Please Santa, let me be the smiling lady that gets up and dances

friendslistentomusic2Some things the retirement communities do right. The keyboard musician that visits regularly is playing Christmas songs today. I hang around with my Mom and we sing along to the songs and I watch the joy that his music brings so the many residents grouped in the living room today. I can’t resist singing along, even though the general idea of keyboard music doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

A few weeks ago, an old friend of my Moms came and sat with her when the musician was visiting. It’s a nice way to pass the time with my Mom. She loves music and isn’t challenged to try to make small talk.

Each time I visit, I notice one of the other residents. She is always alone, well-dressed, and smiling. I’ve never seen her speak with anyone, but she gets up and dances when music is playing. As I sit and witness the many ladies that work at the community having fun dancing and inviting the residents to join them, this one is already busy dancing around to the music without a care in the world about who is watching. I’m a little jealous because I still feel a little self-conscious dancing.

As we head into the holiday, I do hope Santa will sprinkle some magic dust on me to give me the courage to age as gracefully as this woman is doing. Wished. 

Hey, I know you.

pillcupI get asked several times a week, and even sometimes several times a day, how my Mom is doing. Caring for my parents is part of my life story.

I am struggling with coming up with a positive answer when I am asked. For my longtime readers, you know that I work to find the positive and usually a laugh in the midst of this phase of my life. It’s getting harder. I wonder if it’s because I’m more attuned to the struggles of dementia. Both for the person with the disease and those around them. Most people just don’t understand the disease and admittedly, it took me a while to figure out how to engage, manage, survive and navigate my visits and care-giving tactics.

My Mom is fading away. Many days now I find her in the activity room. I’m glad the community created a program to engage my Mom and she enjoys it in the moment. I recently noticed that she doesn’t use my name when I arrive but looks at me, smiles and says “Hey, I know you.” I wonder if she remembers my name.

I enjoy our visits. I don’t have to think how to manage around her paranoia. She follows my lead and often asks what to do. On my last trip we cleaned out some drawers and I was able to return about 2,000 trash bags to the community that she had been hoarding. When I handed over the bag, the community staffer smiled at me and asked if I was going to try to get the pill cups on my next visit. My Mom is enamored with those small cups. For another day. Relished. 

POST SCRIPT

In reviewing my blog, I found I had written this same header back in February, 2012. I also did a version on a story my brother shared with me when he visited in May, 2012.  It reminds me how long this has been going on as well as how quickly I have forgotten so much that has transpired before this point. Survived.

Three things you can do when spending time with a parent who has dementia.

It’s difficult to change the pattern of a lifelong relationship, but important for both you and your parent. It takes time. You will have good days and bad days.

There are three things I found that you can do to make your visit with someone who has dementia more enjoyable for both of you.

1)      Bring Photographs – Pictures give you a common visual to discuss. If you bring older photographs, you may be surprised by the things your parents will remember.

2)      Ask Questions About Their Younger Years – While they don’t know what they had for breakfast, one of the last things to go will be the memories from their childhood and early adult years – focus on those. For some ideas, visit my earlier post Conversational questions to ask a parent who has dementia.

3)      Do Not Point Out Their Memory Issues / Correct Misinformation – You didn’t like it growing up, and now neither will they. This is easier said than done. When your parent doesn’t want to acknowledge to you that they have a memory problem, pointing it out or correcting them leaves a pall over your visit. Take a deep breath, smile and redirect the conversation by asking them a question about something unrelated.

Changing the pattern to your visits takes time so don’t get frustrated when you find it difficult. It’s taken me years to adapt and figure out how to better use the time I do have with my parents. Assured.