How to Win! When Dementia is “Yo’ Mama!”

My mother is standing at the locked basement door yelling down for me to, “Come up stairs now!  It’s time to go to bed!”  For God’s sake, this is probably the sixth or seventh time… heck, I’ve lost track!  I just keep yelling back without moving, because my voice will carry through the hole cut in the door for the cat, “Good night Ma!”… over and over.  It’s about 10 pm and I’m tired; gritting my teeth… begrudging my interrupted TV program (recorded for this moment).  Wishing she would just leave me alone and go to bed.  Praying, “Please!  Let me have some me-time!”  Sometimes… (not always), if I just stop responding to her, she’ll eventually go to bed.  She’ll be frustrated, after having railed at me for hours.  I’ll be totally irritated because she’s trying to get me tucked into bed when I just want to unwind from my busy day of caregiving. That’s how it had been every single night, since I moved in!

I gave up my lovely apartment six months ago, the end of March, 2013; dreading and anticipating that this closer supervision would be necessary as her health declines and memory worsens.  My brother and I made two “executive decisions” to keep her safe.  One was to take the car away, in December of 2011, when she got lost after driving over an hour away into a city in Ohio, thinking she was fifteen minutes away from home in Michigan.  Thank God, the police helped us find her, the same day (but that’s another story).  The second was to install the basement door to protect her from a possible fall, (a story I won’t ever need to tell you) as I will be doing her laundry from now on.

My brother takes care of the finances, keeps the house and grounds maintained.  His wife, and I alternate weeks to cook her meals.  Thank God for her kind heart, otherwise, I’d have no break, like some of my home-care patient’s children.  I’m a part time physical therapist working in elder care for over 20 years, off and on.  So, I know the ropes of how to care for one with dementia on a professional level.  But when Dementia is yo’ Mama! …that ain’t no joke.  Trust me.  Daily medications, laundry, medical appointments, church transportation, shopping, socializing, and those mind blowing, incessantly repeated conversations about “stuff” that don’t mean anything!… and general monitoring is now mine… every day!  Just like when I was a baby and she was the best Mama in the world!  Right?

Back to the top of the basement stairs.  The solution to our bedtime dramas required some compromise on my part that you too, with the challenges of elder care may want to consider.  Compromise can work even when it’s with a person with dementia.  The key is to find out what they need to feel comfortable so that their routine is not disturbed.  Trying to get her to “remember”… that I was in the basement; not outside, not coming into the house or other stuff her mind could not process- was TOTALLY useless.  Start there.  Once they are safely in their comfort zone, then you and I, as caregivers can get what we want… a few hours of peace and quiet from their demands for attention in a world of confusion and short-term memories.

The solution was to give her the sense that at bedtime she and all in the house were secured in bed, windows drawn, and doors locked.  No stray folks in the basement or such.  So, I tried it.  I went into my bedroom and pretended I was going to bed, at or before her bed time.  I told her around 7:30 pm, “I’m going to bed, Ma.”  Her face lit up like it was the night before Christmas!  She grinned and literally jumped up (well, kinda bounced in place) and said, “Oh, good! I’ll go lock all the doors and WE can go to bed!”  (Talk about a Kodak moment!)  I was too amused by her expression and behavior.  What a gift I was giving her!  Going to bed at 7:30 pm instead of my usual 11 pm or midnight, and without “disappearing into the basement”.

Since then, I go into my room, take my lap top and a book, and close my door around 7 pm, after telling her good night.  Works like magic.  She’ll come by my door (several times) to ask me “You goin’ to bed?”  I’ll say “Yes.”  Soon after “Jeopardy” goes off TV, she turns in at 8 pm.  Next, she goes into her nightly routine of locking the front and back doors, checking them twice or more, puts the cat outside (He actually sleeps in the basement.  I let him in later.  He always seems grateful).  Then she tells me “Good night.”…three or four more times, after opening my door to make sure I’m still in my bed.  There I sit… bigger than day.  Now she knows where I am.  All is well in her world and she FINALLY goes to bed.  I give her about thirty minutes or more.  Then I quietly go down to the basement where I can watch TV ’til midnight or later, if I choose; without having her pacing the floor, calling for me and ranting that I must “Come up now!”  Once she stayed up ’til after 11:30 pm waiting for me to “come home”, that following the aforementioned hours of ranting and yelling to get me out of the basement.  (Go figure!)

Oh well!  The bottom line is that the bratty little kid in me gave up resisting mom’s needs. She no longer “looses me” in the basement and has to sit up waiting for me to “come home” past her bedtime, like a worried mom.  The compromise is far more rewarding, peaceful and less wearing on both our nerves.  Trust me!  We all can win even when “Yo’ Mama!” defines dementia.

Chenyere Yisrael

October 13, 2013

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