Monthly Archives: September 2015

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Our family was not prepared for the “cyclical” aspect of my mom’s vascular dementia.

When she moved in over a year ago, we were uninitiated with the cause and progression of her disease. Heck, we were not even really aware that she HAD dementia.

Mom had always been a bit insecure about her decision-making, and I always had a part in filling out paperwork, etc. But shortly after moving in with us, when she began asking the same questions over and over again and looking to me or my husband John to help prod her along with all daily tasks, we realized that things had gone very much awry for her.

This took some adjusting on all our parts. The outings I had pictured for the two of us, short trips to the mall or the diner, really weren’t on Mom’s to-do list. She made it clear that she was happiest at home, and would travel only to visit relatives or if the rest of our small family was heading out to dinner and we pressed her to join us.

And my husband John and my young adult children were used to the “take charge” Josephine, not the somewhat sad and confused lady who now spent most of her day either watching TV or in bed.

Then one day a few months after she had moved in it appeared that a miracle had occurred. Mom seemed to have “come back” to us. She got up early for breakfast and was sitting at the table fully dressed and ready when I came in from gardening. She was reading the Daily News, to my surprise. A short while later, she asked where her crochet bag was, since she wanted to continue working on a project. (Sadly, I had thrown it away because just a few weeks earlier she had insisted that she could not remember how to crochet and had no interest in re-learning). Since I am such a trustworthy and honest person, of course I lied and told her that I could not find the crochet bag but would continue to look. Meanwhile I distracted her with time spent sitting on the porch and talking about the old days, then a nice dinner during which we all had a great conversation. After dinner, while Mom and John watched some sitcoms, you know what I did. I raced over to AC Moore and bought a six skeins of yarn and some crochet needles. I was determined to start a project that she could continue. “Wow,” I remember thinking as I weighed color options for the yarn. “She’s actually BACK!”

The next day I was surprised when Mom slept in again instead of getting up earlier for breakfast. Well, at least I had some time to crochet a square that would be the basis for one of the small blankets she once enjoyed making. At 11:30, her usual waking time, I had to rouse her from her sleep. “What time is it?” she asked. “It’s late, mom — 11:30.” “Oh,” she said. “Am I going to eat breakfast or dinner now?”  Undeterred, I brought up the subject of crocheting after breakfast when she was sitting on the sofa watching Family Feud. “Do I crochet?” she asked. “You used to,” I said. “I started a project, and thought you could finish it.” “Nah,” she said. “I really don’t want to.”  And with that she closed her eyes for a catnap.

A similar forward and back scenario happened at least twice more before a did a bit of research online. This one step forward, two steps back conundrum was actually a vascular dementia THING. I was so relieved to learn that we were not the only ones facing this unnerving situation that I almost cried. It was heartrending, for sure. But it was part of the disease that was now part of Mom. We had to accept it.

And so two weeks ago when I heard my mother heading down the stairs for breakfast fully dressed at 10 a.m., I was prepared for the rise and the inevitable fall. She did not disappoint, verbally sparring lightly with me over breakfast and once again reading the Daily News and asking me pointed questions about some of the stories. “Is that Donald Trump’s real hair?” she asked, and we laughed.

She had an appointment with the cardiologist later that day, and she charmed the lovely doctor’s assistant and complimented her hairstyle. When the young lady completed the EKG and left to fetch the doctor, my mother commented on how wonderful it was that this nice girl had completed all of her schooling and had a good career.

Later that day I reminded Mom that she was getting a haircut the next day. “Hmm,” she said. “Do you think Paul can give me a perm?”

“Aw Ma, a perm will take hours,” I blurted out, immediately regretting it. “You’re right,” she said. “Forget it.”

“No no no,” I said, totally backtracking. “Let me call Paul — if he has time to give you a perm, you can get one.”

“I don’t know,” Mom replied. “He might feel bad if he can’t do it.”

“He won’t felt bad,” I insisted, practically sprinting toward the phone. “He’ll be honest.”

“If he has time to give you a perm, you should totally get one!”

For some reason I turned around to sort of gauge what my mom’s thinking was, and I could see the wheels spinning.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” I demanded.

She took a second or two to answer me.

” I don’t really want a perm,” she admitted. “What I want is a short haircut, and I know that you don’t want me to have one.” And she looked sad and beaten down.

Wait, what! My friend Jamie Turner would call this an AHA moment. I thought that I might never have one, and here it was staring me in the face.

So here is the truth that hit me hard. My mother had basically placed her decision-making about her daily routine in my hands. And I took that to mean that she needed me to make ALL of her decisions. Even ones about her hair, which I had decided needed to be grown longer to better flatter the shape of her face.  And what she had ended up with under my guidance  was an unkempt bob hairdo that was flat on top and wavy at the ends — what is known as the ‘pyramid” look. It had to go.

So I told Mom that she should and could get a short haircut, and she was happy. So happy and relaxed, in fact, that she allowed me to subject her to one of my favorite movies — “Airplane.” (And it was all fun and games and a lot of laughs until I forgot to fast-forward through one crucial scene — “Why was that woman in bed with a horse?” Mom demanded.)

The next day, the day of the haircut, Mom slept late again. It was business as usual, back to the down cycle, with a bit of backsliding. But this time I was prepared for it.

Although the shop was busy and I managed to arrive ten minutes late to her appointment, our wonderful hair stylist Paul made sure that mom received the most beautiful short haircut on the planet. The three of us were flipping through magazines in search of the perfect style when I spotted a photo of the actress Ginnifer Goodwin with a short pixie cut. “That’s adorable,” I said. “Do you think it would work on mom?”

“Of course it would,” Paul said. “Ginnifer Goodwin has the exact same face shape as your mom.”

“She even looks like your mom,” Tom added. Which, incredibly, she really does.

Mom ended up happy that day. And so did I. Happy and proud. Happy that I had let mom take charge of her hair again, happy once again for the kindness always shown by those surrounding us, and proud that she is just so stinking beautiful even at the age of 88.

Back and forth. Up and down. Lessons learned.

It’s part of aging and part of dementia, and — let’s face it — part of life.




Taking Stock

One of the worst things you can do is convince yourself that “everything will be OK” when in fact you know that it will not.

The damage of this flawed logic came to light  recently as the result of our family’s purchase of two laptops from the Lenovo Corporation.

I disliked my laptop from the start, finding it sluggish and unresponsive. More frighteningly, it “blacked out” fairly frequently.

My son found his Lenovo to be working just fine until one day when he realized that his screen was broken. He hadn’t dropped it or spilled anything on it. He simply popped it open as he always did, and received an unpleasant surprise. Since the laptop was still under warranty, just barely, he mailed it back as instructed. The repair took longer than expected, which required the laptop to be sent to our home address and then mailed by me to his address on campus. When he finally received it — after what my dad would have called “a lot of rigmarole” — He opened up his laptop to find that the screen was “different” but not repaired. “Mom, I don’t even think they checked it after making the supposed fix,” he reported. Lenovo has said that they will once again attempt the repair — as if they are doing him a favor — and if it does not work this time, he is out of luck.

This upsetting turn of events made me curious to see if others are experiencing the same issues. One sure way to find this out quickly is to check how the company’s stock is faring. I was not surprised to see a headline under Yahoo Finance asking “Should You Get Rid of Lenovo Group Now?” The article went on to note that there as been a negative trend in earnings estimate revisions. “It may not be a good decision to keep this stock in your portfolio anymore, at least if you don’t have a long horizon to wait.”

So what went wrong? Lenovo is most likely a casualty of the flawed thinking mentioned earlier. If you tell yourself that “everything will be OK,” you miss out on a key aspect of any successful venture — a top-notch support system.

When my dad passed away a few years ago, my family saw the writing on the wall. We knew that my mom could not live on her own for long, and we knew that we would have to do the right thing and move her in with us. I desperately wanted to believe that “everything would be all right” — but in my heart I knew that this was not true.

Not only had I witnessed my own grandmother’s downhill slide while she was living in my parents’ home — and the devastating effect on my parents’ relationship and my mother’s mental health — but I had also been party to the seemingly endless search for a decent nursing home after my mother and I could not longer provide the level of care she needed.

My husband had also been witness to the demands placed on a household that includes elderly grandparents needing care and attention. He could also not tell himself that “everything would be ok.”

And so while we were fairly certain that some people might thinks less of us, we did not move mom in immediately. We gave ourselves a year to enjoy our peace, our space, and figure out the best way to handle the move — both logistically and emotionally.

To be fair, we had a huge advantage. My mom lived just 20 minutes away, and since I was working from home I could be there a few times a week to help with grocery shopping, cleaning, paperwork, and doctor’s visits. It was fairly easy to retrieve her and bring her home for visits to our home. And she had a wonderful neighbor named Jenny who checked in with her on a regular basis.

John and I used our time off wisely, and more than a bit guiltily. We took our last chances to travel together,three times to weddings of our dear nieces (one in San Diego, one at a winery in South Jersey, and one in Greenville, North Carolina). I took a trip with my daughter — who had been diagnosed with Lyme disease and faced months to years of treatment — and we had a fabulous time at an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas. We set up a bedroom for my mother, and cleared out her apartment (packing 80 black garbage bags and hauling them to the dumpster — how my parents crammed so much stuff into a one-bedroom apartment still puzzles me).

Only after we had accomplished all of this did we give my mother an ultimatum. As much as she did not want to impact our lives, and be what she described as a “burden,” none of us had a choice in the matter. “Actually, it will be a lot easier on Mary Ann,” my husband noted wisely. “She won’t have to travel back and forth as much.” Only after hearing that did my mother grudgingly agree to move in.

Most importantly, we told ourselves and our two kids (now young adults) the truth — that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Most likely, it would be one of the toughest things we have ever done.

Thus far, that attitude has served us well. There are some very rough days, during which I can keep my sanity by mentally flashing back to dancing at those three wonderful weddings …  watching the sun set while enjoying dinner beachside at one of the best restaurants in San Diego … our side trip to Coronado, where our longtime and loyal friends Andrea and Les who now live in Arizona spent some quality time with us … the excursion to the Bahamas, during which the employee in charge of activities announced my name via mic to the entire hotel population as “mommy” during a games session, much to my daughter’s mortification.

And there have been great days, where my mom is “on” and makes us laugh until we cry (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally).

And on any given day, we know we can rely on our network consisting of thoughtful friends and relatives who keep us apprised of their plans, whether they think we can join them or not, and always willing to adjust to our tight schedule …  our wonderful mom-sitter Carol Corbett, who has always been the kindest person on the planet and who my mom refers to as “my friend Carol … my neighbor who has offered to feed my mom dinner at any time so John and I can enjoy a full day or night out … and our son Greg and daughter Veronica, who spent quality time with my mom this summer and allowed my husband and I to linger a bit longer in Atlantic City or while at the beach with friends.

Is everything always OK? Of course not. It never is, really. And if you try to tell yourself that it will be … and that you can handle everything on your own without help from anyone else … be careful.

Your stock is surely going to fall.