Posted on: December 22, 2014 | 0 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 move itself went smoothly. Mom loved her balcony and she kind of just hung out while we got pictures hung, furniture arranged and clothes put away. I decided that I would spend the first two nights with her to ensure she got adjusted. Mom was accustomed to moving from when she was a child so I assumed this move would be pretty easy. Of course, all the times that Mom moved in the past her memory was intact. I was worried about her remembering how to get to the dinning room and back to her room. This facility was huge and my brother and I got lost trying to get from the moving van to her new apartment. But by that time I had figured out that her long term memory was still good, so after enough repetition those types of things would become part of her long term memory and she would retain them. And after a few days she was able to learn her way around and remember how to get back to her apartment.
But her short term memory wasn’t the only issue.
Alzheimer’s Disease typically affects the short term memory first – that is why repetition is an early sign. It also can change brain chemistry and cause depression – yep, we were dealing with that too. Here is the thing I didn’t get – the disease also causes a sort of regression emotionally. People with dementia begin to lose that ability to process emotion in a mature adult manner. So for example, if you tell your 13 year old daughter that she can’t go out with the 17 year boy she has a crush on what kind of responses can you expect? Eyes rolling, tears, rants about her hating you and you not loving her, and a complete lack of understanding that you are trying to keep her safe and not, in fact, ruin her entire life. Yeah, it is kind of like that.
Mom began to react to me like a petulant 13 year old girl. She would challenge me on everything, she was argumentative and suspicious. A short few months prior to that we had gotten all of her legal documents in order so I could manage her finances, act as health care power of attorney, etc. We made those decisions together and at the time she was relieved to put me in charge. Then we entered “the teenage years”. The combination of this regression, along with the depression, anxiety and memory loss made for a situation I was not equipped to handle. At least not well. A typical interaction might go something like this:
Mom: I hate it here; it is like being in prison! I am not like all these stupid old people. Do you know I am the only one her that wears jeans? These are just a bunch of old people from the country! How could you do this to me? Are you coming over?
Jamie: Mom, you wanted to move here. I thought you met some nice ladies from New York?
Mom: I don’t know. I don’t remember. I am sure they were all stupid. I thought you were coming over.
Jamie: Mom, I know there are some very smart, educated women there that you just need to get to know. And I was just there earlier today.
Mom: I doubt it. They all seem dumb and old to me. I don’t remember you coming earlier and I am bored and unhappy now. I just want to jump out the window.
At this point she begins to sob and I leave work and head back to her apartment again. I don’t have children so maybe I am wrong, but I think an actual 13 year old would have been easier.