Jan 16, 2013

Dementia Care Survival Strategy - The Humorous Side

Apparently my mom was adamant that someone had stolen her pants. Out of sight on the other end of the phone, I rolled me eyes. Someone stole her pants. How ridiculous, I thought.

Elaine Pereira

By Elaine C. Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Not to make light of memory loss issues and exhaustive caregiver efforts to patiently redirect an agitated and/or bewildered individual, but dementia has a funny side too.

Some stories border on unbelievable were they not so real.

As a former caregiver, in my case for my mom, I have experienced the gamut of emotions that accompanies talking to - operative word here is "to" as sometimes it is not a reciprocal talking "with" conversation - someone with significant short term memory loss.

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Many times I cringed as Mom asked me to repeat something yet again, totally oblivious to the fact that she had already asked and I had already answered the exact same question a hundred times before; well not a hundred, but it sure felt like it - ten for sure. It wasn't even so much that she couldn’t absorb the information, as she was clueless to the fact she was recycling the same question over and over.

"My God, woman!" I thought to myself; fortunately the words rattled around in my head, or maybe one or two leaked out from underneath my breath, but I did not say them aloud! Not to her anyway. "Don't you remember what I just said?" I kept thinking.

Well no, actually she didn't and therein was the problem in the nutshell.

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As a coping strategy I considered getting a tape recorder and just hitting the playback button every time Mom repeated a question, but I didn't. I just dutifully answered it over and over again and popped the cork on a bottle of wine. (For me, not her, although either would have helped.)

I can't speak for everyone who is or has experienced dementia, but in the early stages Mom was just savvy enough at times to bluff her way through uncertain situations.

Her "tell" was her laugh, a subdued but distinct chuckle. I knew it well. It was her signature telltale sign that she was pretending to understand and process a conversation when in fact she wasn't. It was always accompanied by a smile and a nod.

In time though her charming avoidance response gave way to more sinister and paranoid behaviors. My first encounter with her deteriorating persona was in the spring of 2008.

The Brown Pants Caper: I received a call from an employee at the senior complex where my mom lived. She explained that she was in Mom's apartment helping her “look for two pair of brown pants” that Mom had reported missing. How strange, I thought.

Apparently my mom was adamant that someone had stolen her pants. Out of sight on the other end of the phone, I rolled me eyes. Someone stole her pants. How ridiculous, I thought.

I quickly visualized a masked thief, slithering into her third floor apartment during the cover of darkness to confiscate two pair of brown pants. Mom had thousands of dollars of gold and gemstones and someone stole pants! Absurd. I held back my laughter, but inside I was busting at the seams. A week later when I visited her, I also rummaged through her closet looking for pants that weren't there and that I was certain Mom had donated years before.

“I think the cleaning ladies took them,” Mom insisted.

You’ve got to be kidding Mom, I thought. Why would anybody take size-four petite pants? I shook my head repeatedly as I simultaneously visualized either of the very tall or the short, overweight cleaning women swiping brown slacks and inconspicuously stuffing them into their carts. I had to suppress an inappropriate chuckle at that visualization also.

There were many other ludicrous "stolen items" reflective of Mom's deteriorating paranoia. Although reasonableness and logical thinking were waning fast, humorous stories abounded.

Mom reported someone had stolen the houses-for-sale advertising section of the newspaper. She wasn't going to buy a house so what difference did it make if someone did take it.

Someone else stole her nail file. Seriously, a nail file?

Then one day I was met at the door, even before a "Hello," with "I had a piece of lint right here and now it's gone." Mom punctuated her words by thumping the table repeatedly with her finger. "Someone stole my lint." As hard as I tried, I couldn't suppress the giggles and burst out laughing. Lint?

Lint. Stamps. Newspaper ad insert. Old brown pants. A Pair of shoes. Keys.

I'm sure every family member, every caregiver, every friend of every memory impaired person can recount a story or three about something they said or did that was funny.

Hold onto those stories and smile, as they help get us through the harder times when our tolerance runs perilously thin and we are faced with the sad reality of what dementia is doing to our lived one.

Elaine C. Pereira is the author of I Will Never Forget - A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia, and a finalist for the Best New Non-Fiction USA Book Awards & The Hollywood Book Festival.

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