The Next Leg

I have often referred to taking care of my elderly mother as a journey. One I am sharing with her as she travels deeper into dementia and the final stage of her life. It has been a bittersweet journey. One filled with great joy and great sadness.

She is not exhibiting any behavior that is out of the norm. And one of the lessons I have learned is that dementia can be very predictable. Loss of short-term memory. Confusion in unfamiliar surroundings. Anxiety over the loss of both mental and physical abilities.

The longer I have traveled this road, the easier it has been to define the patterns of decline. Typically, we roll merrily along at status quo, then we slam dunk into a downward spiral where her mental abilities plunge. Then we hit a plateau and roll merrily along again. Then we repeat the cycle.

Over the past two months my mother has been in a severe downward spiral which has taken me to a much higher level of concern. Her short-term memory is almost completely shot. Her anxiety level is increasing at an alarming rate. This combo sets her into a repetitive cycle of activity, because she can no longer retain any memory of a recent activity.

When she pings the nurses at the assisted living facility, asking them repeatedly throughout the day for her medications…and they reassure her, once again, that she has already received them…that is par for their course. Because the nursing staff considers responding to my mother and the other residents, who are also exhibiting the same symptoms of dementia, as simply a part of their daily duties. No worries.

But when my mother swears she hears a fan whirring in her room, or a buzzing sound or a clicking noise coming from the thermostat which regulates her heating and air conditioning…and she keeps insisting that the maintenance staff come fix it…this is not par for their course. Because the maintenance staff does not consider responding to four calls a day from my mother…simply to reassure her that all is the same as it was two hours ago…as a normal function in the course of their normal day.

So, how do I fix this? How do I find a solution? What can I do? The answer is simple: nothing.

There is no magic button to push to make this go away. While there are medications available to alleviate her anxiety, the side affects may far outweigh any benefits. So, once again I find myself swirling around in this downward spiral, watching my mother spin further and further away. Only now, she is making it difficult for the folks who are caring for her. And that is a problem and one that does need to be addressed. So, I am once again relying on the professionals…working with our family doctor and the head nurse at my mother’s facility, to determine where we go from here.

I am also relying on my personal support staff. Friends who have already traveled this road with their parents. Gal pals who have already taken this journey with their mothers and come to the end of their road. Their reassurance that I am still on track and heading in the right direction has been comforting.

I know I am doing all that I can. I know this stage in my journey is par for my course. And I know that my road ahead will only get bumpier.


6 thoughts on “The Next Leg

  1. When they go through stages of change it can and will throw you for a loop; you will flounder for a bit and then you will handle things as best you can.

  2. Hello,

    I just picked up on your blog via the WordPress reader and linked to you from my dementia-related site (

    I could have written this for of MIL, who has Alzheimers. She has been “relatively” stable for the last two years (slow decline, but nothing “out of the ordinary” to speak of), and in the last six weeks a very sudden downslide… I dread to think what the future might hold for all of us. You never know where you are with this disease, do you…?

    Look forward to reading more of your writings in the future!

    DG x

    • Thank you so much for popping in for a visit. And yes, when you are facing those quick and sudden downslides, it can be a bit scary to think of what lies ahead. But knowing we are not the only ones traveling this road has been a great comfort to me.

  3. Yes, I consider my “loop” officially “thrown”. And not for the first time, and I know it will not be for the last time. But with the encouragement and support from folks like you, who have traveled this road before…it sure does make it a lot easier!

  4. I am impressed that you have come to one of the most difficult conclusions one can reach when traveling down this road: “There is no magic button”. It’s true, in a sense things will only get worse, but the fact that you seem to have an understanding that you cannot fix your mother’s disease, you have made a giant leap towards making peace with it. I have worked with hundreds of people and their families struggling down the dark and scary path of dementia. I encourage you to continue to rely on the professionals and your loved ones for support.

    As far as the noises she keeps hearing, I once cared for an individual suffering from a similar symptom. I’ll share with you the solution I implemented, but no promises it will work for your mom. I put a noise machine in his room to play a steady, tranquil sound. This served 2 purposes: he no longer heard the noise that was disturbing him, and the constant sound seemed to calm him. When he would get agitated I would help him to close his eyes, listen to the noise and imagine himself in a peaceful place. It always worked. Good luck!

    • You know, I have heard of other caregivers having some success with noise machines, and even music playing softly in the background 24/7. It is a terrific idea. I think the success rate depends on the individual, as do most solutions when dealing with dementia. For me, this is simply another stage in the journey. Thanks for your words of encouragement. Greatly appreciated.

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