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.
I called my siblings and let them know we found a new place for Mom and I thought this would be a much better fit for her. They were delighted. My brother said he would fly in to help with the move and packing. Her new apartment was going to be smaller and only one bedroom so we needed to get rid of some furniture and downsize again, so I appreciated the help.
The next 8 weeks went by without too much drama. Mom still called multiple times a day, and she was still unhappy. She constantly asked when she was moving, but her overall mood was better. When moving day came, we were both like a couple of excited children. The move went smoothly, and we had her apartment completely set up that day.
It turned out that Mom was the first resident to move onto the floor, and she would be the only resident for a few days until others began moving in. I was worried she would be scared, but she loved it. She got 100% of the attention of the staff, and she had full run of the place. She spent the first 2 days just wandering around the building exploring. The floor only had 20 apartments, and there was a big living area, dining room, full kitchen and a really nice deck all in the middle. Although the residents could leave the floor and utilize other areas of the building, most residents ate and hung out on the floor. The smaller environment made it much easier for Mom to meet people and soon she had a couple of friends that she ate her meals with and could do things with. She said it was so nice to talk with people who were going through the same issues with their memory. They could vent and laugh and share their fears and it made her feel much less isolated. The staff on the floor always worked on that floor, so Mom was able to remember them and build relationships with them. They were wonderful with her and loved her spirit. One aide, Christian, was really great with Mom. He loved to watch sports with her and never treated her like she was impaired at all. They became fast friends and Mom was happy for the first time in a long time. One day when I was visiting, the floor director pulled me aside and suggested I take some time for myself. She assured me Mom was doing great and that I didn’t need to be there every day and call all the time. It was a nice way to tell me to stop micro-managing them. It had been so long since Mom had been out of crisis mode that I didn’t really know how to relax but I appreciated the feedback and made a point to back off a bit. I am a control freak by nature and my Mom, well she was my Mom, so totally letting go was not an option. I continued to stop by and see Mom daily but I did stop questioning and worrying about every little thing.
I made a point to get to know the staff and often brought them little treats like cookies and pizza. I always knew if Christian was on duty I could call him and get the lowdown on how Mom’s day was going. He would even call me and tell me when she was having a really good day so I could come enjoy that with her. The smaller environment and having the same caregivers really made a difference. There was always some activity going on that Mom could participate in if she chose. The activities were geared toward people with mild cognitive impairment so they weren’t frustrating but still engaging and I was surprised how often Mom did participate. Of course, she was always happy watching sports in her room with Lucy as well.
I also got to know the other residents and some of their families. Evening was a popular time for family to come by so we often all had dinner together. One of the daughters, Dawn, and I became good friends very quickly. We shared a common love for cats and chardonnay, and it was wonderful to have someone to talk to that was on the same journey. It had only been 3 weeks since the move but everything was better and I actually started to relax.