My 95-year-old mother has vascular dementia and is in aged care. She has good days and bad days. She rarely converses one-on-one, never asks how I am, but keenly makes embarrassing statements about other people. She is losing her hearing and doesn’t realise how loud she is speaking. I give her love, care, and attention as best I can. Today was not the best day for either of us.
On other days she can be very entertaining. “Look at the bum on that one,” she may call out aloud, as a dedicated, albeit overweight carer hurriedly walks past. “Silly old bag that one,” she might say, referring to a resident many years younger than herself, “always mumbling and wandering around.”
My visits usually include a trip via wheelchair to the on-site coffee shop and I listen as she runs commentary on people entering and exiting through the main door. Her care home is a locked facility and visitors must sign in and wear a mask. The coffee shop is set just inside the main entry so everyone who visits must check in at this point. This is a delight for Mum as each person entering within her sight gets the full once over. Thank God for masks, because many times, I hide my laughter as I remind her to be kind and not critique others with such loud comments. She doesn’t get it anymore; she just says what pops into her head. Once an introvert, she now says whatever she thinks.
Back to today, this morning it was too hot to take her for coffee, so we sat in a comfortable lounge room. “How is your day going Mum?” I broached, not expecting an answer. My name is Lynne, but today, while getting her organised and groomed, I became Linda, mockingly addressed by her in the third person. For example, “What is Linda doing?” “Where is Linda going now?” “Linda took my glasses.” I am unsure if she knows it is me or whether she is confusing me with one of the carers.
She does answer though and is enigmatic in her response. “Today is a faded day.” My thoughts get stuck on the word faded. I see it as a unique explanation that describes her illness. I ask, “Mum what does faded mean?” She looks at me with lacklustre eyes and replies. “I don’t know.” I prompt, “Do you mean it is a day where your memories and thoughts are faded?” She nods in agreement.
A carer breaks our closeness with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Mum continues to talk, briefly having a singular conversation with her biscuit and the cup of tea. The biscuit and tea are real to her, and she is scolding one for being too close to the other.
She glances my way commenting, “Tom is over there.” I look over to there, trying to see her vision. “I think John was here too,” she adds. I smile but do not comment. Both her brothers are long gone. Mum shakes her head in disgust. I wonder if she is trying to make sense of her shifting memories.
I endeavour to change her thoughts by clipping and filing her fingernails. Finishing the task with a coat of pretty pink nail varnish. She is the perfect recipient, holding her hands still as I remind her not to move them while her nails dry. I leave her in the lounge area for ten minutes while I tidy her personal things in her bedroom.
On return, I compliment her nails, exclaiming how pretty they look. She smiles and tells me one of my male siblings painted them. It is hard not to have gratitude expectations and the hope that my mother would be impressed with my efforts. I swallow the hurt and smile, telling her what a good job he has done.
When I end my visit leaving her to dine with the other residents, she royally waves her hand, “Bye Lynne.” I kiss her forehead. This is my gratitude today; she remembered my name and I assume knows who I am.
Not all visits are like this, each one is different. Mostly our connection is good, with Mum smiling and happy, expressing unfiltered, rude comments and laughing. She rarely has a sad or bad day and if she does, you can bet, it is because of her pain. Sadly, Mum cannot define her pain, only moan, and stubbornly interact with the doctors, nurses and carers who are trying to help. The illness of dementia doesn’t allow her to identify where the actual pain is nor how strong it is.
My next visit will again be different. I never know how to prepare. I try to remember the challenges dementia brings, and to not focus on the sadness for the loss of who Mum was.
*Since publishing this blog, Lynne’s mother has peacefully passed.*