|Mom's window, her personal source of light therapy. The furry lump curled in the dry sink is Kitty, who provides pet therapy.|
|Our house. Mom's addition is on the right, with its own entrance and wheelchair accessible ramp.|
And so, on the few occasions someone has approached me for advice about how to build a "mother-in-law addition," I have recommended southern exposure and a large window. Light therapy is one of the experimental treatments for preventing "sundowning" in Alzheimer's patients. I am convinced that this abundance of light is one of the reasons Mom has done so well.
In the 1920's, my grandparents built a "granny house" for my grandfather's mother. It was a little square building that sat about 20 feet from the main house. I often think of how similar my mother's situation is to her grandmother's, albeit with a few more amenities. Mom's living quarters are separate from the rest of the house, and so we have our privacy and yet are close by. She rarely comes into our part of the house, mostly because she is so much more comfortable in familiar surroundings, but also because we have cultivated the feeling that she is in her own apartment. She has trouble remembering who lives in "the other part," as she calls it, and has learned that we respond to her as though she were Goldilocks checking out someone else's accomodations if she wanders into our part without our knocking first.
Other factors that I believe have helped Mom to maintain her level of functioning for the past six years:
- Prescription Medication: Aricept, Namenda, and an antidepressant
- OTC supplements: Fish oil, a decongestant, and a multivitamin
- Music, most often the "easy listening" channel on DISH TV, but sometimes Christian music or jazz.
- Books--favorites include the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and, always, her Bible.
- Spiral notebooks and an abundant supply of pens.
- A refrigerator full of diet coke and a carafe full of coffee; caffeine has been shown to improve cognitive function
- Her own furnishings and photos surround her, most of which pre-date her Alzheimer's by many years so that she remembers them and is comforted
- A pet that provides companionship
- Frequent visits from great grandson Daniel, age 2
- My husband and I are in and out an average of 6 times a day with meals and/or meds
- Friend and respite caregiver Sandy visits twice a week
- Handicapped accessible shower and grab bars in the bathroom add to safety and convenience when I bathe Mom or when she uses the bathroom
Our solution would certainly not be right for everyone. Mom does not wander, has never been combative; and although she sometimes discusses my negative personality characteristics with the cat, she is rarely openly rude. She is still cognizant enough of what we do for her to speak words of gratitude. This set of characteristics makes her somewhat rare, as far as Alzheimer patients go. But I like to think that at least a portion of her easygoing ways has to do with the fact that she feels content and secure.
Any decision that impacts a loved one's living situation must be surrounded with careful thought and much prayer. Every situation is unique. If you are struggling to find solutions for a loved one who has dementia, my prayers are with you.