“Dad is dead,” my brother said on the telephone, but it didn’t register.
Through sobs, he struggled to repeat, “Dad is dead.” He told me our father had died during the night. I don’t know how my dementia-suffering mother called my older brother when she found him dead.
Within a few days, I was my mother’s full-time caregiver. My father had been caring for her since her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. We’d watched from afar as she deteriorated.
Then, three years ago, the responsibility was mine. I stayed at Mom’s home for four months to allow her to adjust to life without her husband. I kept her schedule unchanged.
She arose early every morning for breakfast. Then, she’d bathe and dress. Though she used a walker, she’d make her bed. She had a routine. On Monday, she’d dust, Tuesday laundry, and so on every day of the week. I helped, but I felt we should keep to her schedule.
Early one morning, Mom fell in the bathroom and dislocated her shoulder. She never walked again, so she became a wheelchair user. A few months later, I moved her to Florida to live with my wife and me. Once there, I sought medical help for her. Concerned her small-town doctor hadn’t enough knowledge on Alzheimer’s disease, I looked for more advanced professional advice in a large city.
I found a physician who specialized in gerontology—not a difficult accomplishment in Florida. He referred her to a neurologist who recommended a psychologist. The neurologist enrolled her into an Alzheimer’s study which, paid for tests such as PET scan and CAT scan.
The tests determined she did not have the amyloid protein of Alzheimer’s disease in her brain, but she had vascular dementia. I knew the small-town doctor was wrong.
The question: What should I expect and how to treat her?
The answer: The same medication the small-town doctor had prescribed with the same prognosis.
Once, someone asked me why I went to all the effort. I answered, “Because she’s my mother. I exhausted every treatment, and I’m now satisfied.”
Mom no longer rises early in the morning. Her circadian clock doesn’t tell her it’s morning — even if the sun is shining in her window. She no longer bathes herself, nor can she dress without help. I prepare her breakfast as she waits. Now she reads the paper and watches television. Nothing else concerns her or interests her.
A while ago, we found she has a swallowing problem, a common symptom of the disease. Liquid goes into her lungs when she drinks, so we must thicken her fluids. It’s just another step downward. Though day-to-day, she seems stable, her disease is progressing. If measured by a calendar and not a clock, I can see the subtle changes.
I am not making long-term plans for my mother. Instead, I’m allowing her to enjoy one day at a time. She enjoys watching baseball on television and eating chocolate. So, why not join her?
Psalms 118:24 NASB This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
© Copyright Ronald Milburn 2018