I spent the day with my mom on Friday. As I had planned the visit a few days in advance, my sister (the one who lives by Mom’s assisted living facility) called and asked if I would take her to a doctor appointment. Mom had complained about being uncomfortable the last few days, and with her continuous weight gain, my sister felt the doctor should be consulted.
I don’t even know how to explain the appointment. It was almost like a comedy routine between the doctor and my mom. This doctor is probably 70 years old himself, and has only seen mother one time. He was kind of lost as her medical history over the last year is very complicated. I tried to fill in the blanks and walk him through it, but well, it’s just complicated. All I’ll say is at the beginning of the appointment, he said, ‘your thyroid is doing great; those numbers are good’. And at the end of the appointment he said, ‘your thyroid is dead’. Ok then.
But by the time we were walking out of the office, a CAT scan was scheduled for next week. Good enough. That’s all I wanted out of the appointment anyway. Mission accomplished.
In the parking lot, Mom says’, ‘do I stop taking my water pills?’ ‘No, everything stays the same until we get the results from the CAT scan’. We head for a restaurant to eat a late lunch, and Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy.’ ‘No, Mom, they aren’t going to do anything until after the scan’.
Mom and I make small talk at lunch, and once again she laments about not being in ‘her own apartment’. Then she proceeds to tell me about her play money she won at Bingo. She uses this cash to buy toiletries in the facility store. She has recently changed dining tables for meals, and she tells me about her new friends at that table. She talks about her watercolor class and her euchre game. She tells me how much sewing she has been doing. Oookkay…..
Last summer I read many books and articles about dementia. One report said that loved ones will always want to go home. No matter how content they are in their new surroundings. No matter how long it has been since they were home, they will always want to go back. They will continue to ask about going home. The article suggests that saying things like, ‘well, that isn’t an option anymore’, or ‘this is your home now’ only causes frustration and anger for your loved one. It is better to say things like, ‘I know you miss your home. Some day, we can talk more about that’. Then steer the conversation to different topic. I have tried to implement that advice, and it really seems to work. So when Mom talks about home, I listen and sympathize; I don’t get upset or try to talk her out of that desire. I just move away from the subject, and we talk about other things.
When we are about done with lunch Mom asks again about her water pills. ‘Yes, Mom, continue to take them’.
We go for some blood work and then head back to her apartment. Walking into the facility, Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy’. ‘No, Mom…’
After spending a few minutes looking at her watercolors in the art room, someone mentions the Good Friday service is about to begin. Mom quickly walks me downstairs and says her good-byes. I am not offended that she rushes me off. I love that she wants to go to the service and be with her new friends.
As I take my leave, she asks for the third time about her water pills.
On my way home, I do NOT cry — this is a first. In the past, I have cried because my mother’s world had shrunk so small. I grieved for her and the life she knew and missed. But today, not only did I see confirmed that her short term memory loss is certainly still an issue, I saw her world enlarging again. As Mom has settled into her new life, her heart has softened, and she is opening up to friendships and activities. She is finding her place once again.
She may grumble. She may always ask to go home. But I’m not worried about her anymore.
She is content. She may even be happy.
This IS becoming home.