Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mother-In-Law Addition

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. 
One of the many serendipitous outcomes of our somewhat impulsive decision to have mom come to live with us is the fact that her apartment is flooded with spirit-lifting light.   I had seen a bay window our builder had done in another home, and asked him to recreate a similar window for Mom.  I was thinking only that Mom would enjoy looking out at the bird feeder, and didn't give much thought to the fact that the window would face to the south. The resulting brilliance sometimes causes me to have to stand and blink for a few moments while my eyes adjust to the abundance of light when I walk into my mother's room.

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
This has been a wonderful solution for us. If you are considering building a "granny house" of your own, feel free to contact me through the customer contact page at my web site.  I will email you with further details of how we made our plans for Mom with the advice of an elder law attorney, and although I won't advise you what you should do in your own situation, I will be happy to answer questions about our way of handling Mom's Alzheimer's disease. 

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.


  1. This is a very practical and helpful post. While we are not dealing with Alzheimer's at this point we are considering building a home with a Mother-in-law suite. It will be good for us to remember to build it with southern exposure!

    Actually, we may be crazy but we are thinking of having both of our Moms in apartments on either both sides or back to back on one side of the house. Both Mom and I have drawn up our own plan ideas. My husband hopes it is a few years down the road.

    Becky K.

  2. Isn't it wonderful how in the midst of this trial, God has provided and even blessed all of us. I love the peacefulness and beauty and light of grandma's apartment. Only the Lord could have planned that!

  3. Linda,

    Your home is so beautiful; almost exactly as I envisioned it when you spoke of it in the past. How wonderful that you are able to have such a perfect situation for your mother in the midst of such a horrible disease. I think a lot about remodeling our home to have my mom come home to live with us. I worry about it working out because my mom (although very sweet) is extremely talkative, always busy, and demanding of my attention almost non stop. She is in about stage 6 alz.; the disease has changed her so much.

    I am so happy for you that things are working so well right now and pray that it continues to. Your love for your mother is so sweet. Your blog is such a blessing to me.

    Jenny K

  4. Jenny, your comments are always encouraging. You've been a blessing to me.

    You spoke of your dear mom's need for communication and companionship. My mother is somewhat different in that she is able to be alone for several hours at a stretch and enjoys the solitude (with the company of her books and music). Although we are in and out many times daily, she often believes she hasn't seen anyone all day, but usually isn't disturbed by this. Your mom sounds somewhat different. At stage 6, it might be difficult for your mom to adjust to a new living situation with you without being in need of constant companionship.

    Best wishes and prayers to both Becky and Jenny as you make your plans for your moms.