It started with a loud, "crash," then a "bang," followed by mumbling and the jingling of keys. Lori woke up with a"jolt," thinking to herself, "What on earth is happening?" Slowly lifting the eye mask off of her face and wiping the sleep from her eyes, she could see the digital clock in the corner of her room reading it was, 4:30A.M. Then it dawned on her, "Mama!" Oh dear, it was clear to see that Mama was packing up her entire bedroom.
Lori walked down the steps to the Master suite which Lori and her husband gave to her mother when she moved in with them. It was a large bedroom filled with pictures of her mother's treasures along with a color TV. There was a bathroom off of the bedroom which made everything convenient for her mother who suffered from dementia and other health challenges. When Lori arrived to her mother's room she was shocked, and almost let out a,"GASP," but decided to not react. "Mother, how are things going?" Her mother looked focussed and annoyed. "I'm on a schedule, Lori. I don't know how in the world we are going to fit everything in the car." Everything in the room was packed in garbage sacks and suitcases. Somehow, in the wee hours of the night, Lori's mother had managed to pack everything in the room. Pictures on the wall had been taken down and wrapped before being put into boxes, Lori's linens from the closet were packed, toiletries were packed, the bed was stripped, the TV and cable unit was dismantled, and it even looked like she had started to take down the curtains!
"Mother, forgive me if I am having a lapse with my memory, but it's early and I may have forgotten. Are you going somewhere?" Her mother stopped, and looked surprised. "Lori, don't you remember?" Lori didn't say a word. Her mother picked up another hanger, and continued to pack. "I'm going to visit my mother. We have some catching up to do," she said. "Oh, that's right," said Lori. (Lori's grandmother had been dead for over 30 years.) Then Lori saw her car keys in her mother's hands. "So, are you going to drive all the way to South Dakota, or are you going to fly?" Lori quizzed her mother. Her mother started laughing as if Lori was the most ignorant person in the world. "No, silly girl, I am going to drive." (Lori's mother had not driven a car for years due to her dementia.) "That's a lot of driving, mother. Are you sure you are up to it?" Lori was fishing for words to say. She knew she couldn't hand over her car to a woman with dementia. Lori's mother started getting agitated. She pursed her lips, straightened her spine and took a deep breath. Lori then decided to honor her mother's reality and said, "Mom, you have my support always. If driving 3,000 miles alone to S. Dakota is important to you, then I am behind you 100%. In fact, I too would like to see grandma." Lori's mother then changed her defensive body language, stopped pacing and sat closely to Lori. She yawned, and Lori said, "Mom, why don't you join me for a big breakfast. Then, after breakfast, after you drive the kids to school you can have the car." Lori paused again after saying that. Lori's mother said, "After I drive the kids to school? Lori, I don't know my way around here and the highways are confusing! I'm going to go back to bed. I'll join you for breakfast later!" Lori's mother went back to bed, and after she fell asleep, Lori quietly unpacked the room, reassembled it putting pictures back on the wall,etc. When Lori's mother woke up from her nap, she walked into the kitchen and said, "Good morning, Lori." "Good morning mother," said Lori. "How did you sleep?" Lori's mother looked puzzled, "Well, I slept fine, as always. What's for breakfast, I'm starving?" Lori made breakfast for her mother, and her mother never mentioned going to South Dakota again.
Lori's note to herself: Dementia proofing the house. "Time to hide the car keys!" People with dementia can get lost in their own homes, and the problems are exemplified when they leave a familiar environment and get lost far away from home. Driving without a license is not only illegal, but unsafe for the community. Having someone driving up a one way the wrong way, or pressing the gas instead of the brake can also lead to horrific consequences. The main lesson Lori learned from being awakened at 4:30AM and seeing her mother packing up the house, was to prepare for the worse, and to expect the best. Hiding the car keys would be a good start followed by a visit to the Alzheimers Association's website and getting a home safety packet. www.alz.org/stl/documents/Safety_Packet.pdf
With patience, planning and loving communication it is always possible to continue creating happy memories with aging loved ones challenged with dementia, even if they fantasize about driving 3,000 miles away from home without a driver's license to visit a family member who has been deceased for 30 years! Lori honored her mother's reality and then, by becoming present with her mother's needs, she was able to shift her mother's focus to constructive and safe action.
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