There is so much more to say. I feel guilty writing about too much of it in a public space. I'm still contemplating that. You're right - it's the long-standing personality that is the real issue, plus not having time to attend to my feelings about the loss of my husband.

      Thanks for your kindness, Mary.

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  15. This is my happy face: That's exactly what I look like. I am as jowly as that hound. I don't frown, but I let my face relax because forcing a smile causes tension in the face. You are making progress, I think, with your mom. Mother had no boundaries. What saved me as an adult was not living anywhere near her. The sister who lived close by set no boundaries and ended up resentful and angry about Mother's demands on her. Why do we long to please people? I know I do. Sometimes it gets in the way and I let people get away with all sorts of things.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. That's a good question, Janie. When you're a people pleaser it can lead to being a doormat. I feel for your sister and I'm glad you didn't have to go through it. And my happy face looks like that, too :)

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  16. Oh how I’ve wished my mouth had a backspace key.

    It can’t be easy to live so close to your mother. You are never away from the situation. Setting your own boundaries would be essential but so tough to do. Take care of yourself.

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    1. Yes, living so close means I CAN do things for her but with community services dependent on her approval (which she will not give) living close means I MUST do things for her and that's a major stress in my life right now. I don't know what the answer is so I just keep plodding on.

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  17. The bottom cat looks and behaves very much like Littlebeast, only instead of blinds, he has a screen on the window.
    A couple of things about your post: First, some of the best advice I ever got about getting along with people long term was "find ways to appreciate the other person's individuality" and that has indeed helped me at times, but it's a really tall order when the other person is working your last nerve. We are all human beings, after all.
    And second, I don't know if you will find this helpful, but your mother is quite lucky to have you. I base this observation on a woman I met in stroke rehab named Helen.
    We were there from mid-May until July, and that whole time she never had one visitor. I got to know Helen a bit while we were there, we used to eat our lunch together, and I heard as much of her story as I could under the circumstances. She had family, but there were conflicts among them that kept her sisters away and made them not be options for her post rehab. I can't vouch for the seriousness of the conflicts, only observe the results in her lack of visitors. She got discharged three days before I did, and for the week leading up to her discharge, she was stressing about where she would go. She had suffered a stroke, like I had, and had mobility issues, like I had, and it sort of broke my heart to see her without anyone to go to. In the end, she was accepted by a skilled nursing facility, and given a brand new walker. I still remember her grinning and waving to us as she used the walker to get on the Paratransit truck.
    Helen was maybe sixty at the time. What has become of her I don't know, but I still think of her from time to time, especially when I find myself grumbling over inconsequential inconveniences in my living situation.
    I am a very, very lucky guy.
    On a good day, I have no trouble remembering that, but not every day is that kind of good day.
    Here's hoping you get the situation worked out to a manageable state, and that your mom realizes what she has.

    -Doug in Sugar Pine

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    1. It must be so lonely to be the person who has no visitors even when one still has family. I'm glad Helen ended up with a good place to go.

      I've never tried to appreciate mom's individuality; that's something for me to ponder. I do try my best to realize she can't help a lot of what she does, whether it's memory issues or basic personality, but I am getting so stressed it doesn't seem to be enough. Thanks for your thoughts, Doug.

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  18. Not only is writing good therapy, your words will help others going through similar challenges. Thank you.

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    1. I'm hoping that when I forget the things I have learned, I can remind myself by reading here. Aldo, I hope you're right that it might also help someone else. It's hard feeling so alone with the job of looking after a person who, for whatever reason, is difficult to get along with.

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  19. You are up to your ears in this. I hope and pray for you to find wisdom and endurance.

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    1. Sometimes wisdom comes only after meeting a brick wall repeatedly with one's head, and endurance is a matter of having no choice. Unfortunately!

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  20. My heart goes out to you. The combination of 'dutiful daughter' and 'people-pleaser' makes for a vicious circle.

    I'm glad you were able to (re)set your boundaries, and I hope you won't feel guilty - you need and deserve to take care of yourself, too.

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