Nancy’s Super Visit

Lynne’s friend Nancy knows how to give Lynne a visit. Here’s Nancy’s report.

Lynne had a tour with me, Nancy, in Kathy’s beautiful Porsche Tuesday! We hung out a while at aegis on her floor and then fed Lynne her dinner. R., one of the second-floor caregivers, was amazing, super responsive, and helpful. They opened her apartment and brought the dinner to us so we could eat in private. We had a good conversation.

Then Lynne wanted to skip dessert and blow the joint. We found the hat by the bed and put her coat on her, got her down, and checked her out. We walked up the driveway into the sun when the cold breeze hit. Lynne complained it was cold, but there was Kathy’s beautiful ride and Lynne decided maybe she’d check it out. Then somehow, with me on one side and Kathy on the other, we got her down to the low sling of the bucket seat. I jumped in back and Kathy drove us around to Madison Park and through the Arboretum until Lynne told us she was ready to go home. We returned her and took her up to her room to get her settled in. We were both rewarded with big hugs for our efforts. Getting her into the car was a near miracle!

Kathy said, “Nancy’s persistence paid off!”

Nancy shrugged it off. “Having a good laugh about it all. It’s a team effort. When everyone believes it can happen.”

Kathy said, “What a wonderful way to spend the afternoon with our friend!”  

Lynne’s Sense of Self

When my mother was in the end stage of Alzheimer’s I believed she was blissfully unafraid behind a veil of ignorance about her disease. She had anosognosia, a symptom of not knowing she had a disease, which is different from denial. Lynne and I had hoped she would have the bliss of ignorance. Yet Lynne has had sixty days of Hospice care during which she has lost weight and trouble chewing food. She is aware she has limitations.

She has a strong sense of self relentlessly driving her behavior with meaning.  She knows she is a sapient body in space with words like “I’, or “me,” or pushing Dad away. The downside is she wants to get her body home. She gets depressed, anxious, lonely.

She also values her virtues as a mother, educator, daughter, sister, colleague. She wields a slightly smug smile when I read her notes from a grade-school teacher, Lynne’s co-teachers, fellow recruiters, neighbors, and fellow graduate students. She glows when she sees her boys, together, towering over her, coming to care for her week after week.  She responds to social communion with others who give her dignity, her worth as a person, valued, included, and not ignored. She feels pride when people compliment her on the streaks of gold in her healthy hair. She shows concerns about residents and embraces caregivers. Friends validate what she is feeling by amazingly walking her through Volunteer Park to eat a donut and people-watch at a market.

Lynne does not have my mother’s ignorance of bliss from Alzheimer’s. She has awareness for which she pays a price. In return she has meaning, dignity, and love confirmed and sustained by those who cherish her.

I hope I would have her valor and similar caregivers to sustain me.

Better Environments Help Lynne

Two friends and I made inexpensive and simple changes in her environment that enriched the life experience of Lynne, my daughter with Alzheimer’s. They enriched me as a caregiver.

Dad arrived. Staff had propped open her apartment so Lynne could walk in and out. One of the residents was chanting loudly repeating a guttural sound in the dining room. His rants have bothered Lynne for months. Lynne was in the hallway past the dining room, bent over, hands on her knees, sobbing. She reached for me and hugged me. I put on her headphones as we headed to the lobby where we could walk through the dining area.  

In the lobby she saw a staff member working in a room where I tried to guide Lynne. She resisted. No, I can’t go in there.

Lynne, it’s OK.

No.  In her room. It’s not going to work.

She thrilled me. The change in meds seemed to make her more alert. We walked toward large leather armchairs where I pulled one in front of the other because her eyesight is limited to tunnel vision in front of her. I sat down. She eventually sat down on the other, face to face. She scanned the lobby, quiet with few people. She watched the cars, buses, and pedestrians. Her blue eyes landed on my eyes, then continues to scan more. She points at a 95-year-old resident with her walker. She’s a really ni … Lynne scooted her chair toward me. I scooted my chair closer, and her eyes brightened up a little bit, with part of a smile. The rapid improvements in her mood came from the change from the environment on her floor compared to the lobby without having to medicate her.

I watch every move as closely as I watched her as an infant, loving her as deeply as I did then, and intrigued by the mysteries going on inside her. Her body twitches slightly in her chest and arms. Her hands have mild tremors. She crosses and uncrosses her legs. Her lips are turned down like the sides of a steep hilltop

I repeated tunes in her headset four or five times if she was tracking the lyrics or the beat. She was thinking about something all the time with a running soliloquy that I did not interrupt. Oh. That’s right. Where? Wow. I remember that. Oh nice. OK. The walk more. (Whispered) I don’t want the …. There’s going to be a big riot, or a fire. Yeah.  I need to go up. There. (she pointed with her finger and stood up.)  Yeah, I think so.

She joined a conversation of two staff members in a standup meeting. When they thanked each other, Lynne said, Yeah, thank you.

I talked with several staff about the problems with furniture in the hallways on her floor because she cannot sit and rest, so she bends over and puts her hand on her knees to relieve the pain. The chairs are too small for her. She is afraid to sit down in them because she has fallen several times when she tried. She tenses strongly when two people assist her into a chair. I have given up trying to get her in my car.

Staff has opened her apartment door to at least let her sit on the bed. I re-arranged her room where she has a big armchair at the end of her bed with blankets and pillows on it. I pushed the armchair to the wall and useda black table chair for the blankets. Now Lynne has an open door to a refuge with a comfy arm chair. I urged a couple of staff to get a sofas or large armchairs in the hallways for resident rest stops. I asked staff on the second floor to check with the concierge if Lynne could wander alone safely in the lobby with healthier residents. She walks out of sight into the nooks and crannies on the second floor.

I am immensely pleased I had the time and the ideas to give her a little better life. I feel more meaningful.

And then I get a call from Nancy today. She and a friend took Lynne outside this afternoon for a fantastic time compared to the sedate visit I had with her. Wait until you read Nancy’s post on this blog about the fun Lynne had in their car, Volunteer Park, a donut shop and the Broadway market. Lynne reportedly commented on the young hunks strolling by compared to obsterorous octogenarians she’s running from. I was humbled and thrilled to hear the excitement from Nancy’s voice.

Visits are Meaningful

Visits witih Lynne can be hard when we see her less vivacious than our cherished memories of her. Understandably people are afraid to visit, including me, when I don’t have a way to cheer her up, so it’s easy avoid it. And yet her condition nags at us because we love her. I have learned that my times, or family times, or friends times, are always meaningful for the visitors, and almost always meaningful for her. They are meaningful for me and others because we tried to give Lynne a better time than she would have had without our visits. Below are stories of simple visits that demonstrate visits are almost always meaningful for her. Lynne told one of her friends told her to go away, so she did, and came back the next day to share a cheerful visit. Imagine how meaningful it was for Lynne’s friend to have the courage to immediately visit again when Lynne was glad to see her.

The good news is Lynne is more responsive and walking more upright since we changed her medications. Last Sunday friend, Lynn, sent me a message. I helped Lynne eat lunch and gave her a cinnamon roll which she ate as we walked outside. We laughed quite a bit and complemented each other on excellent hairdos. She was in good spirits. Obviously friend Lynn was in good spirits about her visit.

Her boys and Pam, my other daughter, saw improvements for an hour-and-a-half lately. She pointed at me and told them. That’s my dad. She pronounced the title on a poster:  Mardi Gras. We sat in the lobby and talked. I called out a to resident close by,  Hello. How many boys do you have? Lynne answered immediately, Five. I have rarely seen visitors with her. She sits with other residents in the lobby. They tell Lynne, You’re lucky. Your dad comes to visit you.  I know those statements make her happy. They make me feel more meaningful.

Today when I met Lynne she was sobbing, tears flowed down her cheeks. She wrapped her arms around me, saying, She took it all. She took everything.

Really? Everything?

Yes, everything.

I pulled back and looked her in the eyes. Hon, I was just in your room. She didn’t take it all. It’s all there.

It is? Well OK. I lifted her mood and made me feel meaningful. I put on her headphones and backpack to hear the Sister’s Music list from her sister Pam. Lynne gazed up and nodded her head. She mouthed some words. Her body slightly swayed to the music. I was glad I brought the headphones and Pam sent a list. It kept her mood mellow. Pam and I both feel more meaningful about her music. I am grateful for Pam’s care.

I walked beside her, slipped my hand under hers and left it open. Sometimes she moved her hand away. Sometimes she let our hands touch. Sometimes she grabbed my finger, three fingers, the whole hand. Sometimes a grip. Sometimes gentle. It made her more connected, secure, stable. I felt more meaningful. I steered her up to the 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd floors and the lobby. She studied photos revolving across television screens on every floor. She often turned to smile at me. We were both getting some exercise. I felt more meaningful. I waved to her when I left her floor before lunch. I felt I improved her feelings for a little while. I felt more meaningful. Don’t let fear keep her from giving her a more meaningful journey.

Friends Can Care More

Nancy and Lynne in Sunshine

Nancy and Lynn, friends of Lynne’s, sent me this message. “We took her over to the Capitol Hill farmers market (which she always loved) and enjoyed some spicy street food, hot Chai tea, and a Valentine’s cookie while we sat out in the sun in the park. She enjoyed the sun on her face and watching the dogs playing. She kept pointing, “Look at that one.” and so on as we sat there together.

“She was very verbal again and stringing a few broken phrases together. Her body awareness continues to be a challenge, sitting down is harder now. She was happy and talkative.”

I responded, “Nancy that sounds tremendous. It’s a far better day than I’ve been able to give her for months. What jewels you two people are. I hope you can appreciate how much joy I got out of this message.”

Lynne Can Have Visitors

Lynne’s Aegis community is open fully for you to visit or take her out. A gentle reminder that all visitors will be required to show proof of receiving a COVID booster prior to entering and masks must be worn at all times please.

Lynne loved the sun on her face and closed her eyes for the sweet dreams she was having on Sunday when her brother and sister-in-law took her for a walk outside, after a long wait.

Updates Under Hospice Care

Lynne and an oncoming hug

Lynne’s bumpy trip through her first week in Hospice and Palliative care led to adjustments made by the work of her new nurse in consultation with her entire medical team, caregivers, and me. I had become concerned by the declines Lynne showed that week. Lynne was minimally responsive on a sofa in front of the fireplace as she concentrated on the music in her headphones. Lynne walked leaning to the side and backwards with a very stiff back. She fell onto floor near a chair, but no harm. She sat with her head looking up at the ceiling in a rigid position at an ice cream social where I spoon feed her. One morning she had returned to bed with one leg hanging over the side and kept dozing off as I stayed briefly. The floor med tech decided she was in a lot of pain from walking and leaning backward one day, so gave her morphine, which scared me.  Yesterday morning when the floor manager observed after being gone for a week, she said, “This is not Lynne.”

The new nurse calmed me down. I was worried at what I saw in comparison to my unrealistic hope she would show immediate improvement. I felt derelict as caregiver because I did not get accurate information from the beginning. I am pleased with nurse’s response and expect I’ll be updated on her care.

I contacted her new nurse yesterday and passed on my experience and what I had picked up. She called back after supper with her report. She had seen Lynne one-half-to-an-hour after the of morphine, which is during the peak time for its effect on the resident. It was a very low dose and Lynne was fine at that time. She informed me about Lynne’s new prescription of Tramadol twice a day and cut-in-half her Seroquel dosage at bedtime. She also clarified misunderstandings I had from incomplete  information in my talks with staff

Yesterday morning she stood rigid listening to the music director lead us in floor exercises. She sang lyrics with from Love is a Butterfly. Lynne enjoyed watching the musical director and me as I led us in stumble dances through two-steps, tango, and east coast swing under the direction of a resident trained as a dance instructor. We can still have active fun.

Hospice & Palliative Care

On Tuesday, January 18, our family enrolled Lynne in Hospice and Palliative Care with Continuum Care of Washington. The goal of palliative care is to help manage Lynne’s pain and reduce the side effects of medication required for her treatment. The goal of Hospice care is to treat Lynne as a whole and manage her symptoms rather than treating Alzheimer’s. Continuum will provide resources for medication management, skilled nursing care, medical supplies and equipment, and spiritual and emotional support. Continuum was recommended to us by the Aegis medical director based on their relationship with Continuum Care for current and former residents.

Lynne will remain in her apartment at Aegis receiving its current hospitality services with the added support from Continuum services already provided to current residents. A Hospice nurse will visit her once a week and a home-care-aide two times per week under the direction of a new primary care physician and liaisons who can assist us when we need more help.  The Hospice nurse and home-health aide know Lynne and are excited to care for her, so Lynne should welcome the continuity in her new plan.

Continuum responded effectively and thoroughly since late last week to complete approvals and assign staff on Tuesday. We are pleased with the extra care Lynne will receive in her current stage and her new team. Continuum prepared a 90-treatment plan based on their current examination and will follow up with a second 90-day care plan, followed by successive 60-day plans.

Continuum accepted her for care because of concern for her weight loss, frequent wide emotional swings, and two epileptic seizures last summer. Continuum hopes their additional services could reverse her weight loss and stabilize her moods to permit taking her off Palliative and Hospice Care. Aegis staff confirmed other residents have been taken off. If Lynne is removed from Continuum Care, it would only be temporary because she is in the last stage of Alzheimer’s.

Lynne’s brother, sister and her boys support the extra services she will receive. Lynne continues to welcome phone calls and cards, and visits when we return to post Covid restrictions.

Gems of Joy

Today’s post is from a longtime friend of Karen’s and mine who shared with me after my post about shifting my care during frequent mood changes (1/5/21 Shifting with Her Moods). Her sharing from her experience helped me, and I thought would be helpful for readers..

“ I read your Facebook post on shifting moods and it took me back to the 3-4 years we spent with my mother-in-law who had advancing dementia.  I’d like to share with you some of my ‘learnings’ during that time—some from reading, some from learning from my communication mistakes.  I hope they can help you realize that you are doing the best you can under constantly changing circumstances.

“I found that I had to give up my ‘teacher and reality orienting’ roles that I thought were so helpful.  I read an article that reminded me of what I knew worked so well with children: meet them where they are, go into their world and let them lead you.  I thought of that when Lynne said, “I hate this place.”  Letting her know that “I hear you,” or “This is hard, painful,” or something to that effect helps validate what her reality is for that moment–she’d rather not be there.

she went through multiple moods with tears, pushing me away, shouting at me, then smiling, focused, following me in and out of her apartment.  “My MIL’s mood swings were a challenge for me—until I realized that I was taking them personally, thinking there was something I could do to make them better.  My presence was my gift to her, whether her mood was positive or negative—I tried to be a sponge and just absorb and accept and witness them.  It helped me that I knew she would quickly change, and, better yet, would not remember or “accumulate” these unhappy moments as memories.

I had not helped her.” I cannot fathom how painful it must be as a parent to be unable to take away my child’s pain, the one thing (after unconditional love) that we see as our role.  But then I reviewed your description of your time with her.  You gave her nourishment when she couldn’t do it herself, you danced and laughed with her when she felt like it, you accepted her following you in and out of her apartment— all with love and acceptance of the moment.  It all helps—but those times cannot be exchanged like green stamps (if you remember them) to lessen those painful times for her.  I will pray for more joyful times than painful ones, more movement and engagement than withdrawal — perhaps that is all that can be hoped for.  Gems of joy to be gathered and returned to when times are tough.”

Shifting With Her Moods

Happy at 6:00 pm

At dinner Monday night Lynne was lackluster, listening to music on her headphones and verbalizing a few verses with her lips. She ignored her plate of gravy, beef, noodles and green beans, so I stabbed a bite of beef with a noodle which she let me put into her mouth. She let me feed her every bite. Staff gave both of us a slice of carrot cake for dessert with my own fork.

We walked to her apartment to watch TV, but after we watched repeated ads of Medicare Plan C, she said, “I can’t stand this,” and left the room. We laughed when we danced a little bit. We walked the halls as she went through multiple moods with tears, pushing me away, shouting at me, then smiling, focused, following me in and out of her apartment. She says, “I hate this place.” I tell her “Lynne you are safe here. Everyone loves you.”

Sad at 6:00pm

Finally, I turned her over to the nurse who said she had had a pretty good day, but she’d get her ready for bed. As I slipped out the door to the stairs, I heard her in the hallway sobbing and yelling, “What did I doooooo?”

That yell drove me to the edge of despair. What could I do? I had not helped her. I felt helpless. I expected and hoped she would switch moods again. And the nurse would help her, even sedate her. I closed the door and walked down the stairs. Her cry kept haunting me.

When I returned late that night, the caregivers said she had a pretty good night. They had the pack and headphones ready for me instead of having to look for them as we often do. With those readily available, them watching me feed her, offering me cake and my own fork, and now their assuring me they calmed her down, I felt like we were a team to give her care in this more depressing part of our journey. Her determination inspires us all