Alzheimer’s caregiving, week one.
It’s only been a week, but I’ve become the (hopefully temporary) primary caregiver for my mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s. Her husband is out of commission for a while with a broken hip, so she’s staying with us. And I can say, this is quite an experience. I’m going to share my insights and dilemmas hopefully to help others, and perhaps to get some good tips from others who are in the same situation.
So here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Keeping her involved.
As is true of anyone, if she has nothing to occupy her time, she tends to get extremely frustrated. So I’ve been trying different things to see what might keep her busy for a stretch of time. I heard from a friend that folding laundry worked in her situation, so I tried that but it was too confusing for her. My mother-in-law kept saying she didn’t remember how to fold clothes and didn’t know where to put them. And the “where” was easy because I just asked her to pile them where she was standing. So then I tried letting her iron which she wanted to do, but it was way too dangerous (I had to grab the iron from the very first attempt when it started tumbling towards the floor).
So she became responsible for hanging up the shirts on hangers when I was done, but that gave her a lot of waiting time which wasn’t a great plan. However, I did find a few things that work. She loves to rake or sweep and is happy to dry dishes. So at those moments, she is quite helpful and happy. She also was extremely helpful to me in stuffing envelopes and putting stamps and return address labels on. She felt as though she was truly contributing, which was nice to see.
This is more difficult because her nature is (maybe only because of the Alzheimers) mostly negative. She seems to have a “woe is me” mentality. The glass is definitely nearly empty at all times. She wanders around the house saying, very loudly, “OH $HIT!” and is constantly saying in a frustrated voice, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember.” And while I totally get that she’s scared and unhappy about the state of her mind, I can definitely say as a person who is always looking for the silver lining and seeing the best in situations, she’s dragging me down! It’s a constant effort on my part to stay positive, and to be honest, I sometimes just want to say “Cowboy up lady!” But of course I don’t do that.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to find things that might make her happy or at least whine-free for a few minutes. So the few things I’ve found so far that seem to be helpful – cards, coloring and watching the news. In terms of cards, I tried teaching her “go fish” which she found much too difficult BUT she enjoyed anyway and actually laughed out loud several times when I said, “no, no, no, don’t tell me what the card is!” I think we’ll try “war.” If she can remember which are the highest cards, that game might work. She also seems to like coloring in coloring books. And with the “TV Ears” we obtained for her, she likes watching the news programs. I don’t know if she understands anything, but she enjoys the ritual.
Keeping her informed.
I’ve never been good at repeating myself. That just makes me crazy. But because my mother-in-law can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds, she constantly asks many of the same questions. “What day is it?” “Who are you?” “Where am I?” “Where is my husband?” and on and on.
So every morning now when she gets up, I hand her a piece of paper on which I have written the key items. And during the day, she will add her own notes on the paper. Of course, she puts it down every few minutes and then wanders over and asks the same questions. But rather than get frustrated that I have to answer them yet again, I just get up, find the notes and hand them to her, telling her that her answers are all on the paper. It seems to work a little better and allows me to get back to whatever I was doing on a faster basis.
Getting my work done.
I’m a self-employed real estate associate broker. Getting paid is dependent upon my working long days, making lots of phone calls, feeding my lead generating activities, following up on deals in progress to resolve issues, showing houses, and more. My mother-in-law seems to be waking up around 8am each day, so that gives me several hours in the morning to get caught up on emails, etc., but besides that, and besides sneaking in a few things here and there, I can’t work while she’s around. Every minute or two she is back asking where she is, and who I am, and where her husband is, so doing anything that requires concentration is a bust. So I have accepted that I will be able to only do those work items of a critical nature until I get some help during the week (see below).
Getting alone time.
My mother-in-law apparently needs constantly company. She doesn’t want to watch TV if no one is sitting with her. She doesn’t want to hang out in her room because no one is there. I, on the other hand, NEED space in my day. Having someone with me non-stop is not a space-giving actions. I like having the house to myself from time to time. So while I get some time on my own in the morning before she arises, I do realize that at the moment, I’m going to have to just live with the change in my situation. Hopefully this week will be a bit better when help arrives.
The crazy things.
Finding the big sharp knife in the upright bin that holds safe objects like spatulas. Finding a waste basket in the bedroom full of urine. Walking by people when we go shopping and having my mother-in-law say, “wow, what a big woman” or “oh, so ugly”. She also says, “Wow, you’re pretty” to strangers and they love that. Luckily no one has heard her negative comments so far, but eventually someone will. I hold my breath when people walk by!
On the weekends, I have help with my mother-in-law when my husband isn’t working, so on Saturday and Sunday we do a tag team effort. I go running and he holds down the house, and then visa versa. So weekends are a bit more agreeable to me. But this coming week during the work days, we’re going to start with in-home companion services. I have someone coming on Monday for a few hours in the middle of the day so I can go out and do a listing appointment and go grocery shopping alone. So I do think the next week will be definitely better than this past week. But more information will come next week! And if anyone has ideas for coping properly, pleaaaaase let me know!