There is a television commercial which has gained popularity, from a large office supply store promoting a magical device called the “Easy Button”, which will promptly and easily solve all your office supply needs with a single tap of your hand. And as could be expected, this ad campaign has inspired numerous other types of buttons among my circle of caregiver friends. But none of them could remotely be defined as “easy”.
We have the “Dementia Button”, which is the most popular. And the “What Now Button”, which is a close second. Immediately followed by the “Not-So-Easy Button”, which is the one I have embraced.
Every now and again my mother, who suffers from dementia, hits a bonafide “Panic Button”. I have yet to determine what is the catalyst for her hitting that button. There is no real consistency of events leading up to her reaching for it, with the exception of when she and I go on an excursion. But rather it is some random thought which enters into her mind, causing her to go into panic mode. And always over an object and its location.
When I pick her up at the assisted living facility for an appointment, we start with a process that has evolved into a regular routine. This consists of her sitting down on her bed with her wallet in her lap, methodically pulling out all the cards from their slots. Healthcare cards. Credit card. Photo ID card. And then insisting that I have taken some of her cards and demanding I return them to her. But she cannot identify what cards are missing.
I have tried various response methods over the past few years. When she first started this routine, I would calmly go through all of the cards with her, explaining what each card was and assuring her that each was current. But as she would repeat the process over and over and over, I do admit to having my patience sorely taxed. Sometimes to the point where I would lose my temper with her. Which I quickly learned only made the situation worse.
As I am wiser and more experienced now in dealing with the effects of dementia, I have learned to mentally give my “Not-So-Easy Button” a quick tap to gain perspective. When the routine begins, I explain to her that she has everything she needs and what she does not have…I do. I give her the luxury of repeating the cycle three times, then abruptly change the subject. Usually by asking her if she has to go to the bathroom before we leave. While this verbal prompt is effective, it does put her into the repetitive mode of going in and out of the bathroom…a minimum of six times and a to-date-maximum of 15.
Hey, I get it. I get the constantly-going-potty part, because she is almost 94 years old. And I get the where-is-my-stuff part, because my mother is an intelligent woman with an analytical mind set. She always took pride in being organized and having all her ducks in a row. So this obsession with the contents of her wallet before she leaves the assisted living facility makes logical sense.
It just ain’t easy to deal with sometimes. Honestly, it ain’t easy to deal with all the time. It is emotionally draining. And mentally fatiguing. And sad to witness.
Whether it be the contents of her wallet…or a 50-year-old winter dress coat that it is now so big on her that it drags on the ground…or a 35-year-old pair of high-heeled winter boots she can no longer walk in…or a 20-year-old watch that no longer runs…
Hey, I get it. Sometimes stuff is important. She fell in love with that winter coat 50 years ago and splurged to pay the asking price for it. And 35 years ago those winter boots were another simply-to-die-for splurge. And most importantly, 20 years ago that watch was a gift from an old and dear friend.
So who cares if that coat and those boots reside in a suitcase in the back of her closet and I drag it out now and again to show them to her? Or if the watch that sits in the bottom left drawer of her jewelry box gets removed from its velvet box on occasion? I certainly don’t care. But she does.
So what if I tap my “Not-So-Easy Button” from time to time. Okay, maybe a lot more than just from time to time. Someday I will retire this button. But until then, I will just keep on tapping it. As many times and as hard as I need to.