Monday, November 27, 2017

Remembering Reminiscence

It's been a week since we arrived home from our ten day journey south and back. I've been thinking about our time with my mom in the memory care facility and thought I'd write about it here. Because of her wandering behavior she is in the locked part of the facility called Reminiscence. The fellow residents are all in various stages of dementia and Alzheimer's. Some need a caregiver for every move they make from their rooms to the dining hall and back; some have their heads down all day long; some play games at the dining tables between meals; some walk around on their own with walkers. No one can leave without knowing the code to get out.
My mom laughing at the news, which she said seems to be all about sex lately!
It sounds bleaker than it is. The caregivers there are truly remarkable human beings. We were struck by their calm demeanor; their compassion; their non-stop work like a day care center for elderly in Depends.

We did have some interesting, weird, and a bit disconcerting (bordering on traumatizing) experiences while we were there, but it was just a regular day for the staff. On the first day, we sat in the little comfy living room area with my mom. It has a music player and a cabinet full of things to distract idle hands. While we were there we heard seriously loud screaming coming from the dining room across the hall. A woman was screeching, "This is my house. I bought it. I want everyone to get out of here. Get out!!!" She yelled that on the top of her high pitched lungs over and over. It was absolutely wild. It went on and on. The staff intervened; she persisted. The staff tried to get her to her room. She persisted. My mom decided she'd heard enough and wanted to go back to her own room. In the hallway we crossed paths with the screamer. She yelled at us, "Get out of here. This is my house. Get out!!!!" My mom, of course wanted to engage, but we quietly moved her on. Yikes.

The next day, while we were sitting in the same living room area with my mom, the same woman started screaming in the hall. SCREAMING. She had to be constrained by one of the bigger caregivers. She had to be stopped from trying to go into a restroom that was already being used by someone. The battle was fierce, like a holding back a wild creature. Another very disconcerting moment for all of us.

And still the staff was calm and attentive. It made us feel like my mom is really in a good place.

We "met' several other residents. There was one who said the exact same thing to us over and over, everyday for five days. "I want to go home. I just want to go home. I tell them, and they won't help me. I just want to go home." She said it us in the dining room. She said it to us in the hallway. She said it us on the patio in the afternoon sunshine while the hummingbirds came to check out the flowers and feeders. She said it to us in the little comfy living room. She just wants to go home; it's a fairly common lament for Alzheimer's patients, even those living in the homes they've been in forever.
My mom dancing with a caregiver
One of the highlights of the visit was seeing the entertainment provided to the residents in the afternoons. You would be surprised by the lovely performers who come to sing for an hour after lunch. They bring speakers and equipment and really put on quite a show. They offer maracas and tambourines to the residents, and they sing all the old oldies that the residents know and love. One of the things that I've read about Alzheimer's is that music somehow stays familiar even when so many other memories have faded. Residents in wheelchairs with their heads down, who never look up, would sing a refrain right on cue when the microphone came their way. It was truly beautiful to see. That, and other residents rocking their shoulders in perfect rhythm and motion to the music. Not many would get up and dance, but my mom did with one of the sweetest caregivers. I'll confess that I stood in the hallway and had a rather nice little dance with one of the residents (who swears he doesn't really live there, and really will only be there for two weeks, and wouldn't we like to come to his real house and stay with him!).

This is life in a memory care facility. We were both saddened and enlightened by the experience. I'll tell you this, it made me want to volunteer at a local facility, and maybe I will one day...maybe I will.


24 comments:

  1. Mom was in an excellent home like that for several years. The staff was so patient! And there were always challenges; the woman worried that all these people were here for a dinner and she hadn't got the wine list ready yet, the man who told us the same bad joke every day, (But he was having fun, so we laughed along with him.) the man who would eat only oatmeal. But it was a real home; there was affection and warmth. And acceptance.
    Mom couldn't remember my name any more, but she could sing along with all the old hymns, word perfect, singing the alto part, as she always had. Dad brought her fresh tapes to fall asleep to at night.
    Good memories, even in this declining stage of life. I'm glad your mom is in such a place.

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    1. Susannah-- I love these your stories of your mom's memory care facility. Each human beings' life is rich in its own way all the way to the end.

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  2. I can't help but wonder if there is a symbolic and subconscious component to their desire to "go home." Especially when, like you say above, "it's a fairly common lament for Alzheimer's patients, even those living in the homes they've been in forever." Perhaps "home" is a time and place when they didn't have dementia.

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    1. Colette-- I think the same thing about the desire to go "home"-- it's that place the brain remembers when all was well.

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  3. It's sad, isn't it -- the "going home" thing. I wonder if it relates to the anxiety they feel, knowing things are just not right but not being certain why. As Colette said, "home" is a time and place when they were healthier and more secure.

    I'm glad you feel motivated to volunteer in such a place. The residents would be lucky to have you!

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    1. Steve-- Yes, there is absolutely a sadness about the "going home" thing. I think it's a longing for something that can be remembered. I really may have to volunteer. It's quite touching to be around people at this time of their lives.

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  4. It is tough and not surprising that less good places use drugs. I am glad in some ways someone can scream there. One of my friends had her dad with Alzeimer's and he got really nasty and mean, something he'd never been in his lifetime. I think loved ones have to understand the brain is under siege and it's not their loved one saying those things. Just tough though.

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    1. Rain-- Interesting, I hadn't thought about the use of drugs. I do think they probably do administer medications, but I don't know if they do the heavy-duty ones that keep people mostly asleep. Oh yes, we are absolutely learning how to understand our mom's new world, and stay loving her all the way through it.

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  5. Several heartbreaking events as well as heartwarming ones. Those who do that work are special people. I can see you doing that.
    I laughed along with your Mother. She is so right about the headlines:)

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    1. Patti-- Yes, that's it... both heartbreaking and heartwarming. That is life in a memory care facility. I'm glad you like my mom's laugh at the headlines!

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  6. Oh my. Stories that tug at the heartstrings. I do love the photos of your mom laughing about the news. I read (or saw a video) about someone who worked with Alzheimer's patients using dance. He said that he would see them every day, and some of them wouldn't remember having seen him the day before, but they all remembered the dance moves they had learned. Interesting stuff. It's like you mentioned with the music and singing - there is obviously something there that sticks.

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    1. Sharon-- I love the story you shared. It's so interesting about art, music, and the brain. There is such a comfort in the familiar.

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  7. It is very hard to see a loved one in a care facility. I used to visit my uncle in one, he had a stroke and ended up in the place. I never liked my going there because of the people who had lost their memories. I'm only greatfull my mother passed away from a stroke (88) before she ended up in the place. I dread anything like that happening to me or my wife.

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    1. Bill-- It is a scary thought, ending up in a facility like this. But I have to say, they do a great job of helping the residents feel like they are at home. Still, it's a sad thing to behold.

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  8. It is everything to know your mom is in a place with patient, compassionate, competent caregivers. I love the pictures of her laughing, and the spiritedness suggested by her wanting to engage that woman. I'm so glad you got to spend time with her, though my heart breaks a bit for the woman who just wants to go home. Your wish to volunteer is a beautiful way of paying blessings forward.

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    1. 37paddington-- Yes, it really means so much to us to know my mom is in such kind, good, caring hands. Yes, she has been known to be be quite "spirited!" We learn so much about aging when we visit. Things to watch out for, things to remember.

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  9. Music has mysterious power, doesn't it? Wonderful that your mother got up to dance with the sweet caregiver. And you, too. A full experience with sadness and enlightenment for you and roger and for us.

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    1. am-- Yes, music really does have mysterious power. Some of it stays with us forever.

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  10. She is in a good place. From what you have told us here, there is happiness - even if it is not our "normal" happiness but a kind we cannot imagine because we never thought about it before.

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    1. Sabine-- Yes, Alzheimer's definitely makes us redefine things, like happiness. We are learning the ways now.

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  11. It's all so bittersweet. I'm really happy that you are so happy with the care facility. I know it's still easy though...

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    1. Pat-- We do feel relief that my mom seems to be in a good place. It is bittersweet, though.

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  12. Betsy would tell you that her mom is in similar circumstances with patient caregivers. We've had similar experiences with the music.

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    1. Phil-- I love knowing that Betsy's mom is in similar circumstances. It's such a relief to know they are in good caring places.

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