More on Music for Dementia: The Comfort of the Familiar

It’s still snowing here. But we prepared in advance, so things are not too crazy today. The pantry is full, Mom is snoozing, and the coal stove is keeping us warm. Instead of pepping Mom up with rock and roll, my sister had the inspired idea to play church hymns. It settled everybody down.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Like many people of my generation, my time in the church pews has dropped to near zero. But the small town where I grew up was a lot like Garrison Keillor’s fictional community of Lake Woebegone.  We went to the 11 AM service at the Lutheran Church every week. My dad was a well-regarded singer who performed in local theater productions and sang beautiful solos with the Lutheran choir. During elementary school, I sang in the children’s choir. Later in life I listened to my dad from the pews.

Though I’m seldom aware of it, I have a huge library of hymns in my head and can probably hum a hundred of them without straining to remember. Mom can’t go to church now because of her mobility problems. But Garrison Keillor’s weekly broadcasts remind me that there’s no reason I can’t bring church to her. On some of his performances, he manages to prod a whole theater full of people into singing the old hymns — and this is a comedy show!

Songs like Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages bring a high level of comfort to my mother. As a young mother she kept her voice low because my father made fun of her for singing off key. Dad passed away many years ago and now she doesn’t seem to remember his criticism (or him, for that matter!) Every once in a while she starts to hum in this wild operatic voice that comes from a strange, inexplicable source. The sound is weird, but vibrant and full of joy.

Her singing makes me wonder: what else is still in there? How is her internal library organized? Dewey decimal, random chance? Is there anything that might add to her peace or happiness? The are countless mysteries behind her eyes. It gives us something to ponder on a grey, snowy day.

The Weight of Weather — How does it affect your care plan?

You’ve probably heard that the East Coast has been smacked with severe snow storms. If you live in a warm place, you may be picturing stranded cars and ice dams. But if you’re also caring for someone with dementia, you probably realize that slippery roads are just a sliver of the weight that weather adds to care.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Frozen turkeys

For the past five weeks, I’ve had to run to the drugstore whenever the roads were clear to make sure we didn’t run out of essential stuff. We need a constant supply of wipes, medications, sanitary gloves, and Depends. People who’ve never done this work can snicker all they want. But carrying four economy sized bags of adult diapers to the car makes you a much stronger person (in MANY ways).

One of my biggest problems has been injury prevention. I hurt my shoulder back in June and have almost healed it several times. But every time it snows, I have to shovel a double wide wheelchair path so my mom can get to her medical transit bus. In a good week, I do this once and my shoulder has a few days to recover. But when the snows arrive back to back, I’m out there slinging all the time. In fact, this morning my lower back asked for a legal separation.

In the lulls between storms I must race to the supermarket, too. My tiny mom has a tremendous appetite. Applesauce — loved by babies and old folks alike — is something we stockpile. Same for sweet potatoes and fish. I can roast these things into soft nutritious meals my mother loves. Weather can’t get between me and her food supply.

Then of course there are the heating issues. I resolve this by lugging buckets to fill our coal burner every day. Last Thursday morning, it was 12 degrees below zero when I started making breakfast. Of the seven days in the week, the mercury dipped below zero at least five times. Mom just looks at me and laughs when I tell her the temperature. As long as the house stays warm, she’s content.

I ask myself to be strong every day. I do yoga to knead the aches and pains out of my joints. And I meditate to help me focus on what’s good in this situation. I’m lucky that I have the kind of job that allows me to care for my mom at home. And I’m grateful every day that my mother’s impairments haven’t soured her disposition. I know many others who must care for family members who are agitated or violent. We have been spared this. We are lucky.

So, as I finish this explanation of our challenges, I’m wondering how the weather gets in the way of your care plans. Does the drought in California keep you from washing bedclothes? How about the humidity down south? Does it affect your loved one’s temperament? It seems like it will be winter here for a long time to come, so please send a note to share what’s happening everywhere else.