“Dad is dead,” my brother said on the telephone. It didn’t register.
Through his sobs, he somehow repeated, “Dad is dead.” Eventually, he was able to tell me our father had died during the night. I don’t know how my dementia-suffering mother could call 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 of Alzheimer’s disease. We had watched from afar as she slowly deteriorated.
Suddenly, the responsibility was mine. That was two years ago. I stayed at Mom’s home for four months to allow adjustment to life without her husband. I kept everything as routine as possible, and we followed the same schedule she had held for years.
She arose early every morning for breakfast. Then, she would bathe and dress. Though she used a walker, she would make the beds; and if it were Monday, she would dust; Tuesday laundry, and so forth. She had a routine for every day of the week. Of course, I helped, but I felt it was vital for her mental state to allow her to maintain her schedule.
Early one morning, Mom fell in the bathroom. Though not seriously injured she was afraid to walk 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 aggressively sought medical help for her. Concerned her small-town doctor hadn’t enough knowledge on Alzheimer’s disease, I looked for more advanced professional help in a large city.
I found a physician who specialized in gerontology—not a difficult accomplishment in Florida. She was referred to a neurologist who recommended a psychologist. She was entered into an Alzheimer’s study that paid for tests such as PET scan and CAT scan. It was determined she did not have the amyloid protein of Alzheimer’s disease in her brain. She had vascular dementia. I knew the small-town doctor was wrong.
The question: What should I expect and how do we treat it?
The answer: The same medication and same prognosis the small-town doctor provided.
Once, someone once asked me why I went to all that effort. I answered, “Because she is my mother. I exhausted every possible 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 when the sun is shining in her window. She no longer bathes herself, nor can she dress without assistance. I prepare her breakfast as she patiently waits. Now she reads the paper and watches television. Nothing else concerns her or interests her.
Recently, we found she is not swallowing correctly. It is a common symptom of the disease. Some liquid goes into her lungs when she drinks. Now, we must thicken her fluids. It’s just another step downward. Though day-to-day, she seems stable, her disease is progressing slowly. When 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