The speed at which my Mom could bring me into her anxiety was one of the most alarming shifts in our familiar dynamic. Growing up, my mom was the calm, low-key fixer. In the military life in which I was raised with a dad that was often gone, mom ran the household and raised four kids. She was as adept with a hammer and nails as she was with a spatula and pie pan. So when I started to get panicked calls from her, I usually found myself jumping in a car and driving over to visit. I figured it was now my turn to be the fixer.
There were a lot of personality changes over the years, but the anxiety was one of the issues that troubled me most. I learned when she was anxious how to not join her where she was and redirect to a calmer option. I learned to not disagree or debate what she believed, but also not join in the alarm. In the beginning, I would just excuse myself for a few minutes so I could reset my demeanor. Later, I would suggest something we could do together that would change the setting and take her focus to something else.
Puzzles were a regular feature of mom’s room in Assisted Living. The simple act of setting it up, finding a piece or putting it away always brought calm. When it was nice, we would go for a walk in her community, and some days we just got in the car and would complete a simple errand.
The “therapeutic fibs” are often recommended for those that can’t break the cycle of anxiety they are in. I really struggled with this idea initially but found that the truth teller in me was not helpful in many situations. The most difficult were my mom’s calls about dad being in the hospital and needing a ride to visit him after he died. Neither of us needed to relieve his death over and over and I found the suggestion of a visit to dad calmed her down and let her focus on what to do before I would be coming over.
As a last resort they may prescribe medicine that can help. There were several times in the early days when the doctor encouraged us to use the Ativan she prescribed. When the Life Care Community my parents lived in forced their migration from Independent Living into Assisted Living, I dissolved the pill in a glass of Coke. I started out offering the medication to her, but she was suspicious and would refuse any medication. It’s kind of humorous to me now to tell you that she was so anxious, she wouldn’t take the pill that would help her anxiety, but that was our reality.
Dementia is hard on more than just the individual diagnosed with it, and because our loved ones are usually unable to adapt to the changes happening in their brain, it’s up to us to adapt to help them. Encouraged.