It began a few years ago – I was chatting with my mom, who was 75 years old at the time, on the phone, and the subject of how much mail she was receiving every day came up.
Within seconds, she dropped the f-bomb.
She was literally raging about the amount of catalogs and pleas for donations she had to sift through every day. She was completely off the rails. I had never heard her swear like that, even when I was a teenager doing bad and stupid things every day.
The next time I called her, we got into a heated argument about politics, of all things. We had never discussed politics before, but she brought it up and, apparently, strongly disagrees with mine. Within minutes, she hung up on me. My own mother!
I was shocked, hurt and beginning to worry a little bit. The next day she called me — which was a good thing, because I was not about to call her — and she had completely forgotten about our argument the day before. I made a point to never discuss politics with her again, but realized something was truly amiss.
Thanksgiving was approaching. The week before the big day, she left a message on my voicemail apologizing for missing Thanksgiving. I called my brother, who agreed that something was wrong, but we were in denial. She did attend Thanksgiving at my house, and, as usual, she offered to help, so I gave her the simple task of putting a plate of butter on the dinner table. We found her trying to put the plate of butter in our birdcage!
She was fumbling with the latch, the knife slipped off the plate and dropped to the floor. Our four parakeets freaked out, fluttering and chirping loudly. Thankfully, we intervened before they escaped.
You probably know where I’m going with this. Yes, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. We have learned a lot over the course of the last three years, most of it sad and horrifying, but my brother and I are on it.
He is taking over all the financial decisions, which is a good thing, because I have trouble with simple addition, but his job has been challenging.
At one point, we discovered she hadn’t paid any of her bills for months. The electricity, phone and cable were all about to be turned off. Her explanation for the “no signal” message on her TV was that her neighbors had somehow intercepted her cable signal. Paranoia is a classic and creepy symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
My brother was scrambling, but he managed to pull her finances and credit back from the brink of disaster.
My job is to schedule her medical and dental appointments and to get her there, as well as schedule the medical assistant who comes to her home to clip her toenails. Yes, there are people who do that. I am also in charge of finding a memory care facility for her.
She is currently living alone, with the exception of a nurse who visits for an hour each day to make sure she takes her pills. There are a lot of pills.
We also suspect she’s forgetting to eat. I contacted Meals on Wheels, a lovely service that provides one hot meal a day to seniors who are housebound or simply forgetting to prepare their own meals. The people are volunteers and very kind, but it didn’t go well.
My mom was either sleeping when they showed up or just wasn’t interested in opening the door. She told me she didn’t care for the food. I cancelled the service a week later. It just wasn’t fair to the Meals on Wheels people.
That’s another thing about Alzheimer’s disease. You find yourself getting frustrated and annoyed with the loved one, who has absolutely no control over what’s happening to their brain, but you’re annoyed, nonetheless. Especially when they keep insisting they don’t need anyone’s help.
Those Visiting Angel commercials are a bit deceiving. They show the elderly person actually enjoying the company of the “angel” and welcoming their assistance, laughing and flipping through family photos together.
My mom dislikes the nurse who visits her. This is her second nurse, by the way. She told my brother the first one was bossy and rude. I think it was my mother who was bossy and rude, but now we have an older woman named Martha. My mother doesn’t like her, either.
She’s always telling me she thinks it’s Martha’s last day. She also thinks Martha is stealing her food, and so is my brother. Good times.
So, the other day I visited a lovely assisted care facility in Walnut Creek called Tiffany Court. This place looks like a page out of a travel magazine, specifically Hamburg, Germany. It’s beautiful.
The minute I walked in, the smell of pot roast enveloped my senses. Two elderly women sat in the lobby chatting about whether they’d eaten dessert yet. Neither could remember. Yep, my mom would fit right in!
I have my mom’s name on the waiting list, though we have a long way to go. She doesn’t even know we’re looking for a place for her. She will not go easily, but it’s inevitable. She told me she hears my grandmother talking downstairs in the kitchen every morning. My grandma died in 1999. Yikes.
When I look into her confused yet pretty blue eyes, it occurs to me that one day, I may be in her position. It’s a terrifying thought, but now I have hope. I told Maury that if I begin ranting and raving about the amount of mail we receive, he needs to get my name on that waiting list at Tiffany Court. I can still smell the pot roast.