My mom is going to be 92 years young on Tuesday and she has had vascular dementia for around 11 years. She can’t remember what she had for breakfast, but she still knows my name. Last week when my husband and I went to see her at the Freedom Village Health Care Center she said, “What a surprise, I am happy to see you!” I was so astonished with her welcome. Usually it can take several minutes for her brain to adjust that we are there. We celebrated her birthday month that evening with a snack, gift and watching a movie together. She was 70% cognitively with us and shared some childhood memories.
This week, I was not so lucky. I arrived in the morning with a balloon and a gift from my brother. When I saw her, she was in an anxious mood. I braced myself for an unknown emotional roller coaster. The balloon scared her at first, which shocked me. Then she wanted to read it and soon she was laughing. She told me that it was not a good day, that she could not remember anything and it was all so confusing. I told her that I understood and that it would be okay. She calmed down and then asked what was in the package. I told her it was her birthday gift from my brother Paul. “Is it my birthday?” she asked. I laughed and showed her the sign that I had attached to the balloon. It said, Margie’s birthday is October 28th, she will be 92 years young.
I set the balloon next to her and everyone who walked by wished her a happy birthday. It was awesome. My first thought was that every care ambassador and nurse would read the sign and wish her a happy birthday 24-7 for a few days. My second thought was that my mom could read the sign and know that it was her birthday week. I helped her open the gift of a new sweater. She loved the texture, because it was so soft. The card enamored her most and she kept looking at it and opening and closing it. With all the pictures on it, I realized that it was so busy that she could not focus on what my brother and sister-in-law had written inside. So I read it to her several times. She loved it.
When I saw her on my next visit, she was agitated with red spots on her checks. She was relieved to see my familiar face. After several minutes of my speaking soothing comments, she came back to me mentally. Then she asked if I had any food. I always bring food, because food can have a calming effect on her. I produced a banana from my purse and her eyes lit up. “For me?” she said. I laughed and said, “Yes!” I opened it and she said that she wanted to hold it. Sometimes she wants me to hold it and she breaks off part of the banana. I have learned to go with flow and to accept the not good days or moments that adjoin laughter and happier days.
Happy birthday month Mother!
Diane’s number one tip for those who have a loved one with dementia is to expect the unexpected. You may want to celebrate their birthday on the actual day, but that may not be a good day for your loved one with dementia. Be flexible and have a willingness to celebrate their special day on another day or just have a birthday month celebration for them and you are sure to hit one good day. Stay calm and be soothing to your loved one. Don’t ask someone with dementia a lot of questions, they can’t process them. Just let them talk to you about what is on their mind. They might want to talk about their childhood or the depression. Adapt to them and go with the flow.
Diane Masson’s new guide book for seniors, “Selecting Senior Housing for Seniors in the Silver Tsunami,” will be will be coming soon to Amazon.com. If you sign up for my weekly newsletter on the right side of this blog, you will be notified when my new book becomes available. Check out my new website: Tips2Seniors.com or please follow me on Facebook.