Suffice it to say that my life has been turned almost upside down since my mother moved in with us back near the end of January. One true way of seeing that is that this is the first post I’ve written on this blog since the end of my 31 days in a row of posting on this blog in January.
It’s been a period of acclimation and adjustment for all of us, and a period of restless sleep. Every day is a new challenge and a new lesson on dealing with a a parent with dementia. I’ve had some mental highs and lows, but other than my two main blogs I haven’t felt like writing anything else. Last week I thought I might finally be ready to get back to work and writing… until…
My mother had a heart attack! Didn’t see that one coming, and as it turns out, women manifest symptoms slightly different than men. It took my wife and I almost an hour to realize Mom was possibly having it instead of some serious indigestion after Mom finally announced that she hadn’t eaten the breakfast I’d made her (she’d thrown it away and we didn’t know) and mentioned that her chest hurt (which she hadn’t indicated earlier) that we finally called 911 and got the ball rolling.
The ambulance was at the house within 5 minutes. Then came the police, firetrucks, a fire marshall… I’m not totally sure of all the people in the house but not counting my wife and I there were 12 people there, and 7 or 8 of them were in Mom’s bedroom; that’s saying something. It took maybe 20 minutes to finally get Mom on the ambulance and the ride to the hospital was mentally taxing, even though the driver drove slower on Route 81 than I normally do.
We went to Crouse Hospital because that’s where my wife and I used to work and that’s where our doctors have admitting privileges. In this case it was an emergency, so ER docs handled the early part and a cardiologist, who happened to be in the hospital making rounds, was summoned. We were given information at each step of the process and, luckily, my wife understood everything that was being said (I understood about 75% of it, being in health care finance).
Eventually the doctor came out and told her Mom officially had a heart attack but that it would easily be taken care of. They took her downstairs to the cardiac surgery area and my wife and I stayed in the waiting area to see how things were going.
This is the amazing part if you ask me; from the time we called 911 until the end of the surgery it was all over in less than 3 hours. Mom was feeling better, as they’d placed a stent in her heart that they put in by going through her wrist… and she was awake the entire time! That’s just amazing; who says our health care is bad in America?
I’m not going into many details in this post, as I really just wanted to think Dr. Anil George, who performed the surgery, all the people in the emergency room of Crouse, the ambulance unit (sorry but I don’t know who it was) and the people who watched over Mom the two days she was in the hospital. Imagine that; a heart attack and back home in 2 days!
Today is the final day of 31 straight blog posts in Syracuse Wiki. This time around it’s been a bigger challenge for me than it’s been when I’ve done it on other blogs, and I decided to talk about the process and things I’ve learned overall on the journey.
1. Real life can get in the way… if you let it
Real life tried to get in the way as of the 23rd of the month when my mother fell in her house. This led to doing a lot of thinking and changing of options and, eventually, we moved Mom into our house… and she’ll be here as long as we can take care of her properly. I began on the 21st by talking about meeting a social worker who showed me the light and set me on the path just before Mom fell, then a few days later talked about situations and processes which eventually led to our deciding to move her here.
It was during this time that I could have dropped out of this writing challenge, since I was the only one doing it, but I got lucky in that I’d written some posts ahead of time and had evenings when I could find the time to write some posts when they were needed. Not every post I put together will be considered for the NY Times 100, but at least I was able to fulfill my own challenge to myself.
2. Writing a local blog is tough when you don’t get out much
One of the reasons I decided a few years ago to branch out into other topics here is because, even though I’ve lived here a long time and like going out to restaurants often, I really don’t leave the house all that much, especially in winter. I also tend to keep going back to the places I like, whether it’s restaurants or entertainment. The only entertainment I allowed myself during the month of January was when I went to see the movie La La Land, and I did a video about it instead of writing about it. In case you’re interested…
Not counting this wrap up article, 15 articles were specifically about central New York, and 3 others were personal stories of mine, all related to my time in the area. That equates to 60% being about local events and such, and I’m going to consider that a success. Still, it also tells me that I really do need to get our more… which I’ve just made a much harder chore since Mom pretty much needs 24/7 care; I’ll have to see how I can work around that.
3. Traffic increased dramatically, but…
Doing this experiment showed me a couple of different things. One, per Google Analytics, my traffic numbers jumped over 300% from the previous two months, which was pretty exciting. I promoted the posts mainly on Twitter, but many of them I also got to promote on Facebook and one of them on LinkedIn because the content fit pretty well.
At the same time, I saw my Alexa ranking drop to the point of nonexistence… which didn’t make any sense, knowing that my traffic increased. It made me do a quick audit of all my sites and I realized that all of them had been dropping in Alexa rank for about 2 months while traffic had either increased or stayed the same. Thus, I was able to conclude that, as my friend Chuck says, Alexa is worthless as a ranking tool and Google Analytics is definitely the way to go.
4. More traffic means more comments
I hadn’t gotten a comment on this blog since September, but I got quite a few, by comparison, in January. The funny thing is that only two people who commented were from the area, and only one of them I didn’t know. The other comments came from people outside central New York, and I knew one of those people (friends are valuable, aren’t they lol).
Comments aren’t necessary but they’re always nice to have. They offer their own type of validation and encourages you to keep writing. People can also be very nice, as I’ve gotten a lot of positive support for making the decision I did with my mother.
5. Niche has its place but content has its place also
As I look back on all the articles I’ve done this month, realizing that the most recent articles won’t fare well at this juncture, I can tell you that out of the top 6 articles I wrote, 3 of them were totally about central New York things, with the article getting the most traffic being the interview I did with Dr. Emad Rahim.
However, the next highest article regarding traffic was about blogging, and that one only came out 5 days ago. It might end up having more legs in the long run because blogging is a pretty intriguing topic, and if that proves to be true then it shows that overall reach is better when you’re trying to reach the masses than only people in your local area… for what that’s worth.
I’m going to stop there because one other thing I’ve learned over the past 5 days is that I’m never sure when Mom is going to show up; she tends to wander, but at least I know she’s not wandering outside of the house anymore. 🙂 This has been a fun journey, and it did inspire one other person to decide to give it a shot. I’ve always said that if I could get one person to do something positive based on something I say or do that I’m ahead of the game… and I am! :-_)
I feel like I’m outing all my mother’s personal information without her consent. Yet, I also feel that I’m going to help others because of what I’m writing here. This is a major learning experience for me, nothing I really expected… well, maybe a couple of these things I knew existed, but not to the degree I’m seeing now.
I’m learning a lot after 6 days here with Mom. It’s not been all that easy, but it’s not all that hard either. Staying up with her until she fell asleep at 4:15 a few mornings ago wasn’t fun, but it was better than 7AM, which my wife had to deal with Mom’s first night here.
There have also been a couple of emotional breakdowns I wasn’t really prepared for. I haven’t cried but Mom has… and it’s not because of anything I did… not really anyway. I’ll say this, though; even if it’s ends up being a long while I’m really glad I made this decision instead of the one I almost made.
Lessons… let’s look at 5 I’ve learned in just 6 days:
I’d believed Mom had this for at least 5 or 6 months, but hadn’t realized just how bad a condition it is. For some reason, when the sun goes down or it gets into mid afternoon many elderly start to get really agitated and confused. They can’t sit still, they get erratic and fussy and they do kneejerk reactions to things that are on their mind.
When Mom was living by herself she’d hop in the car and drive to Wegmans, even if we’d already been earlier in the day. Last week, the day before she fell, she had Wegmans and Subway on the mind, even though she didn’t have a car to drive anymore.
With us, she’s only exhibited these symptoms twice, which either means she’s relaxing some or just hasn’t gotten acclimated to being in our surroundings. When it comes on there’s nothing you can say or do to stop it except try to ride it through. Luckily, we’ve learned some lessons which includes making sure all the doors are locked and bolted. We’re also making sure she’s not alone during this period because she keeps wanting to get up and walk around, and after falling last weekend we’re not taking any chances with that either.
If she’s upset with us for controlling some of these things she isn’t saying or acting like it; then again, see #4 below.
2. ObsessionMarco Verch via Compfight
When they get fixated on something nothing else matters. In Mom’s case it’s two things, one that we moved quickly to mitigate, the other… well, not so much.
My wife set up a whiteboard I bought for Mom so I could write messages for her when I’d leave her every week after I’d visited with her for some hours. She was writing the date on it every day, along with the day and a brief welcoming message.
That worked well until Saturday morning… when suddenly she was fixated on going to the post office and money for some reason. As my wife kept listening, she realized that Mom was wondering about a check she gets every month around the 28th that she needs to deposit and suddenly that was the only thing on her mind. Once we removed the whiteboard she stopped talking about it after about 10 minutes, and we breathed a sigh of relief… at least for that issue.
The other is her purse and other money. Mom’s always hidden money in the house, and I knew the location of it… well, I think I have it all. lol Anyway, over the past year I’ve also dealt with her walking around with thousands of dollars at a time, which was scary. I’d take it out but as soon as I left the house she’d take it from the hiding space and put it back in her purse and it would stay there until I came back the next week.
I’ve removed almost all the money from her purse except for a small bit of it, which is still more than she’d have been allowed to keep if I’d actually moved her to assisted living. She understands that part, yet she keeps pulling out the money I’ve given her, counting it and putting it back. She also keeps pulling out her purse and counting the little bit of money I’ve left in there.
It’s the money in the hidden space in her home that she can’t seem to let go of, because she’s not the one who removed it. I told her it’s safe and she wants to see it, but I know if I show it to her that the next battle will be that she wants it in her purse. We handled this one by taking her purse without her knowing it and making her think she’s lost it. Truthfully, I don’t know where my wife put it, so I’m not lying to her when I say I haven’t taken it. By the next day she’d forgotten about the hidden money and only occasionally asks about the purse; whew!
Still, we know something else will be coming soon; that’s just the nature of the beast.
3. Cold All The Time
This one turns out not to be specifically related to dementia but it’s freaky to me. Mom has always been what she calls “cold natured”; at least in the last 5 years or so. Whenever I would visit her she’d have the temperature set on 85°, which was oppressive for me. I’d turn it down to 78° while I was there and then take her out so the house had time to cool down.
In my house over the winter, my wife and I kept the temperature around 66°, using kerosene heaters to get us warm when we got chilled. With Mom, we’re running one heater any time she’s in the living room, which is upwards of 15 hours sometimes. Even turned down low, if we’re sitting near Mom it’s hot, and there’s nothing to do about it. We’re hot though; sometimes she still complains about being cold. Could she really be that cold?
In her bedroom we have her under an electric blanket and that seems to keep her warm. At some point during the night she’ll throw the covers off because she’s too hot, but eventually wake up cold and pull them back on. I think we all do that; I know I do. It’s going to be interesting to see how much our utility bill increases.
4. No Recollection Of Anything
I mentioned this one at #1. It’s amazing the things she remembers. She’s not bad at trivia, and she knows all the places we’ve lived. After that… she doesn’t remember when we lived where we lived. She remembers the month and day I was born but not the year. Sometimes she forgets my dad, her mother, her grandmother, and many other relatives and friends aren’t alive anymore; that’s when it sometimes gets emotional.
She doesn’t remember that she’s eaten after about 30 minutes. She doesn’t remember asking me a question 30 seconds after asking it. She can remember what’s happened on TV shows she’s seen in previous years, but now she’s asking me if it’s happening in the house. She can’t remember that she’s in my house, where the bathroom is, or that she’s already seen a movie that, while she’s watching it, she’s quoting lines from it before people say them.
That part is scary, but it also offers some benefits if I’m savvy. There are things I don’t want her to remember, or even bring up, so if I dodge and parry well them I’m good to go. I’m not as accomplished at this type of thing as my wife is, but I’m getting better. 🙂
5. Gotta Keep A Sense Of Humor
This one is important for lots of reasons. Mom doesn’t remember things so instead she makes things up. Not lies, just scenarios. For instance, we were watching Independence Day when she asked me when was the last time I was in space. Sometimes she doesn’t believe me when I tell her we’re in my house, or that I even have a house.
I hear things all day long that either frustrate me or make me laugh. I’m trying to learn to take everything as a bit of humor so that I can relax a bit more. The thing is, I know she’s not going to remember anything within a few minutes, so it’s a waste of time for me to get frustrated.
Right now I’m at about 90% for finding as much humor in everything that I can. With that other 10%, I need to learn to adopt the kind of demeanor my wife has. Course, it’s my mother and she knows how to hit a few of my buttons even with diminished mental capacity. Still, I’m supposed to be above that sort of thing; after all, I’m a leadership authority after all. lol
I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to share as time goes on. Whether it’ll be on this blog or a different blog I’m not sure. Just wish me peace and I’ll wish this never happens to you or anyone in your family. There are crueler things that can happen, but this is right up there.