When I walked into Bickford on Friday, an aide immediately came to me and said, “Have you been down there yet?” Since I was standing by Dad in the living room, I knew the aide meant Mom. In the last few months, she occasionally refuses to get up, and is even a touch cranky. “No, and I’ve been in there a number of times; the last time she shouted at me to GET OUT!” I handed Dad the letter from my son and headed down to Mom’s room. I was surprised to find her dressed, but under the covers. Coco greeted me with enthusiasm, and I stood by the bed. “Mom, it’s Kathy.” Mom’s eyes popped open, and she smiled. Lately she’s taken to kissing people’s hands when she’s feeling appreciative and loving, and she kissed my hand in welcome. I said it was time to go down for some breakfast, and could I help her with her shoes? Mom readily sat up, very cooperative, and was surprised to hear that she hadn’t eaten breakfast; in fact, she was sure she had. Her hair was standing straight up, so I got water, a comb and some hair spray, and soon she looked ready to face the world.

A couple of things here: it’s unlike Mom to yell and act mean–the aides were very surprised because she is usually cooperative–so I wonder if we are entering another phase. Mom’s mother got crankier as the years went by; I particularly remember once when the staff was insisting on bathing her when she didn’t WANT to be bathed. “You old CAT!” she spat at her caretakers. At the time, I rather liked Grandma’s spirit. This brings me to another question: how far do we push Mom to try to keep her reasonably strong? The long periods of time she spends in bed can lead to such weakness that she could easily end up in a wheelchair–anathema to her at one time. She now huffs and puffs to get down the hall to the dining room, stopping halfway for a breather. This is unbelievable to those who have known her all her life, who know she regularly climbed over the dunes at the cottage twice a day through her 70s.

After arriving in the dining room, Mom suddenly said, “That’s right, I haven’t eaten any breakfast,” and enjoyed her cereal and milk at 10:45. Then it was time for chair exercise, and I didn’t ask her if she wanted to participate. I seated her, hugged her goodbye, and headed out the door. I had a feeling that if we had gone back to her room, she might refuse to come out again. Would that be bad? Good? Does it make no difference? What’s best for her? I do not know.

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2 Responses to GET OUT!

  1. BVM says:

    You raise another very difficult question – one that all caregivers no doubt ask themselves time and again. Because your mom is, in these instances, responding to what is playing in her mind, which, although it may not be congruent with the culturally shared reality, is “appropriate.” And yet you want her to be safe and well nourished. This reminded me of when my children were very small. I wanted to encourage their feeling of independence and the development of decision making skills so I let them make their decisions, interfering only when it was a concern for health. This resulted in some truly amazing color combinations at times, (but then I have three very creative children), but I stepped in if the jacket wasn’t warm enough or their choice was truly inappropriate. Of course, in relation to your mother, you are concerned about her dignity in addition to her well being. It doesn’t much matter if a three year old wears one solid orange and one plaid one. So, Kathy, as they say – a day at a time.

  2. lindamortensen says:

    I don’t know the answer to your question. I’m sorry it even needs to be a question. My mom’s mom was very inactive after she had a serious stroke, and she developed all kinds of physical issues, not least of which was type 2 diabetes. I often wonder if she would have lived longer if she had been able to be more physically active. The trouble was that she had no use of the left side of her body. So while the answer may have been clearer with her, it seems less clear with your mother. I suppose at the point your mom is, it is important to have the input of the entire team of caregivers, you and Kristi included. Still, it seems like it might not be good for her mood to stay in bed for long periods of time. Physical activity and even limited social interaction can do wonders for a person’s outlook.

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