Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nifty Christmas Gifts for my Alzheimer's Mom

My mom received some really lovely Christmas gifts this year that other dementia patients might appreciate, so I'll share them here.

Mom loves her dementia digital clock (right).  I was concerned that she might not be able to read the date, which is relatively small, but the contrast between the numerals and background is good and the clock is well lit, so she has no problem. The dementia day clock (left) eliminates a.m./p.m. confusion.  It may be coincidental but since Mom received her day clocks, she hasn't called me at 2 a.m. to ask what time it is! 

We of course did not use the term "dementia" to describe her new gifts for her.  I said, "These are for people who are retired and no longer have set schedules, to help them keep track of their days." 

A cozy cardigan and a soft lap robe. 

Mom has always loved cardinals--she calls them red birds.  Our daughter-in-law found incredibly soft flannel sporting Mom's favorite feathered friends, and tied a lap robe for her.  Mom loves it--she keeps exclaiming, "This is so soft!".  The lap robe has the added benefit of being especially warm, so I can lower the thermostat in her room to a level that keeps me from gasping for air as I go about caregiving chores. The red cardigan we gave her just happened to coordinate with her new lap robe so she looks as cheerful as she feels. 

Some Alzheimer patients might be offended by children's picture books, but not my mother.  She loves her "My First Little House" books, and reads them aloud as for an audience. 

Another favorite gift is the hymn songbook and c.d. gifted by our daughter and son-in-law.  The songs go a bit fast for her but Mom doesn't care.  She often has the book open to a different hymn than the one playing on the c.d., and sings her own tune quite happily.  I tried turning the c.d. off because the dissonance bothered me, but Mom objected.  "Why'd you turn off my music?  I'm singing with it!" she said. If she's happy I can put up with two unrelated joyful noises being raised together!

We are settling in for a cozy January here in Kansas thanks in part to these items that, for now, have raised Mom's contentment level. Happy New Year from our home to yours. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014


A few months ago my daughter and I volunteered to teach the first through third grade Sunday school class at our local church. I was ambivalent about this new job assignment because caregiving duties for my mom can only be expected to increase, but my grandson is in the class and no other teachers volunteered. And so we took up residence in a tiny room scarcely large enough to accommodate a half dozen pupils and two teachers.

Our classroom's single table became cramped as attendance increased, and a week ago we realized that if there were no absentees in any given week, we would have more students than chairs or table space.  We discussed finding another small table and finally agreed that I should bring a card table.  But I didn't do it.  My card table was just too big for the allotted space.

When I walked into our classroom this morning, there sat a new little table, the perfect height and size. "Did you arrange to have this table put here?" I asked my daughter.  But she had not mentioned the need to anyone, nor had I.  We learned later that refreshments had been served from that little table at a function earlier in the week. Someone had pushed it into our classroom to get it out of the hallway and then apparently had forgotten it. We remembered to thank the Lord for providing for us and I was aware this was an affirmation that despite my stressful caregiving schedule, teaching Sunday School is something the Lord wants me to do.

Awhile later, I rummaged through a cupboard looking for additional Bibles for our classroom. I found a worn children's Bible, flipped open the cover, and was startled to see an inscription in my own handwriting. I stared at the date--December, 1982--exactly 32 years ago.  In that moment as my 60-year-old self stared at an inscription I'd written as a 28-year-old Sunday school teacher, my past juxtaposed with my present, and I saw that God has woven a theme of ministry to children throughout the fabric of my life.  For just an instant it was as though I was freed of my usual myopic fixation on the present moment and was enabled to share the Lord's perspective. I was reminded that He sees the whole of my life from birth to final breath, and is sovereign over all. 

Taking care of someone who has Alzheimer's disease can wreak havoc with hope. It is easy to focus upon my own fear, and difficult to avoid projecting possible future outcomes based on my present, limited perspective.  Today a new table and an old Bible reminded me that God knows exactly where we are on our individual timelines.  He sees our lives from beginning to end, and is present with us at every juncture. Nothing takes him by surprise--and He has made provision for us every step of the way.  It is safe to place our eyes firmly on a God such as this. It is safe to hope in Him, even in the midst of a journey through Alzheimer's. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Like a Dorm Room (Only Quieter)

My mother is in the tenth year since her Alzheimer's diagnosis, has the beginnings of macular degeneration, and is 90 years old. It is amazing that she manages to navigate her little apartment as well as she does. But recently, despite the nightlights in her bedroom, she has seemed disoriented as she's maneuvered her way from the bathroom back to her bed during the night, even though it is only a dozen steps away.

Taking care of someone whose condition is deteriorating requires the ability to adapt to increasing levels of need. I admit that flexibility is not my long suit, but there is another factor at work that sometimes causes me to ignore signs of Mom's diminishing abilities; I don't want to admit she is failing. Despite all I know about Alzheimer's disease, I have an emotional reluctance to recognize signs of Mom's physical and cognitive decline. 

When Mom began to complain of having trouble finding her way, her room conditions were exactly the same as they've been for the past ten years. There were two nightlights in her bedroom along with three nightlights in the living area.  Nothing had changed but her ability to function in her environment, which I was slow to admit. Thus, I essentially allowed my poor mother to stumble around in the dark for a few weeks before I gave careful thought and prayer to how her environment might be adjusted, not only to ease her confusion but also to decrease her risk of a fall. 

I'm pleased with our solution to this problem. Earlier this week I ran a strand of white Christmas lights behind Mom's two dressers, gathered the extra length into a clear storage box (being careful not to bend or put pressure on the wires) and pushed the box underneath Mom's bed. The result is a soft glow that outlines the shape of her bed clearly, but when she is in bed the light is behind her and she is not bothered at all.  In fact, she's been calmer and has seemed to feel more secure; last night she said, "It is so cozy in here."  And indeed, her softly lit quarters now boast a sort of dorm room ambiance.

Most of us struggle with a period of denial when loved ones lose the ability to function as they once did. Throughout the course of a an illness, the caregiver/patient relationship has to be renegotiated as the care recipient's needs increase. As we stand on the threshold of the final stretch of Mom's Alzheimer journey, I pray for wisdom to understand and grace to respond quickly to her increasing needs.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

God Has a Plan

I've blogged for a long time, about ten years now. Once in awhile--not often--I've been surprised by sweetness of friendship with someone I've met only through blogging and subsequent emails.  This happened for me recently when a series of coincidences between my life and that of a precious new blogger friend occurred, connections that seemed to shout "Here is a heart friend for you; one connected by His very hand for comradeship on your earth-walk and as a fellow child of God throughout eternity!"

News came this week via this dear new friend of an incomprehensible sorrow.  I'm not going to repeat the details here because the story is not mine to share, but even if you (like me) avoid reading newspapers you have not been able to avoid reports of similar grievous events that just make no sense to us.

I'm not going to spend time postulating reasons that bad things happen, I only want to share the phrase that came strongly to me as I began to pray for the family impacted by this sorrow: God has a plan.

How can I convey in mere words the overwhelming sense of comfort and rightness that came with this knowing: our Lord saw this event ahead of time and has planned for it since the beginning of the world. He has a plan for each precious life impacted by this sorrow. Things aren't going to be merely "all right;" they will be surrounded by His presence, shaped by His love, and in the end actually blessed not only despite this terrible grief but even through it.

No, I don't mean to tell someone who has lost a loved one that everything will work out and they'll even be blessed by this loss. This is so trite as to be untrue; our lives are incredibly precious and the Lord Himself wept when his friend, Lazarus, died. But we serve a God who possesses resurrection power, and He does not hesitate to use this power on behalf of His grieving children.  He disarms the enemy, provides healing balm for broken hearts, and is able to transform the saddest of circumstances into vehicles for His love to flow.

At the moment of a devastating diagnosis, a tragic event, or any other heartache that can come to us, God is present with us, and He has a plan.  We may not be able to see it when we are blinded by grief, but we can trust in the love of our God and know that He is going to see us through according to the beauty of His perfect power over every circumstance of our lives.  I've seen this in my mother's life; even a ten year trek through Alzheimer's disease is no match for our Lord. I have seen blessing upon blessing come to our lives not only despite Mom's Alzheimer's, but through it.  How like our hero, the Lord Jesus Christ, to use the enemy's ploys as stepping stones to victory!

We can trust our Lord's perfect love and His sovereignty over every circumstance of our lives. I'm praying the peace of this knowledge for people who are hurting today.  May our Lord meet your every need and provide you the comfort of His strengthening and healing love.