Little did I know, carved into the big picture of my life, how much living with Dementia would affect my family. It began in 2000--a few odd words or out-of-the-ordinary quirks. We discovered these oddities were from a TIA, transient ischemic attack that affected my mother's brain--a mini-stroke.
We plodded along in life enjoying each day with her. Every camping trip we took, she joined us. Little things along the way gave us clues to her changing--opening up the back door for me to come in at 2 am, a couple of driving altercations, or taking out a "yield " sign on the way home from the grocery store.
In 2006, she chose to have hip surgery. It was the hardest time in my life being her support person and advocate as she went through the journey from surgery to rehab, to home again. General anesthesia doesn't do any favors to the brain of an elderly person. After the surgery, we saw more visible signs of change in her thinking. After a month of my staying overnight with her, my children took over, two-at-a-time, so she didn't have to be alone. It gave me peace of mind that someone was there if she needed something.
We spent each day in and out of her home (she lived nearby), keeping her company, bringing meals, and giving nutritional supplements to help her stay healthy.
In January of 2008, she fell and fractured her knee--Velcro cast, three days in the hospital, then two weeks of rehab at a local nursing home led to bringing her home to live with us. I had always promised her she would not end up in a nursing home.
When we brought her home, my eldest son said, "Ah, we're all home!" We approached the care of Grammy as a team, a family unit of eight people caring for one elderly. We quickly found the tasks for which each of us was gifted. My son walked her with a gait belt. My daughters crafted delicious, nutritious meals for all of us. The girls helped her dress, morning and evening. Each one had their own special way of interacting with her, making bright spots in her day. We regularly polished her fingernails and toenails. We washed her hair in the kitchen sink, setting it in pink rollers so she looked nice for my brother and sister's weekly visits, as well as our Sunday at church.
As part of the dementia, the roles reversed and she called me "Mom." She had brief times of anger at how her body was changing, unable to toilet herself anymore, and needing assistance walking.
As her daughter, I shed many tears along the way as I watched her body change from confident abilities to gradual inability in all areas. It was a gradual letting go along the way. In the beginning of the three and a half years at our home, she read her Bible, peeled garlic, folded washcloths, and helped stir up cookies with a spatula. Gradually, her amount of food intake decreased and she began to sleep more. In the last six months of her life, her circulation slowed markedly. Her head drooped, showing signs of losing strength in the neck. It was a tearful time the month before she passed.
Dementia is a sad thing that many elderly face. However, I look at those three and a half years of her being in our home, with all the children involved in loving and caring for her, as a great blessing. It was a restoration of all the hurried years of our earlier lives. We count it a privilege to have helped her age gracefully 'til she crossed over into the loving arms of our Savior.
Elkhorn, Wisconsin, USA