Dementia Diary — 2

Clogged Toilets, Denture Battles and a Deck of Cards

Raising four kids equips a person for going toe-to-toe with the fiercely irrational toddler and I thought this skill would be completely transferable to coping with the untenable stubbornness of a dementia patient. Not so.

The toddler usually has a method to his madness and in some fundamental way, the toddler is right to try to win a battle of wills and to try to do things that he is not yet capable of doing. This is how he learns. This is how he eventually takes possession of himself. Moms and dads know this and give the toddler a little slack.

With dementia, the panorama of skills lost and skills intact is both uneven and unstable, so that one cannot afford to guess. When she says she can stand up….maybe she can, maybe she can’t. When she acts as though she has heard me….maybe she has, maybe she has not. Bathroom trips are arduous for both of us. It involves heavy lifting and she is at her physical limits throughout. These take 20–30 minutes each time. I repeat things many times. I point to trash cans and point to hygiene products and explain what our septic tank cannot handle. I do not take my eyes off her. Yet, somehow, someway something got into that ceramic bowl which did not belong there. My long suffering husband is looking for a plumber on a Sunday as I type this.

On the other hand, she told me curtly when she moved in 5 days ago that she did NOT need the Depends. Well, she has been using Depends for over a year. So I ignored her brusque broadcast that first day. I ignored it the second day. But, doggonit she was absolutely right. By her third day here, I stopped the use of Depends and she has not had any accidents whatsoever….nor even come close. She was right and I am chastened. It is so important to listen to her, I learned. Dementia is a full frontal assault on her dignity and if that can be preserved for a while longer, it is a good good thing.

When it comes to her full dentures, I have to argue with her every night. She does not want to take them out. A problem with her lower gums makes it imperative that they come out nightly for cleansing and soaking but she is intransigent on this point. Dentures cannot be removed from the unwilling mouth, I learned. She only agrees to remove them when I promise her that I will take mine out, too. I do not wear dentures, but she doesn’t seem to grasp this. My teenage sons laugh out loud at this nightly ritual.


Back to the odd mix of skills lost/skills intact — my 14 year old found a deck of cards and asked Myrtle to pay a game of War. “Don’t worry mom, I’ll let Grandmom win,” he said to me, magnanimously. Not only did Myrtle stay fully engaged through the entire game, she caught him making a mistake twice and she completely demolished him. Not kidding. She can still play cards but after the card game, when I walked her wheelchair up the hill of my long driveway (in NJ), she pointed into the woods at a dense grouping of pine trees and oddly enough she “saw” the house she grew up in. “Oh, there’s my old home on Umbria Street,” she reports, sharply. (She grew up in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, which is many miles away.)

“That’s wonderful, mom!” I replied, peeking under her sun hat to see her face. 
Her eyes were closed but a smile remained there….

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