I’ve learned to stop asking questions, if possible. Mom’s vocabulary is very limited now. She simply does not understand most questions. Especially two and three part questions. You might be surprised to listen to yourself when you speak. So many of us ask a number of questions before the person can even process the first.
“What would you like for lunch, mom? Maybe you’d like a sandwich? Maybe just a half of a sandwich today, huh? You didn’t eat the whole thing yesterday.”
In the meantime, mom is still trying to figure out what lunch is, never mind what kind or how much. When my mother is up against this type of confusion she starts cussing. Her favorite words are ‘shit’, ‘god damn it’ and ‘jesus christ’. She’ll storm off into another room, maybe throwing something before she goes. Usually she throws her tissue, always in her hand, or sometimes, she’ll toss a nearby chair. At this point, it could be another half hour before she calms down enough to come back and eat lunch.
Asking one question at a time, and making sure she understands it before moving on, smooths the entire conversation over and allows for a relaxing, enjoyable lunch for all.
“It’s lunchtime, mom! I’m going to make you a sandwich. Could you come help me?”
Now, I’ve got mom into the kitchen and she’s watching me put out the lunch ingredients on the counter. Working together, we make our sandwiches. Mom watches what I do and then she does the same thing. (It’s much easier if we are both eating the same lunch.) We spread out mayo, lay the ham nice and neatly on the bread, then cover it with the second piece of bread. I cut the sandwiches in half. Mom loves yogurt now. She’s happy to choose her own if I show her where they can be found in the refrigerator. I add some chips and we head out to the porch to sit down and eat. She appreciates the help and always says thank-you.
The time has come for mom to take a shower. There’s no way around it. It’s been 5 days. Yesterday she promised to go upstairs with me and get cleaned up. I helped her undress but when I turned the water on she went running. Today is the day. Somehow, I will get her in that shower.
In the beginning stages of mom’s memory loss she could go into the bathroom by herself, start the water and shower. After some time, she forgot how to operate the shower so she spent the time in the bathroom cleaning. Her forgetfulness progressed to the point of not even understanding why a shower is necessary. She now claims she doesn’t “do that”. She went from showering every other day to being forced into the shower every 5-7 days now. Mom is afraid of the water. It seems to hurt her and/or the temperature is never right. She cries and cowers in the corner of the shower stall. She doesn’t know what to do in there or why she’s there. She also does not like to be naked at all.
Mom is very attached to dad and if he goes on a little errand in the car she really wants to go. One way we get her in the shower is to hold this over her. “After you shower you can go in the car with dad”, I plead. “Oh, ok” she says again. Knowing how much mom enjoys music I head upstairs before her and turn on the iPod. I choose dancing music of some kind. I shut the windows and turn on the small space heater. Mom enters the room and I’m already dancing. She sees my happiness and joins in. As I help mom undress, I sing and we dance. The distraction works well. The shower head has been replaced with a hand held. Now, I get mom in the shower before I even turn the water on. When I turn it on, I spray the floor. She is still dancing. As the temperature adjusts I start to spray mom’s feet. I slowly work my way up, assuring her that’s it ok, I’m here to help. Since she doesn’t understand what it means to turn around to get her back wet, I start singing the Hokey Pokey…..and she starts turning around. Before you know it, she’s been all soaped up, rinsed and we’re done! I turn off the water and wrap her tightly in a very large towel. As she holds on to that, I grab another towel and pat-dry her legs. It’s about speed and gentleness. I’m either talking through what we’re doing or singing. After drying I help mom on with her clothes in an order that will give her the most warmth, Depends, shirt then pants. She can put her socks and shoes on by herself.
When mom comes downstairs, all showered and clean, dad showers her with hugs and kisses and they go off in the car to get the paper and take the trash to the town dump. Everyone is happy. We can all relax about the shower now for at least 4 days.