Mittens for Bonnie

pattysleigh
Earlier this week I ran into the daughter of one of the residents at the memory care facility where my mom lived. She had in her hands a pair of big white mittens, thick and filled with stuffing (think Mickey Mouse... Yes, that's actually what they looked like). As I asked her how she was doing and how her mom was getting along, she just held up the mittens and sighed. They were for her mom, the result of yet another symptom and stage of the battle with Alzheimer's.

With Alzheimer's, senses are heightened, visual perception can be skewed, and messages to the brain are crossed and miscommunicated at every turn. For the patient it can be frightening, confusing, and even maddening. And because of this they often become fidgety and frantic about tactile elements on or near them. This was the case with Bonnie today, as she had begun ripping out her newly acquired catheter. So one of the many tricks they were trying in an effort to prevent this was to trap her hands in these... well, essentially straight jackets for her hands.

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It's heartbreaking and frustrating. Of course she doesn't want to strap her mom's hands into these cartoon mitts, but she also doesn't want to make another trip to the ER for another catheter snafu. So I just gave her a hug. I felt so deeply for her. I remember all those nights I spent dealing with similar issues, the various trips to the hospital, and all the new stages of the disease that required so much creativity and persistence to avoid and keep my mom safe. And as I hugged her I felt an exasperated "Why?" in my head. Why is her mom still here? What is the point of this? Why can't God just take her?

How awful is this disease that death is not the worst part? That death is something you almost welcome? It feels terrible to say or even think, but I couldn't help it. I just wished her mom's struggling didn't have to continue. I felt that way about all of the residents there that I came to know and enjoy visiting. There have been a few who've passed away in the last year, and each time I heard the news my first feeling was relief. I felt, in a way, happy for them that it was over. Heartbroken for their families who love and miss them, but relieved for them all as well. Then it would hit me: Did I really feel happy about someone dying? What an awful thought to even entertain.

But that's the reality of Alzheimer's. You can't fix it, you can barely alleviate certain manifestations, and it's only going to get worse. They WILL decline, they will have terrible days ahead, and they will eventually succumb to it.

So as the loved one or caregiver, all you can do is try to lighten their load, to mitigate the fear and frustration that make up their world. Your life becomes about making their life tolerable and safe, trying to stay one step ahead of the increasing agitations, emotional disrupt, and functional declines. It's exhausting, heartbreaking, and sadly, your efforts are often fruitless.

So I hope the mittens work and offer some protection for Bonnie, and some peace of mind for her daughter. But I'll also feel a sense of relief when there is peace for Bonnie, when mittens are no longer needed.

*author's note:  Patient's name has been changed to protect their identity.

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