Alzheimer’s evidence in a Loved One’s hobby

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR HOBBIES

“As I sorted through Mom’s Granny Squares I noticed something odd,” says my sister Diane.  She has volunteered to see what she can do with the three trash bags full of Granny Squares that Mom crocheted last month.  “Some of the ‘squares’…well, they’re not really square.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, wishing I had inherited even a little of the needlework talent that all went Diane’s way in our generation.

“With a crocheted Granny Square, each side needs to have the same number of stitches, and the same for each corner. That’s what makes it square.  Look, 1, 2, 3…,” Diane leans over me and begins to count stitches on a red square to illustrate, as though I can see what she sees. “See here? Mom has added stitches.  See on this side?  Extra stitches again.  It’s not a square.”

Mom crochets from a Granny square pattern she memorized years ago.  How long has she crocheted Granny Squares from memory?  Twenty years?  Thirty?  Longer? 

“Out of three trash bags of squares, Emma and I really had to hunt for enough square ones to use in her quilt.” Diane continues. “I was going to send the others to Project Linus.  But now…well, now I think they may yet to be good enough.”

“And that’s because…?” I say, still in need of clarity.

“In order to connect the squares, they all have to be symmetrical.  They have to be perfect.  That way they line up and fit together as a quilt.”

“Ok,” I say as my mind jumps from the square to its meaning.  This ‘square’ means that Mom’s memory of the Granny Square pattern is gone.  

 “How many are like this?” I ask.

“One trash bag full,” Diane replies.

“I’ll keep them.  I think they’re funky and interesting,” I say.  “One thing is for sure – Mom put a lot more effort into on any one of these than she ever needed to put in to a symmetrical perfect square. Look at them.  Look at the ingenuity.”

“What will you do with them?” asks Diane.

“I’ll think of something.”

To me Mom’s “squares” have become evidence.  Evidence of the memories that Alzheimer’s has taken.

Is your Alzheimer’s Loved One creating “other-than-perfect” efforts?  Burnt toast?  Unclean ‘fresh’ laundry?   Are you open to see their creations for what they truly are – the best effort of someone with a disease that is destroying their brain and taking their memories?  Try on this perspective and see if it increases your compassion for those living with Alzheimer’s.

 

Alzheimer’s and your parents’ home at sunset

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR EVENINGS


“Hon, where are you going?” Dad asks Mom. 

As the afternoon melts into evening, Mom is on her feet.  Minutes ago, she had settled into her chair after a trip to her bedroom to change into a warmer sweatshirt.  Now she’s back on her feet again, trying to steady herself.  She turns toward the sliding door that leads into the dining room.

“Hon?” Dad tries again.

Dismissively, Mom brushes away Dad’s question with her right hand and an unmistakable ‘stay-out-of it’ expression on her face.  She begins her walk.

Ten minutes later, Mom returns to the sunroom, dressed in her light blue track suit.

“You look pretty, Mom,” I tell her.  She walks to her chair, sits down, and picks up her crocheting.

“Guess I’ll start dinner,” Dad says, rising and moving toward the kitchen.  “You stay with your Mom.”

On cue, Mom stands, steadies herself, and turns again toward the sliding door that leads into the dining room. 

Since I’m in charge now, I decide to follow Mom. I keep my distance.  I track her to the bedroom. Peeking in, I see her lay out a pink sweat suit.  I maintain my covert status by ducking back into the hall.  Finally, I hear Mom’s steps moving toward me, so I double-time it back to the sun room.  Mom enters, dressed in her favorite warn pink sweat suit.

“You look pretty, Mom,” I say.  Mom walks to her chair, sits down, and picks up her crocheting.

Exasperated, Mom asks to anyone who will listen: “Is it time for bed yet?”

Minutes later, Mom stands, steadies herself, and turns toward the sliding door that leads into the dining room. 

Has your Alzheimer’s Caregiver mentioned that your Alzheimer’s Loved One gets more restless, confused and unpredictably moody around dinnertime? If so, your Loved One is likely experiencing “Sundowning.”

Imagine the Alzheimer’s Caregiver in your life trying to manage these behaviors while preparing a meal at the same time. Every night.

How can you help? When proximity permits, bring them evening meals or invite them over to share a meal.  Our geographic distance called for another approach.  For years I ordered frozen, pre-made healthy meals and gave them to my parents for Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. And I made sure to never call during dinnertime.

How might you support your Caregiver through the challenging phenomenon of Sundowning?

Hobbies change due to Alzheimer’s

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR HOBBIES


“How about I turn on the television for you while Dad and I make dinner?” I ask Mom.  “Maybe there’s a talk show on.”

“No good,” Dad says, poking his head into the sunroom.  “Turn on her music.”

I come to Mom’s defense.  “Come on, Dad. Mom really likes TV. Just this once.”

“Not lately.  Push play on the boom box.”

The intro to “Danny Boy” lilts from the speakers.  Mom’s smile beams. Humming along, she reaches down for her yarn and crochet needle to resume work on another granny square.

I watch in a bit of disbelief. “Dad, when did this happen?”

“Just recently,” he tells me. “Whenever I turn on the TV, she gets up and walks out of the room.  Music makes her happy now.  Just look.”

Mom is rocking back and forth in time to the music, laughing out loud to the song’s lyrical jokes.

In that moment, I pause and say a silent prayer of thanks for the gentle reminder that, even on my best day, I am merely the “Assistant to the Caregiver.” Indeed, the name of this long-running show is Caregiver Knows Best.

Who knows, if I’m smart and persistent, maybe one day I will be promoted to “Advisor to the Caregiver.” But until that day comes, Dad will truly be the resident expert on Mom.

Have you caught yourself stepping in to fill an Alzheimer’s Caregiver role that rightfully belongs to someone else?  Pretty easy to do, right?  How was it received?  If you were in the Caregiver’s shoes, how would you feel?

 

Walkin’ After Midnight

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND WANDERING


“Can I help you find something?” my husband Randy asks Mom as she comes out of our guest room and starts down the dark hall.

The clock on the wall reads 12:14 AM. Mom shuffles on straight ahead.

Randy rises from the couch and calls again to Mom across the kitchen. “Chris? Do you need something?”

Mom continues on her way.

Randy dashes through the living room to intercept her. He meets her at the front door.

Mom’s eyes are wide, frightened, lost.  She tries the doorknob.

“Chris, your room is this way,” Randy says, gently redirecting her back toward the guest room. And back she goes.

The next morning, we query Dad about Mom’s wandering. His response?  Mom has yet to ever wander.  So we present last night’s evidence to Dad: Dad’s sound sleep; Randy’s eyewitness testimony; Mom testing the door knob.  But the facts fall on deaf ears. Dad dismisses the evidence as circumstantial.

Case dismissed.

Sophocles wrote in Antigone, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” This is as true today as it was then. 

How are you managing your role as the bearer of unwelcome news?  For Alzheimer’s Kids who are also people-pleasers (like me), this can require triple measures of effort.  What effect is this role having on your relationship with the Alzheimer’s Caregiver in your life?