Posted on: March 10, 2015 | 1 Comments |
Note: In 2007, Jamie Wilson Headley (founder and CEO of Dementia Services Group) began the complicated process of helping her once-independent mother adjust to life with dementia.
These are the challenges that one woman faced, but although Jamie’s Journey is deeply personal, it is also universal. We hope that her trials and triumphs will shed light on the emotional and logistical issues that come with caring someone with dementia.
The increase in Mom’s antidepressants helped. Mom started going to more activities and wasn’t calling me as many times per day. She also made a few friends that she would have meals with. She seemed a bit more relaxed and at ease when we were together and she wasn’t always talking about how unhappy she was.
I began to hope things were going to get better and that maybe Mom would settle into her new life. The Assisted Living facility was really very nice, the staff were kind and there were opportunities for her to do things during the day if she was willing to participate. I think the adjustment for Mom was like starting at a new school. She needed to get to know the people and the way things worked. I guess I thought this would be easy for her since she had moved and changed schools so much growing up. Mom had always been able to walk into a room of strangers and make everyone feel comfortable. She had never been afraid of just starting up conversations or joining in and she had always made friends very easily.
Unfortunately after a few weeks of respite, we were right back to her calling me multiple times a day and crying. She was so unhappy that it was heart breaking. I was constantly torn between wanting to be with her and take care of her and not wanting to deal with it at all – which made me feel like I was the worst daughter on the planet. I thought she was being difficult and unreasonable and I believed if she would just try harder she would be fine.
One Saturday after a particularly long week, I was at Mom’s (after having to cancel plans with friends because she was so upset) and she was lamenting about how she hated her life and having to live with all the stupid old people. Fatigue and frustration caught up with me in that moment and I yelled at her. I told her she needed to stop being so difficult and just learn to accept her life. That if she would just try to get to know people and stop assuming they were “old” she might make some friends. Mom broke down and cried, screaming “I AM trying”! I could see how lost and frustrated and scared she was in that moment. Yep, I was officially the worst daughter on the planet right then and I was just as lost and frustrated and scared as she was.
Mom had always been so independent. This was such an extreme departure from who she had always been. I just couldn’t get my head around why she was acting this way.
At the time I didn’t really understand how hard this all was for Mom. She had always been a “city girl” and it hadn’t occurred to me that being in a more suburban area would be so difficult for her. I wasn’t privy to the journal and her feelings then. And honestly, I was in denial — I didn’t want to know. It was all too scary and painful.
How could this be my Mom, my hero, the most independent strong woman I had ever known?
It seemed like a bad dream.
At the time I didn’t know it, but boredom and lack of purpose are significant issues that affect the quality of life for those with dementia. These issues cause increased depression and behaviors often resulting in the use of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications, which in turn have lots of other side effects. I also didn’t know that depression and dementia often go hand in hand. (Read my post on Depression & Dementia for more information.)
Grasping for something to make her happy, I decided we should get Mom a cat. Maybe that would help her not feel so lonely. We had always had cats and Mom loved the idea.
We located a local rescue and went to find her a new feline friend. That’s where we found Sasha, an adult female cat that was very affectionate and loved to sit on laps and purr. Perfect! Mom perked up again immediately after we brought her home. I got Mom several disposable cameras and she spent time photographing Sasha and playing with her. The calls decreased and Sasha turned out to be a opening for her to meet other cat lovers in the building.
Things were finally looking up. Sasha was great company for Mom, and it also gave her something to care for, gave her a purpose.
The roller coaster continued, but at that point, we were on an upswing. As weeks passed, Mom’s life fell into a calmer, less stressful routine. I started to think that everything might be okay, after all.