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Alzheimer's Dementia

Better than Neighbourly

 

This morning I got a phone call from an old friend of mine and my mothers - a lovely blast from the past. It is funny how talking to people who know "the old Phyllis" makes me both happy and sad. It leaves me feeling sad, of course, because it reminds me of how much of Mom we've lost.  But, mostly they make me happy because they allow me the pleasure of remembering.

I totally love the town we moved to over ten years ago, but when you move away from where your family and childhood friends live, you never feel fully "known". You lose the enjoyment of shared stories, the jogging of long forgotten memories or better yet - people telling you things about yourself that you didn't know.

Well, today I discovered something I am surprised took me so long to hear about. Two years ago, my mother's neighbour, Austin passed away. He was only 65 years old. I am still a little shocked it took so long for this news to get to me and am embarrassed I never got to pass on my condolences. But mostly, I'm sad that I never got to tell him how thankful I am for everything he did for my mom.

 Austin, wasn't just a "next door neighbour" in the sense that many of us (in our transient lives) think of neighbours. I am not sure when Austin and his family moved next door but (just like my parents) it was long before I was born and another twenty years after I left home. I can't remember a time he wasn't puttering out in his garage or offering a wave from his back deck.

 After my father passed away, Austin and his wife are the reason my mom was able to stay in her home as long as she did. During the winter months, he'd often pick up a few groceries for her, pop by to chat, became the lawn mower, snow remover and handy man. One night, mom wasn't feeling well and had been up a few times in the night. The next morning Austin was over - he'd seen the light on and wanted to know if she was ok. In her final difficult days living at home - when the dementia and delirium had made her come unglued - he shared our heart ache and was sad to see her go.

So, today I want to give tribute to this kind and helpful man. Sadly, my mom will not remember him, nor does she remember the home my father built or the town she once loved so very much. Her memories have become unraveled like a ball of yarn with only the oldest ones holding on for dear life. Instead of a picture of our family home, above her bed is the black and white photograph of her childhood home and the long ago memories of her parents and siblings. But, I remember Austin. With the aging population, the increase in dementia and the focus on keeping people in their homes longer, our world is going to need more people like him.

I am reminded that I too need to be bold enough to knock on the door of someone next door sometimes and say, "Hey, I saw your light on - are you ok?" 


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The Pleasure of Remembering

 

I try my best to write from a positive lens. Everyone in this room knows that aging, sickness, dementia and loss is rotten. It doesn’t seem helpful for me to state the obvious. So, as best as I can, I attempt to find and share my observations from a place of hope.

That might be why there are gaps in between my writings. Sometimes it is difficult to find the hope in Mom’s dementia. As we come around the corner to Canadian Thanksgiving, sometimes it is difficult to FEEL thankful.

While my mother’s capacity has diminished, for the most part as she carries on she is content. She smiles and enjoys the people in the LTC home, she enjoys music, exercise, baking, dancing, church services and Bible studies, joking with the staff and visiting with family. She lives safe and warm in her big bright private room and yet so much of her is gone. I miss those parts of Mom so much.

In John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, (without spoiling the ending) one of the characters in the book reflects on what it feels like to lose someone you love by stating, "The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and less important than they had been before.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

The loss of Mom’s memories is also the loss of mine. Not a single person in the entire planet shares the memories that I share with Mom. She was there when I was born weeks early at 3 lbs 4 ounces and placed in an incubator. She was behind the camera as I got on the bus for Kindergarten and rocked me in the green chair when that mean girl on the school bus slapped me in the ear. She was my biggest champion for years, my confident and friend and the voice in my head. So many times I struggle to recollect a memory or think to share something about a person only we both know – only to realize I have lost the pleasure to remember with Mom – as if the moment never was.

Last week, when I visited Mom was a little edgy and impatient with me. She was hard to find and I found myself too tired to really look for her. But some days, I get a gift.

Two weeks ago, my favourite smiling-red-head-singing, Bible-preaching-volunteer was at the nursing home leading a Bible study and sing-song.  The songs she was singing so joyfully were right out of Mom and my past. Praise choruses written in the 70’s and 80’s and old beloved hymns that transported me to the days Mom and Dad pastored the Monkton Pentecostal Church.

 For just those few moments we were transported. Mom sang every word of those long (for me) forgotten songs at the top of her voice, smiling…and co-remembering with me. The interaction so special I almost wanted to hold my breath…and then it was gone.

I am not a wonderful daughter. I get tired, impatient, sad and sometimes I even have to stay away. But, thankfully when I dust myself off and try again – I blessed and for just that moment I "see” her (the Mom who has gone away) ….and I remember who I am.

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Top Weekend Reading Picks

 

From all the things I’ve read this week that were worth passing on, Here’s My Mother’s Caregiver’s Top Weekend Reading Picks.  

The importance of B12 in seniors:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/health/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-cause-symptoms-that-mimic-aging.html?_r=2

Are we in denial about elder care?

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/new-health/health-policy/are-we-in-denial-about-the-growing-issue-of-elder-care/article1955902/

Tips for balancing caregiving, work and living:

http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/story.jsp?storyId=533345029

A great video about older adults and depression:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pccmWjdLNSY&feature=youtu.be

More info about Older Adults and Depression – Know the signs and what to do:

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfoforall/problems/depression/depressioninolderadults.aspx

In honour of Valentine’s Day, here are some good “relationship” articles:

http://t.co/npbM9p8A

Love endures despite her husband’s memory loss:

http://www.thestar.com/living/valentinesday/article/1130975–valentine-s-day-2012-love-endures-despite-husband-s-memory-loss-following-brain-aneurysm

Later-Love:

http://www.lfpress.com/life/2012/02/13/19373921.html

 

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