Sunday, July 27, 2008

Let's Catch the Thief!

I would like to invite you to join me on my personal journey through the Harris' family burglary. Vascular Dementia (a form of dementia resembling Alzheimer's Disease) robbed me and my brother of our mom and my children of their grandmother. It beat them up and stole my dad's wife. It robbed my aunts of their sister. It stripped my mom's friend of their dear friend.

I’ll never forget when the robbery started. At first there were the smaller concerns: Mom couldn’t find her car keys. (Haven’t we all been there?) When Mom took our daughters to the mall she got them ice cream when they got there and frozen yogurt before they left. I just thought she was spoiling them like all good grandmothers do. Then another time she couldn’t find her car in a parking lot and had to call my dad to drive her around so that she could find it.

But then, the more wrenching things started to happen. Mom and Dad came over for Christmas and I baked Dilly Bread…a favorite recipe for holidays in our family. Mom walked in the kitchen and said, “Oh! That smells so good. What is it?” When I told her it was our Dilly Bread recipe, she commented that she had never heard of it. I felt I’d been punched in the stomach!

My dad showed more concern as he told me that Mom was doing things like putting the ham in the kitchen cabinet, asking him every five minutes when her doctor’s appointment was, and various other situations of concern.

While I begged Daddy to have Mom seen at the doctor about her forgetfulness, he couldn’t broach the subject with her. Finally when things got so bad, we had a family meeting. Mom admitted to being forgetful but she didn’t think the doctors could do anything. So…nothing was done.

I lived three hours away but began calling my parents daily. My dad encouraged me to not call them daily as my mother was feeling I was checking up on “the crazy woman.” When I communicated with her family practice doctor about our concerns, he metaphorically patted me on the head and told me that “forgetfulness is a normal part of aging.” NOT! I’ve worked in the aging industry since 1982 and while it’s true that older people generally get Alzheimer’s Disease or some form of dementia when they’re older, not younger, it is not a given that one will develop the disease.

The day that is forever etched in my brain is the day I got the call from my dad. He said, “Susan, I don’t know what to do. Your mom is telling me she sees her brother, Paul, (he was deceased) and she is making no sense at all.” I told my dad to call 911. Driving to Birmingham I questioned what I’d find. I pleaded with God to protect my mom and to give me wisdom as I lovingly cared for her and my dad.

Upon arrival at Mom’s hospital room, my world was forever changed. A nurse tending to Mom turned to me and said to her, “Well, who has come to visit you?” Without missing a beat, Mom said, “Cotton.” Cotton was a friend of Mom’s.

my momma didn’t know me. The unthinkable had happened. The world took on a different hue and started spinning uncontrollably. We were told by the neurologist that she had Vascular Dementia and that any type of extenuating health situation would cause her to go to the next lower plateau: a urinary tract infection, a fall, even a bad cold.

Plans were made for mom’s return home. First, we had to get all healthy foods for her, put out more family photos so she might remember us, buy a gate for the stairs so she wouldn’t go downstairs and outside during the middle of the night. WAIT! A gate for the stairs? Isn’t that something you get for your pet or a toddler? That’s not something you buy for your mother!

My dad could never bring himself to put my mom in a dementia care facility and dutifully and lovingly cared for her until his body wore out and he literally died on the floor of the professional building of his doctor. I believe he was tired and needed to get some rest. I believe this robber also took my dad from me.

Fast forward to today. My mom is in a nursing center and sleeps most of the time. She lives in the same city as my brother. He visits her daily and when he can spend the time to wake her after every bite she will eat, but most of the time it takes her an hour to eat a meal. She is on hospice and is living the last stages of her life. She never wanted to live this way.

As with any robbery, I’ve experienced the gamut of emotions associated with it.

Anger. Why my mom? Why our family? Why hasn’t something been done about it by now?

Helplessness. I’d been in the aging services field a long time and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. If this can happen to us, then anything can happen. Fear begins. Will I or my other loved ones be next?

Guilt. If only I had tricked Mom and gotten her into see a doctor sooner. Maybe she would be a lot better now. After all, I knew the benefits of getting Mom on medications for the disease sooner rather than later.

Frustration. There’s not a stinking thing I can do to be proactive about the situation. I have had to be reactive.

But do I really have to be reactive? Or, can I do something now that will make a difference in the lives of others?

Will you please join me in the walk to rob this robber of its goal in life: to steal beautiful memories from others…

We have an opportunity to help others put bars on the windows of their memories to keep the robber out. I’d love to hear from you.

Alzheimer’s Memory Walk

Saturday, September 20th

8 a.m.

Nelson Park

Abilene, TX



1 comment:

Trish said...

Good for you for walking. If I'd have been on the ball, I would have made a team for my community (which is having a Memory Walk). If I hadn't already pledged to another friend in another community, I'd be all about sending you some. As a cash-strapped seminarian, though, alas, I cannot afford to send two donations. I will, however, keep you in my prayers. And if it means anything to you, my mom started going to the dr. in the "early" stages and got on the drugs, and it didn't do a darn thing for her. As a matter of fact, the doctor thought for a bit it was actually making her worse. After you beat yourself up, make sure and give yourself some TLC to care for the wounds.