Tag Archives: relationships with elders

When Caregivers Smile

Caring for someone with dementia is even harder when your infrastructure is knocked out. Fortunately, this week my mom was in Philadelphia where Hurricane Sandy was less violent. But last year, during Hurricane Irene, she was with me in the Poconos where I struggled to create normal supports for her after we lost electricity and water. By chance we had one of the most fun days I’ve ever spent with my mother.

Hurricane Sandy closed the road “Between the Pond and the Woods”.

During the weekend of Irene I had to make an emergency trip away from the house. A short-term caregiver came to stay with mom while I got a contractor to attend to a leaky roof. By the time I got back to Mom, the power had gone out, leaving us with no more than a large pot full of water for washing dishes and hands. Since I couldn’t use our electric stove to cook for my always hungry mom, I took her out to one of the few local spots that hadn’t lost power. There, a group of very happy young women caught sight of me helping my mom up the restaurant steps. They were tipsy nurses toasting a member of their group who was about to get married.

The ladies were in fine form wearing Tinkerbell wings made of wire hangers, glitter and green panty hose. While mom and I ate in the atrium and recharged the phone batteries, the nurses moved their party onto the dance floor near the jukebox. My mother’s form of dementia has never stolen her love of music. So when the ladies played some fifties rock and roll, Mom was ready to jitterbug.

Once she was out on the floor,  one of the nurses put a pair of green wings on my tiny, hopping mom. She spent the rest of her day dancing with the bride-to-be, the maid of honor, a waitress, the bartender, me, and a few other people who just wanted to join the fun. Mom was ecstatic.

When we got home, I lit my mom’s room with a solar light, put her to bed, and crossed my fingers that we’d wake to find the power restored by morning. Her fairy wings hung from the bedroom mirror as a souvenir of our crazy afternoon.

The next day, when I mentioned our dance party with the nurses, she didn’t remember a thing. Oh caregivers! — you know how sharp that knife of pain can cut when your loved one forgets a happy time they just had. But then I pointed out the fairy wings on her mirror and told her again how happily she’d danced. The sight of those wings made her laugh and for me that was sufficient. Those nurses took a lot of pictures of us and someday I’d love to find those ladies again. Just thinking of them makes me smile over memories of Hurricane Irene, who seemed so much nicer than her nasty cousin Sandy.

Beyond Language — Communicating through Dementia

Summer’s beauty has reached its peak. The butterflies are back but Mom can’t see them now. I think of driving her to the beach so she can smell the ocean one more time. But routine is her great comfort, so a trip might be too much. I must look for new ways to communicate the joys of summer before they vanish.

Mom’s vision is almost gone, but she still perceives color. I take her to a garden where giant scarlet blooms wave down at her. She loves these flowers so I pull the branches close to her hands. Her language skills are weak but she still knows enough words to tell me they are pretty.

With the blindness advancing, her sense of hearing seems more acute. Birds in this garden are always bickering. The crows want a bigger share of everything and the sparrows always feel slighted. While they complain about each other, I whistle back. Mom laughs when they mock me and go on with their argument.

Walking was easy for her even as the disease advanced. But now her gait is  wobbly and I must steady her all the time. Even in this state, she loves the slow stroll from tree to tree and the blurry sight of clouds that fray to let the blue sky through. After circling the path a few times, she sits down.

This kind of simple sensory stimulation seems to help her. But the best way to break dementia’s communication barrier is by offering her a bit of summer on a fork. It’s pink and juicy and carries the seeds of picnic memories. A smile breaks across her face and I know she is happy in this moment. Nothing summarizes summer like the sweet taste of watermelon.