Within months after moving into the Gardens, an Assisted Living Facility (ALF), mom began asking repetitive questions. Most often, she asked me for pictures of my grandchildren. Then she asked about my children. Were there pictures? I told her they were on the bureau by the phone. She would tell me about each picture she saw. Who were the people? How old were they? Was this person still alive? One day on the phone she said sometimes she didn’t remember even if I had children at all.
Mom also asked me about her bills and bank accounts. Who was paying them? I reminded her that I was paying her bills. Now that she was in assisted living, there were no phone bills or cable bills or electric bills. “Don’t worry about it”, I told her. I am taking care of all the bills now and I will pay the taxes when they are due.
I asked mom’s regular physician about mom’s dementia. He was positive it was not Alzheimer’s. He was pretty sure it was due to an imbalance in her blood chemistry due to the severe dehydration she suffered in June as well as the thyroid procedure she had earlier in the year. If he could just get her medications adjusted correctly he was sure he could reverse the dementia. However, he told me, he would schedule an MRI (to check for small strokes).
The doctor also ordered more blood tests which were done right at her ALF. As a result, he changed her medications. The nurse companion I contracted went with mom when she went to see her physician. The nurse companion reported back to me that mom commented when they walked in: “I know this place. I think I have been here before.” Actually mom had been there regularly for over a decade. At least she recognized it!
I called the nurses at the Gardens on a regular basis for updates on mom and dad. At the time I was impatient for more information, but looking back I feel like they were very helpful and compassionate. They had many residents to care for but were always ready to respond to my calls. I also spoke on the telephone with mom and dad’s physician regularly. It was very difficult for me to feel capable of overseeing their care when I was so far away. I was worried about my parents being overlooked, but I believe their care givers were all pretty well on top of the situation.
The nurse told me that both mom and dad needed a lot of “cueing”. For instance, mom came down for medications 3 times that morning, but didn’t bring dad until the 3rd time. I guess they sent her back each time to get dad. I think it must be frustrating to keep going back and not remember what she went back for.
My brother (BR) and I corresponded more by email at this point. We both talked to mom several times a day. We tried to keep each other informed as to what was happening. He questioned what she was able to do. She could no longer read a book or even the newspaper though she used to spend a good part of her day reading before. She couldn’t see the print that well and her mind couldn’t “track” the story line. Mom liked to take walks, but the Gardens’ staff wouldn’t let her walk on the busy street out front. They told her to walk in the back on the paths but she couldn’t figure out where the walking paths were.
BR commented that it was harder to converse with mom now. She couldn’t discuss so many subjects due to her confusion. What was left seemed to be just the weather and the meals. Dad never did talk much on the phone and he still just passed the phone on to mom.
Mom often called BR to ask him the same questions she had asked me. She started to dwell on questions about my grandparents’ bank accounts and property. My grandparents passed away over 40 years before these discussions. All of a sudden she decided that she had neglected to follow-up on the money and property they left behind. She thought she had to do it right away because of the “statute of limitations”. It seemed funny that she remembered this legal restriction, yet couldn’t remember settling the estates of her parents.
I reached the point where I was almost afraid to answer the telephone. Sometimes these conversations were only a few minutes and sometimes much longer. Sometimes mom got very agitated because she knew she was forgetting things.
I made follow-up visits to some of assisted living facilities in my community that I had seen the previous spring. Now that I had some experience with the ALF in the south, I felt I would have a better basis to evaluate the ALFs here and choose one for them. I wanted one that could handle memory care issues if mom and dad got much worse. My plan was to visit my parents in January for 3 months in the sun. Afterwards, I would bring them home with me to stay even if I had to trick them to get onto the airplane. I talked to my local Eldersource consultant about the best placement for them and how to travel with 2 older adults with dementia. It was starting to stress me out but I knew it was the best way to handle their needs. It just wasn’t working for me to try to care for them from far away.
It was hard to find a facility that could house 2 people in the same unit. Most were made for single people, not couples. They placed couples in rooms near each other. I knew mom and dad wouldn’t like that. I looked at some other facilities to see what might work for them and found some that would require mom and dad to bring all their own furnishings. They had furniture in their ALF in the south, but how would I move them in right from the airport if it took a week for their belongings to arrive? I worried about everything.
Mom called me one morning in early November. While we talked, the aide came in to shave my father. Mom was ambivalent about it. She felt the staff were doing so much to help them that they would forget how to help themselves. On the other hand, she was glad someone was watching over dad. “God looks after the little children and the crazy old people she said”. I responded that she and dad weren’t crazy, but it was good to have someone watching over them. Mom said “Dad is as confused as I am today”. Dad came to the phone but he was groggy as if he had just awakened. He handed the phone back to mom.
Mom asked when I was coming to see them. I told her I would be there in January. She asked: “What month is it now? January is too far away. Why can’t you I come sooner?” “It won’t be long”, I said. “It is November now, so in 8 weeks I will see you again. I will stay and show you how to walk on the trails in the back.”
That same night I got a call from a nurse at the Gardens. Mom had fallen and was being transported by ambulance to the hospital. I called the companion service to have someone sit at the ER with mom and report back to me. Mom was admitted with a broken hip. I needed to talk to the surgeon in the morning as they needed my permission to operate. It looked like I would have to fly south sooner than I planned.