Caregiving for Alzheimer’s is Not Easy

Caregiving for someone in-person or remotely with Alzheimer’s is not easy, but essential. I live in San Francisco. My mom is in South Texas, at a memory care facility, with Alzheimer’s. I visit for a week, every month or so since I work full time. When I’m in South Texas, I do my best to give my sister and brother-in-law a break and engage in activities that my 92-year-old mother enjoys. My mom is almost blind with advanced macular degeneration; she finds it difficult to understand sentences, even with hearing aids, because she has trouble processing words; she unable to stand or walk. But she loves escaping her recliner where she sits in every day and feels in her words “warehoused.” The facility is lovely and offers activities, but because she can’t see, hear or socialize on her own, she can’t take full advantage of the activities the facility provides. We found an excellent way to stay connected when I’m not there. I purchased two Amazon shows, which allow me to “drop in” and keep her company while she is having lunch or dinner in her room, and then spend time entertaining her with puzzles. The Amazon show has a video screen and a speaker on both ends. I “drop-in” because she can’t remember to call me. And although she can’t remember what she ate 5 minutes ago, I found the puzzles we play help her exercise her short-term memory. Use it or lose it – I know she will lose this ability, but for now, it really helps. One of the games we play displays letters to be made into a series of three to six words. I tell my mom the letters that appear, which she has to remember, and then we play. Yesterday, we were engaged in a two and a half hour marathon, We reached level 205 (that’s the number of games we successfully played). Although she won’t remember that today, she was clearly delighted with her ability to recall the letters and create words from them. We had hours of fun together. I do believe the quantity of time is essential. I learned from my mom that because someone is disabled by Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean they are not thinking, and taking someone from their own thoughts, which according to my mom is depressing, into a social environment is a welcome relief. When I’m there in person, I take her out to lunch every day. A CNA lifts her from her recliner to a wheelchair, then to a car, and again into the wheelchair, and we enter a restaurant and have lunch. We split an 8-ounce glass of white wine and toast each other, and I order her precisely what she wants: a child’s portion of salad, crispy bacon, crispy French fries, and ice cream. Lunch out allows her to feel like an adult, and she clearly enjoys herself. My mom never ate sweets when she was younger, but Alzheimer’s takes away taste and makes food taste bland. The last sensation to go is the taste of food or snacks with sugar. I bring her chocolate covered raisins, small cinnamon buns, and a variety of other tasty snacks, which we consume together as we play quizzes. One of the games we play both in-person and remotely displays letters to be made into a series of three to six words. I tell my mom the letters that appear, which she has to remember, and then we play. Yesterday, we were engaged in a two and a half hour marathon. Although she probably won’t remember that today, she was clearly delighted with her ability to recall the letters and create words from them. We had hours of fun together. I do believe the quantity of time is essential. I learned from my mom that because someone is disabled by Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean they are not thinking. Taking someone from their own lonely thoughts, which, according to my mom, is depressing, into a social environment is a welcome relief. My purpose in writing this is to share how valuable I found family activities are for someone with Alzheimer’s, whether remotely or in person. I believe it’s vital for someone who has had everything taken away from them to engage, and feel their own sense of worth and accomplishment. It will be these beautiful memories I will take with me when she passes away.

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