Staying Relevant at Ninety-two

As is my style with any new job or project, I tend to delve into it as I envision all that is a part of it.  I research, talk to people, find all the details, assemble a plan and then execute.  This new one is no different.  I am soon to become the caregiver to my nonagenarian (in her 90s) mother-in-law, in my house.  Yep, she’s movin’ in.  Or so we think.  Soon.  One week a month or so, my husband and I have her stay in our big, available-bedroomed-because-the-kids-aren’t-really-kids-anymore house. And, when she’s at her house, nearly an hour from us, Bayada aides tend to her multiple times a day. They prepare her food, clean and keep her company.  But, the time is coming swiftly when she will need constant care.  Or, at least a set of younger eyes to watch out for her.

Because she’s been staying on and off with us, I have had some samplings of what’s to be involved, and if you asked me last week how I feel about that, I would have cried (perhaps selfishly).  My day’s routine is about to be greatly altered.  Turning the one screenplay I’ve written, Regression, into a novel because the chance of being struck by lightning (three times over) is greater than selling a screenplay, will be put on hold.  Just like having small children, it’s a constant be-on-your-guard-ready job.  Just like a child, she [seems to] need to eat every two hours.  Ah, I missed a detail in this telling…she has dementia.  And, one of the common behaviors of the disorder/disease is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Yes, the OCD tells her she needs to chew, or, as she puts it, “something to nosh on.”

Having read up on the stages of dementia, I have learned that she may not really be hungry. I had a co-worker whose parent, with dementia, would forget to eat.  I was thinking (before labeling the behavior part of the OCD) that my relation simply forgot that she had just eaten.  I like to think of myself as a natural problem-solver and resourceful, open-minded woman, so I have developed a few strategies to deal with this behavior and some others that are new and odd.  Take for example, with the first time she stayed a week with us, the act of throwing the used toilet paper into the bathroom waste basket.  Now, I know from my trip to South Korea, that that is how it’s done there, but as far as I know, my MIL has never been to an Asian country. I do think that because she is reverting back in time, and grew up in New York City in the 20s and 30s that maybe this is how it was done then.   OK, so, after discovering wet, smelly trash cans in the two bathrooms she uses, I now had a good use for the plastic bags I still occasionally get from the food store.  Multiple layers of bags in each can should do it.

Memory failing is, of course, the prime aspect of dementia and with that goes remembering basic hygiene.  So, I have signs in those two bathrooms reminding to wash hands and to flush after every use.  No mellow yellow here.

Along the same lines, or well, opposite ends, as far as the food noshing goes, I bought a big Sterlite covered bin for snacks that I or my husband will portion and sandwich bag.  I’ll label it with her name and leave it where she can get to it easily.  All other snacks (crackers, cookies, peanuts, tortilla chips, etc.) will be relegated to our bedroom.  Of course, if I left those big bags and boxes where she could easily dip into them whenever she wanted, I’d lose ten pounds.

Seriously, though, I can tend to be somewhat OCD~ish myself, especially where germs are potentially lingering.  So, strategy number four (?), I keep multiple containers of sanitizing wipes upstairs and down.  I wipe the entire banister (she actually can walk up and down the stairs – once in the morning to come down and once at night to go to bed) after every trip. Of course, stair climbing serves as an excellent form of exercise for her (and me) and actually aids in the argument for her to get dressed for the day before she comes down to breakfast.  There’s a tendency to want to stay in pajamas all day, because it’s easier.  It’s also easier not to walk up and down the stairs.

And, hey, I get the easy part.  Keeping it simple after ninety years of effort, things should be easy.  Life should be easy.  But, it sure seems like hard work ~ to be ninety.  Something’s always hurting somewhere.  Walking is tough, balance is off, making it easier to fall.  Falls make it harder to move and walk.  Hearing and sight are negatively affected by age.  And, with dementia, bright lights are painful.  Ahhh, I get it:  why she wants to sit in the dark all the time and why she constantly shuts my lights off.  OK, so, my electric bill will go down.  Of course, with less light, it’s also easier to fall.

So, as I continue to read and prepare.  I’ve got lists of activities we can do together, because keeping relevant (the big word for the aged) goes both ways.  Info in and info out.  And, since info is a big part of how I’ve been readying for this new project, I’ve signed up for a Caregiver’s Conference, supported by the Camden County Division of Senior and Disabled Services. I’m sure they’ll have lots more info that I can read.  Oh, yeah, my MIL loves stories; I’ll read to her. In fact, I have another idea that she and I can work together on a daily blog – maybe something about learning something new each day.  Staying relevant.


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Writing by Marnie Mitchell-Lister

DoubleU = W


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