Turning 90 Isn’t For Sissies

It’s so sad.  She gets worse every time we visit.  We wonder if she will remember us this time.   When will that day come when the flicker of recognition finally fails to  cross her face? 

Two years ago they came for our daughter’s wedding.  When I greeted her at the airport, she wasn’t quite sure who I was for a short time.  I chalked up her confusion to the long travel day which was hard on them both. 

When we got home she wanted a glass of water and practically sprinted into the house while I helped dad with their bags.  When I got to the kitchen she was standing there, motionless, staring at the stove.  She didn’t  speak, she didn’t blink.  She was frozen.  I wondered if that was what a stroke looked like.

When I gently said, “Mom, the sink is over here.” she snapped out of it and laughed off her confusion, explaining that in her kitchen the sink was where my stove was. I suddenly realized why it is so hard for the elderly to move to a new, strange place.  Everything is different, everything  has moved.   Nothing is in its old familiar place.  No wonder the experts tell us to let the elderly stay in their own homes as long as possible.

She slept a lot on that visit when she could find her room.  She asked where it was over and over again.  Same for the bathroom.  We left a light on all night so she could find the bathroom if she needed it.  We  left the hall light on too because I worried that she might lose her balance and tumble down the basement stairs.  Oh how I wished that “open concept” stairway was closed during their visit.

She was always cold during that miserable week in February.  Used to Florida winters, she couldn’t get warm.  She couldn’t hear the T.V.  either so most evenings she went to her room, closed the door, got under the electric blanket and turned up the T.V.  The local cop didn’t visit us for disturbing the peace because the bitter weather kept everyone else all sealed up too.     

The worst part was trying to have a conversation.  She couldn’t hear anything unless she was looking right at you.  Dad would try to talk but she would constantly interrupt him and berate him for not speaking loud enough so she could hear him.  Every conversation took at least twice as long as we repeated and repeated everything anyone said.  But it would get worse.  Much worse.

As time passed, she began to forget things.  Conversations were lost.  Details grew more fuzzy.  She would decide to make a major move one day, then reverse her decision the next.  She drove the family and a senior living facility crazy as she changed her mind six times in two weeks.  That deposit check was worn out as she gave it to them, asked them to send it back, sent it to them again, then requested its return.  

When we visit, she always wants to go out to eat and we take her.  But it is getting to be more difficult all of the time.  She can’t hear a word of the conversation yet wants to hear it all.  She doesn’t remember the conversation and her constant reply is, “Oh, I didn’t know that” even when we have just told it to her – again. 

For some reason she talks with her mouth full and sprays food particles across the table.  She helps herself to anything on anyone’s plate and she does it with her used fork or with her fingers.  No appetizer is safe as she stabs each one looking for the right piece or the one that will stay on her fork.  I could probably lose a lot of weight if we dined with them more often. 

During one visit Dad brought out some old family photos.  He explained who was in each before handing them to her.  She looked at them and commented, sometimes asking “Who is that?”  When dad replied, she would often ask, “Are you sure?”  before passing the pictures on to us. 

As the conversation continued about each picture, the subject and the events, she would suddenly say “Oh I didn’t know that” and ask to see each photo again.  It was like watching a comedy movie or trying to follow Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine. 

She had no recollection at all that she had just seen it and was quite delighted to see it all over again.  Some of those pictures went back and forth three or four times.  That’s when I finally knew.  That’s when I finally had to admit it and give a name to what was happening to her.  Dementia.  Or worse. 

Dad is a saint.  Everyday he takes it, repeating everything over and over again.  He takes care of her and he does it with an abundance of kindness and love.  What would she do without him now?  She needs help and without Dad, she would have to be moved somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere where help would be available to care for her 24/7 just like Dad does now.  

Someone else would have to take charge because she can’t take care of herself anymore even though she is certain she can.  She shouldn’t ever drive again even though she just asked the State of Florida to renew her license.  And they did.

She shouldn’t be cooking because she may just burn the house down.  Last year she left a rag in the sink, turned the water on and walked away to watch T.V.  The new kitchen floor looks nice. 

So we worry.  And we watch.  And we wait for what we know must surely come.  He is 90, she is 89.  Getting that old sure isn’t for sissies.


One Response to “Turning 90 Isn’t For Sissies”

  1. LoveBeingRetired Says:

    Very difficult time for you and your family and thank God for your patient, loving dad! And as you say, it doesn’t get better. It is hard to give advice as I have not been through this – yet – but I do feel for you and wish you the best.

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