Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesdays with Elders - Missing Signs

Image from graphicsfairy.blogspot.com
Sometimes we're so immersed in caring for one person, we overlook problems of another.  That's how it was in my situation. In technical, medical terms Ma was nucking futs. We all knew it. We knew she had dementia. She saw things that weren't there. Men sleeping in beds in the yard in the dead of winter, animals and people coming through cracks in the floorboards or through the fireplace, a couple building an apartment over the garage and stealing electricity from the neighbors.What we missed was what was happening to Dad.

He was befuddled, sometimes. Who wouldn't be? As primary care taker, he was the target for Ma's mood swings. If she pecked at him, he would get out of the house to get away from her. He'd walk to the store to buy a gallon of milk. An hour errand would turn into five or six hours out of the house. Or, he'd decide to go buy the milk at their favorite grocery story a 16 mile round trip. And yes, he walked there, but got a ride home from a stranger!

He had his own language for things and rarely used nouns with antecedents. Not so unusual for Italians. Get us in a group and we seem to have a psychic link.

"You'll never guess who I saw the other day."

"You're kidding."

"No, not him. The other one."

So it wasn't much of a surprise when Dad called to tell me Ma had taken his "people" and hidden it on him. In English, he meant his telephone directory. It made sense especially if the directory was missing and Ma was winding him up. Dad would call to tell me Ma was going through his things and had taken and hidden his...he'd struggle to find the word: my book, my people. When The Brother and I lived at home, Ma would go through our things on search missions to make sure we weren't up to no good. I'd just laugh and welcome Dad to the club.

Dad would tell the same stories over and over again. It didn't really bother me. I'd smile and nod in all the right places. I knew this was Dad's legacy to me, the oral tradition of family history. He told the stories so often, I thought the memories were mine. If he stumbled to remember a word, person, or situation, and I was impatient for him to wind things up, I could fill in the blanks for him.

Dad couldn't remember how to complete simple tasks. The Nephew gave Dad a television when Dad's tv bought the farm. Himself had to stop by the house on his way from work every day for two weeks to go over the instructions on how to turn on the television. We wrote the directions down. Either the papers went missing (with the people!) or he complained he couldn't see them. He had the same complaint when writing out checks at the grocery store. Not only couldn't he see very well, but he couldn't remember how to write out the date or the dollar amount in words. The cashiers knew Dad so they'd fill out the check for him. Dad would carry a $20 bill with him to make small purchases. He couldn't figure the amount of change coming back, but knew he should get change.

Dad complained to his doctor, how sometimes Dad felt like he was losing his mind. At 92, the doc just chalked it up to old age, but it was really more. The doc did prescribe Aricept, a drug used to treat Alzheimer's. The cost for a month's supply was $200.00, well out of Dad's budget and mine. I called the Veteran's Administration to see if Dad could get the prescription at a reduced rate of $8. No such luck at Aricept was not on the list and there was no generic substitute for it. There was also no guarantee the drug would work.

Check to make sure your Elder is not exhibiting signs of dementia or Alzheimer's (the most well known of the dementias) Look for

inability to perform routine tasks (cooking, bathing, dressing. If he's wearing a pajama top as a dress shirt, that should be a red flag.)
loss of vocabulary (not just forgetting someone's name once in a blue moon)
wandering especially at night.
inability to make simple decisions (we spent 20 min. in the pickle aisle debating the qualities of Dill pickles versus Polish Pickles)
inability to handle money (sending money to telemarketers, lotteries, scammers)
constantly misplacing things (wallet, watch, phone directory) and not being able to retrace steps
seeing people or animals that aren't there
finding lost or missing items in stupid places (eggs and heads of lettuce in the freezer, handicap parking  placard in a canister)
repeating stories or constantly asking the same question over and over.

I'm not a physician. I don't play one on television, either, but these are some of the things we learned the hard way.

Next week: Visiting Nurses and Other Services


  1. Okay, at first you had me chuckling, because we have that conversation in our house all the time (“not him, the other one….” We dubbed it ‘family shorthand’.) Then I remembered how sad it is to see your parents regress.

  2. It is always hoped that the kindness and understanding given to a child is returned to the parent when they need it the most. I wish you patience and grace for the care you give your elders. Any humour or love you get along the way is truly a bonus to be grateful for. Very insightful tales lately, thanks for sharing.