In this series of posts, Bobbi Junior brings her unique perspective to bear on the subjects of dementia, and Christian caregiving. Bobbi demonstrates that God is greater than dementia or any other crisis we may face. She shares how being a caregiver is a tiring, challenging and demanding task, and caregiver burnout is a constant threat.
Read Part 4 here.
Dementia And Adjusting To New Circumstances
Day by day, Mom was working her way through the first week in her new Assisted Living apartment, this being the first time she’d lived anywhere but in her own home. Adjusting to her new circumstances was greatly hampered by the fact that dementia coloured everything she tried to do.
Mom and I had just had a difficult lunch in the residents’ dining room. Now I asked her,
“Do you still want to go to the drug store?”
“Of course I do. I might have to be here, but I still need things. At least give me a chance to get ready.”
I pondered Mom’s predicament as she searched for what she needed to go outside.
Lord, I feel so badly for Mom. She’s in a constant state of struggle. Part of the rest we have in our every day life is the fact that there are many things we can do automatically, without having to concentrate, or figure things out. We make a morning cup of coffee without having to think about how. We take our clothes out of the closet, the dresser, without having to search for them. We walk to the bathroom without having to figure out where it’s located. Mom has none of these mental breaks right now. Not only does she have to think everything through, but her dementia is putting blocks in front of every learning she’s trying to grasp.
Dear Jesus, give me an abundance of patience for the rest of this visit. May my responses to Mom reflect your love, and not my frustration.
“Well, are you coming?”
A Little Shopping Trip
It had taken Mom a good ten minutes to find her coat, put it on, and locate her purse. I felt guilty as I accomplished these tasks in a matter of moments. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating this must be for her, someone who had relied on no one but herself since she’d divorced my dad several decades ago.
Jesus, I prayed, be with us as we go for this little shopping trip. Show me the kind of support Mom needs from me, and hold me back if I go in the wrong direction.
With her boat on, purse in hand, and hated apartment keys hooked to their red plastic curly cord, I stood back and gave minimal help as Mom struggled again to lock her apartment door. We made our way down the empty hall to the elevator. We were alone this time, so I tried to talk her through pushing the down button herself. Rather than sound like a teacher, which felt patronizing, I tried to couch my instructions in observations.
“Ah, here’s the silver arrow pointing down, Mom. That’s the button that will call the elevator.”
“Who calls an elevator? Is it a person?” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
I laughed. “I’m glad your humour is still intact!”
I knew she hadn’t been trying to be funny, so I was pretty sure the Lord was helping me reframe her comment. She started to glare at me, then relented and gave a small smile.
Exiting Whyte Hall, we turned right, walked past a beauty salon, and into the drug store conveniently located just a few doors down.
I started to formulate a question, thinking I would ask what she needed, so I could help her find it, but Jesus put his hand over my mouth. I know that sounds strange, but it’s a feeling I’ve often had when submitting to the Lord’s direction with Mom. I’d learned that his caution for silence was always spot on. He knew when I needed to speak up, and when I needed to simply walk alongside.
With no comment from either of us, Mom picked up a basket from the stack by the door, and we began our journey. Up and down the aisles we walked, past make-up, perfume, hair products and more. I kept a couple of steps behind and let Mom take the lead. She searched and searched until in the first aid section, she found a small tube of ointment. It was identical to the one sitting on her table in the apartment, but I didn’t mention that.
Next we went to the candy section. Mom’s sweet tooth was calling.
“Why do they have so much,” she mumbled under her breath, as she searched the wide selection of chocolate. Forgetting myself, which I often do, I asked, “Which one do you need? Can I help?”
“Why don’t you just let me alone.”
I stepped back. Lord, I’m sorry. You made it clear I was to stay quiet. Two steps behind and my mouth shut. This is Mom’s shopping trip, not mine. Please let her feel like she can accomplish this on her own.
Mom did decide on a bar of chocolate, but it was an angry selection. She fumbled as she pulled it from the display and threw it into the basket. I stayed back, silent.
Chocolate, Cashiers And Keys
I followed her as she made her way to the checkout. Again my anxiety tried to open my mouth, but this time I held back and was glad I did. Given the drug store’s location right beside a senior’s residence, the cashiers were adept at serving the elderly. With great patience, kindness, and easy banter, the clerk helped Mom find the right amount of money, packaged her chocolate and ointment, and wished her well.
This drug store had a grocery section, magazines, and many of the small things Mom might want to purchase for herself. The trip showed Mom and I both that even in her new residence, she could shop for her needs independently. An encouragement to both of us!
Mom’s mission accomplished, we made the short walk back to the Hall.
As we approached the locked front doors anxiety burbled up in me again. Locked doors need keys. A resident on the inside paused, though, as he noticed us. I thought of the key Mom would have to manipulate to get us into the building. Hoping for an alternative, I smiled and nodded at the resident. He reached over a placard that ordered, “DON’T LET ANYONE YOU DO NOT KNOW INTO THE BUILDING” and pushed the button to open the door.
A small blessing from the Lord, I decided as we entered. The key on its red plastic curly cord remained on Mom’s wrist.
It did have to be retrieved to get us in the apartment, though, and after some fuming and fumbling Mom managed the task.
It was apparent that Mom would need to carry out all of these new actions many times before she’d develop the muscle memory that supports routine in our day to day lives. I might have some challenges in my own day, but they were nothing compared to what Mom was coping with as she tried to settle into this new living space, battling dementia at every turn.
Once again, I prayed for guidance. Lord, take charge of my thoughts, my mouth, and my actions so I can be the best support possible for Mom.
Bobbi’s program, “Not Me Lord” airs on HopeStreamRadio.
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Chocolate – Florian Rohlfshagen
Downtown Store – Bryan Forstner