Walking through the secure door to Memory Care, one of the residents is waiting there. She greets me with a smile as we link arms and walk down the hallway, chatting like old friends. That’s a relief to me. Once in awhile a resident is waiting to leave, which they aren’t supposed to do.
We hear laughter as we near the living room “The Holiday Inn,” an old black and white movie is playing on the large television with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire singing and dancing across the stage. Those watching are loving it! One laughs loudly when Fred takes a fall. They ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ seeing the beautiful gown the female star wears. It’s sweet to see them enjoying it so much! Several smile at me in greeting, one remembers my name. A few doze in the rocking chairs. In the attached dining room several others are sipping coffee or having a snack. One or two others walk together or work a jigsaw puzzle.
This is where Mom lives now.
Memory Care is much different from the Assisted Living side of the facility. In assisted living, most of the residents remain in their own quarters, much as they would be in their own homes. unless they choose to meet for one of the activities. Aside from mealtime, there seems to be less interaction as residents pursue their own interests. In Memory care it is usually the opposite. A few residents spend time in the their rooms but the majority prefer to be together in the central living area, glad for the company.
I am not a doctor, psychologist, or ‘trained professional’ in the field of geriatrics. I am simply a daughter and now an observer, who along with my sister and brother, have been adjusting to each new phase of Alzheimer’s.
Our story isn’t unusual. What is perhaps unique is that we now embrace it rather than fear it. After a time there is little choice, when your parent or spouse repeats the same sentence many times within ten minutes, when the phone rings and they hand you the remote control instead of the telephone, when they begin to wander. At the beginning you tend to want to tell them they just said that. But they forget that too, and still repeat themselves. Looking back from the stage we are now, that was a positive sign in a way; they are still trying to communicate and socialize, to hold up their end of the conversation. It’s shows the grace and courtesy of their era.
Even as I write this, I have to smile. Mom is not able to verbally socialize much anymore, though she tries occasionally. But she still can laugh, and so she does! She’ll laugh hard at anything. Like when she called a visiting dog a kitty. Or when I asked her her name and after great consideration she smiled and said, “Earl.” We treasure these little moments now, when she seems to know us, when her sense of humor comes out. It is a relief to see her content.
Here’s a little background on our situation… We’ve been living with Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis as early as the year 2000. You don’t particularly notice it in the beginning. After all, everyonel forget things now and then, more so as we age. Mom would forget little things like how to play a regular card game, maybe an ingredient in a favorite recipe, or that someone had called. Not a big deal, just different. Dad was there to help her so it didn’t become an issue for several years while it slowly progressed. It wasn’t until 2004 that I actually heard her doctor use the word Alzheimer’s.
The turning point occurred when Dad was hospitalized. For the first time, it was obvious Mom was unable to care for him. Mom and I stayed with him through the night, then went home briefly in the morning. Within two hours, Mom was in the kitchen fixing lunch, saying the guys would be in soon for lunch. She didn’t remember anything about the night before.
When Dad came home after surgery we knew they would either need in-home help or a different living arrangement. Mom and Dad had been very clear that they did not want to live with any of their children, and had already picked an assisted living facility should it become necessary. That helped immeasurably. Dad and then Mom agreed that it was time to move there and with two weeks they did. In cleaning out their home it became even clearer that it had been the right decision (Note to families: Be sure to check–and clean–the refrigerator when you visit your parent).
It was an adjustment for us all. First, the moved from their three bedroom home into their first assisted living apartment consisting of two rooms. The community areas there were open and lovely, yet Dad preferred to be in their rooms which were somewhat small. At first it would feel claustrophobic sitting there with them. I would have to do something, clean out a closet, go for a walk. As with most things, we got used to it. Every stage seems to require that; to steep in the new circumstance in order to adjust to the new normal. During this time, Dad started to show signs of dementia as well, often getting mom out of bed two or three times a night thinking they missed dinner.
A few years later they moved from that facility to a beautiful, new senior lIving residence that combined independent, assisted, and memory care living. They both moved right into Memory Care, into a spacious suite with higher ceilings throughout and a living room as well. Just a few days after they moved in, they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary there with a party. Six months later Dad died. Thankfully, Mom was at home and comfortable there by then.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t grieve. The disease made it hard for her. She missed Dad a lot and was frequently tearful, yet unable to verbalize her feelings. For a few weeks after he died, Mom would shy away from going to her room, except at bedtime. We’d get to the door, and she’d back away, shaking her head no, then turn to go back down the hall. She would point to the central area and tell me she liked it out here.
That is when I started hanging out in the living room with Mom and the other residents. If that is where Mom preferred to be, that was where we would be. Prior to that I had little interaction with others since usually we would go to the folks’ room for a private visit. Now I can’t imagine not spending time with them. It has been such a blessing to get to know each of them, and watch their interaction. In spite of their lack of memory, they show such care and courtesy to each other. You have to admire their spirit. Of course, occasionally one will have a bad moment, and sundowners (as night approaches some frequently grow upset in various ways) is an issue for many. But their strength and charm both will hook you.