Feb 13 2011 in Kristin's Blog by Kristin
(Editor’s Note: Today we welcome a new blogger, Kristin. Here’s her story…)
I am a retired social worker who is caregiving an 85-year-old woman with dementia in return for assistance I received years ago from one of this woman’s daughters, who helped me through an extraordinarily difficult year 23 years ago. I vowed then to repay her goodness when the opportunity presented itself.
When her mother, Mary, began showing signs of dementia and it was clear none of the three daughters would be able to provide constant care, I stepped in to volunteer. I have known the family for 32 years and consider them my second family, although Mary would not include me as a family member. But then she barely considers her daughters to be her family.
Mary has mixed dementias, per the representative of the local Alzheimer’s Association: Alzheimer’s, vascular and Lewy Body. The Lewy Body presents the most evident symptoms: excessive sleeping in the daytime, tremors of the hands and legs, shuffling gait and varying periods of alertness and fogginess. Her short-term memory retention at this point is less than a minute.
The reason the daughters cannot care for her is that Mary is not now and never has been a very nice person. She was physically and emotionally abusive to the children and the pets and emotionally abusive to her husband, who was a gentle, lovely man. When he developed Parkinson’s, she refused to allow the home to be modified to assist him. The girls did it anyway, of course, over her objections.
She has no evident emotional relationship with her daughters, only considering them in light of what they can do for her. The girls want to do the best by Mary for the sake of their father, but simply cannot spend much time around her. She is annoying beyond belief, and always has been (to the family, not to outsiders). They turned the basement of Mary’s home into a nice apartment for me and I moved in just about a year ago. The home is far out in the country, 1/4 mile from the road; it is isolated by woods from road and neighbors. Mary gets few visitors.
Mary was always active prior to colon cancer surgery five years ago: She was a competent artist, golfed, bowled, participated in a craft group, hiked around her property, and maintained a large vegetable and herb garden. She entertained in her home and was a gracious hostess.
Those outside the family regarded her with affection and respect, although in 32 years I have never seen her return the affection. She is very narcissistic. It was probably two or so years before the surgery that she began showing signs of dementia, but these were not noted at the time. Following surgery, which left her with a colostomy, Mary attempted to resume her former activities, but it became too much for her and she eventually took to her couch and settled down to a life of reading romances and watching TV. At this time, she spends about 12 hours a day there, much of it napping.
My challenges are, as I see them in regard to Mary, to treat her with respect at all times, even when she is abusing me; to monitor my own need to maintain control when the situation doesn’t demand it; and to protect Marion from her own lack of judgment and her stubbornness, such as when she insists on going outside when it is below zero.
For myself, as a 24/7 caregiver, I need to find more ways to nurture myself and I need to get more sleep!