Hindsight is 20/20.
Looking back, my Mom was exhibiting behaviors symptomatic of dementia as many as five years before the day I found her wandering around her house in a state of pantsless confusion, and hijacked her out of the 3-bedroom house of my childhood and into an independent senior living community.
My mom has always been a little…weird. Her behaviors have never followed any kind of norm, or been at all regimented. Her moods have always swung wildly between delight and despair. She has always been unusually paranoid. She has always been abnormally unpredictable, careless and scatter-brained, and sometimes frighteningly in denial of reality. It was all part of her charm if you weren’t living with it.
So, the night she called me from a stranger’s phone because she had lost hers and then gotten lost in Dallas, I just chalked it up to my mom being her kooky, forgetful self. If she hadn’t had my son with her, I wouldn’t have given it another thought.
The stranger gave her directions to get home, and I met her at her house to pick up my son and take her a burner phone to use until we could retrieve or replace hers. She was as distressed as I’ve ever seen her.
Before we did anything else, I started dialing her phone to see if maybe it was just under or between a seat. We could hear it, which was great. But we couldn’t see it. Finally, when Mom and I leaned into the same space, I realized it was coming from her. The call was coming from inside. Inside her blouse. It was in her bra.
We laughed, sort of. She was embarrassed and angry. I was worried and angry. And, we were both in denial that something was really wrong.
I told myself that maybe her chest area was still numb from the heart surgery she’d had the year before. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t feel the vibration that accompanied the sound? I mean, she’d always gotten lost while driving. Half of my childhood was my mother being lost and us having to stop and ask directions.
It was easy to ignore the problem because I didn’t want to see it. The problem inconvenienced my life. It meant I had to have hard conversations with my mom about moving out of her house. It meant hard conversations were coming about whether her driving days were over. It meant confrontation about how she couldn’t take my son out anymore, and inconvenience to me because she was my best babysitter. It meant hurting her feelings and insulting her sense of dignity. And, it meant confronting my own mortality.
The writing was on the wall, though, and I started trolling the internet for information about how to ease cranky seniors out of their homes into Homes. I narrowed my search from Everywhere down to 3 potential places.
Then, in September of 2017, after she hadn’t answered her phone in a few days, I went to her house to find her wandering through her hoarder’s nest dressed in only a t-shirt. She was confused about what day of the week it was and why I was there, and I couldn’t be sure the last time she’d eaten.
I took her to IHOP and fed her, which seemed to help clear up her head, then took her to my house, where she stayed until I moved her into the Independent Living community a mile away.
Since her official move-in date of October 31, 2017 and her official diagnosis of Vascular Dementia on November 13, 2017, I’ve learned a lot about Elder Care, Independent versus Assisted Living, and Memory Care versus nursing homes. I’ve learned the differences between hospitalized rehab and skilled nursing rehab, geriatric psychiatric units versus geriatric behavior units, versus geriatric care. I’ve learned about Powers of Attorney and Medical Directives. I’ve sold my mom’s house and researched the best way to save her money. I’ve also freaked out a lot about her money.
I’ve dealt with doctor’s appointments, and insurance, and the Department of the Navy, and the IRS. We’ve been through multiple stays in the hospital, a stroke, surgery, and recovery. I’ve managed her friends and family, a full-time job, and a teenager, and perimenopause.
I’ve learned tricks to manage medication and mental illness, while trying to take care of my own physical and mental health. I’ve learned to do what is necessary and let the rest go. I learned to let the internet carry my load, and let my friends carry me.
I’m kind of tired of learning right now.