Downsizing With Dementia

My mother doesn’t know where her box of letters is. Not this box with letters in it. This isn’t the one she’s looking for. There’s another box of letters. She doesn’t know where the other box of letters is.

And the dolls! She wants this one in the apartment. Then she doesn’t. Then she needs the chair for that one. Then she does want Grandma and Grandpa after all. “I don’t know where I’m going to put them, ” she says to me. “You can put them on your bed, Mom. They’ll look good sitting on your bed.” She asks me to put them on her bed.

My mother has finally agreed to move into assisted living. She should have done this five years ago. Easily. If she’d done it ten years ago, she would have been able to move into completely independent living in the senior community.  The transition would have been much more gradual. But as it’s turned out, this has been a much more urgent situation.

Twenty-one-year-old and I were visiting in August, during Mom’s 80th birthday, and it was apparent that Mom was very ill. Very ill. So instead of celebrating with her at her house, we sent her to the hospital in an ambulance (because we couldn’t even get her out of her bed), and she spent about two weeks there before moving to a rehab facility. That’s when my brother and I put on the hard-push for assisted living. Well, my brother and I, and Mom’s physician, and the nursing home where she was staying, and all the staff at the hospital, and the local minister.

And here she is. My brother’s been a hero in all of this. He’s been coming down here to help her get ready, to help get the house ready to rent (waiting for the market to recover some more before we sell it), and getting her set up in her new apartment.

This isn’t easy for folks who plan this for a while and who are in possession of all their faculties. Mom has mild dementia. And this has been rushed. She only agreed to the move in October, and she made the move at the beginning of November.

She was living in a huge house. Now she has a one-bedroom apartment. She doesn’t remember all the things she has in the house, and each time we pull something out, it reminds her of something, and she thinks she needs it. It’s slow going.

Mom began collecting dolls at some point – I don’t remember when. She’s had a hard time deciding which dolls to take and which to sell in the estate sale. One day she brings dolls to the apartment, then she sends dolls back to the house. Then she takes other dolls back.

It looks like I will now be the keeper of the family photographs. That’s fine. I’m happy to be the family historian. I’m grateful now that there was a day, several years ago, when Mom and I went through boxes of photos and I asked her who all the people were. Most of the photos are labeled now, with names on the back.

Once the estate sale takes place, Mom won’t be able to go back-and-forth with what she wants and what she doesn’t. I’m taking some things (including some children’s furniture that she plain old didn’t remember that my grandparents had gotten for me when I was about two years old), and the rest will be sold to help with Mom’s expenses.

She’ll forget about a lot of the stuff once she can’t see it. She insisted, for example, that Twenty-One-Year-Old grab some pillows out of a closet. She wanted them because she might need them in case she wanted to make pillows for someone. She hasn’t made pillows in ages. Twenty-one-year-old told her, “sure,” and then when Mom left the closet, just closed the door. Mom hasn’t mentioned them again. She has no room to store them here. If she needs some later, she can buy them one-at-a-time.

This is slow going. It’s another lesson in patience for me. Mom likes it here in her new place, and she’s safe. And if I end up downsizing one day, I hope I remember the lessons learned here. I hope I remember to give myself plenty of time to work through a lifetime of accumulation.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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4 thoughts on “Downsizing With Dementia

  1. Oh, Madelyn- I can relate to so much of this. This last year saw the move of my parents to a retirement community – after more than 6 years on a wait list (they kept turning everything down), the downsizing and the “back and forth” like you describe, the sale of household goods and the house – all in about 3 months time, not to mention the setting up of the apartment (which in some respects is still not finished). The catalyst was also health issues. Unfortunately, my dad passed away just a few weeks ago, but I’m so glad we got them moved when we did, and that my mother (who is 87) is also “safe.” I still worry and make numerous two-hour drives down to see her, take care of business, and such. And as you also mention, there have been so many lessons in all of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Our parents and dementia — so hard. There’s this idea way and there’s the way it ends up, entwined with their flaws and our warts. I am in the midst of my family’s version of this right now, the past several years, the who-knows-how-long into the future. It’s good (and fraught) to be our own witnesses. Thank you for this post.

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