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I was reading over in DK4 when I came across this this diary on having a parent with dementia.  This brought back not-so-fond memories of my own mother's slide into oblivion as we all battled her Alzheimer's, and the following tale bubbled to the surface.

My mom had Alzheimer's.  It came on her slowly at first, and for a while it was like watching Ronald Reagan give a press conference: you knew something wasn't quite right but no one said anything and just pretended it wasn't what they knew it was.  Her husband took great care of her, but as time passed it became harder and harder for him to handle her outbursts of rage and confusion.  Still, he loved her and took great care to keep her happy and safe.

Then the day came when he had a massive stroke, and from that day forward, no matter how hard we worked to get him back on his feet, he was immobilized, trapped in a body that wouldn't respond.  Because he needed special care and a feeding tube he had to go to a nursing home for the rest of his life.  It was a sad time for all of us, but it was a nightmare as far as my mother was concerned.

In the six months or so prior to her husband's stroke, my mother's Alzheimer's really took hold and the symptoms accelerated quickly.  She lost the most of her ability to speak coherently, the periods of lucidity getting shorter and farther apart.  She was aggressive, both verbally and physically.  And then there was the paranoia.  Her Alzheimer's was encapsulated by paranoia, and everything she tried to say and do was filtered through it.  Then her husband's stroke came and everything was thrown into a crazy blender and whirled around freely.

I tried to care for her myself while also taking care of my step-father and keep things moving for him in hopes of a recovery that would never come.  My mother was scared and angry, and she took that out on me.  She was jealous of me, having lost the ability to view me as a daughter, so now I was a rival, someone trying to steal what was rightfully hers.  

After two weeks it became clear that she wasn't going to let me care for her, so I hired a group of women to come sit with her day and night and care for her needs and I came in nearly every day to make sure she was okay and had everything she wanted and needed.  I tried desperately to keep her at home thinking that if I had to give in and put her somewhere she would surely lose ground.  Her paranoia, always a problem, was in full swing now, and she was convinced that I was trying to steal her stuff.  She would follow me around mumbling, snatching up random objects and moving them to a different location to "hide' them.  She became fixated on the van that was in the garage and wouldn't let anyone touch it unless she was in it.  She would repeatedly open the door that connected the house to the garage and would look out to make sure that van was there, then lock the door, only to repeat the action five minutes later.  It kept her busy and hurt nothing, so I let it go.

Somewhere around a month into this new routine I had my two grown sons come to her house and do some maintenance on the house.  They repaired a soffit, fixed a leaky sink, things like that.  She'd always adored my boys, and she still seemed to even though she couldn't for the life of her pull their names out of her broken memory.  All was going well until my youngest son went to her and asked for the keys to the van so they could go get lumber that wouldn't fit in his car.  I'd forgotten to warn him about her fixation.  The shit hit the proverbial fan.

She grabbed him by the shirt, shook him with as much violence as she could muster (and she was quite strong and very violent) and babbled incoherently in his face.  She was mad as a wet hen.  He tried to calm her down and that just made her more angry, leading her to flog him with her purse, a common weapon she deployed often.  She was really giving him what for.  He was finally able to disengage himself, but not without having his shirt torn, and he went outside to put in an emergency call to me.  So off I went to try to calm down this woman who had suddenly decided I was the enemy, evil incarnate.

When I got there she was still raging and rambling.  Most of what she said was just gibberish, but through the gibberish came a few phrases that clearly told me where we stood in relation to the van.  

"I hid it, you'll NEVER FIND IT!"

"YOU CAN"T STEAL IT NOW!"

"HE'S MINE!"

"You people CAN'T STEAL IT!"

You get the picture.  What she was saying was that she'd hidden the keys to the van and we'd never find them.  

My sons watched all this with amazement and profound sadness.  They loved their grandmother and wanted to help her, but they finally saw what we were up against.  They worried that not only was she not safe, but that no one else around her would be.  It was a valid worry, one I had myself.

For the next year I fought to keep her at home and we did pretty well.  She continued to go to the door and look out at the van, but now instead of being angry she'd chuckle softly and make whispered babblings to herself.  And of course I couldn't find the keys.  I looked a several times when she was occupied, but they were indeed well hidden, and so I just let it go.  There was a certain comfort for me that she had a secret that made her happy.  Everyone needs something for themselves and she had hers, however twisted it might be.

She continued to spiral down into a place where no one could find her, popping out in random episodes to physically attack me for some slight only she could understand, then suddenly throw her arms around me and laugh as though she'd just been waiting for me to appear so she could shower me with love.  She'd always been a difficult woman, a difficult mother to have, but nothing that came before could prepare me for what was in front of me now.  But I pressed on.  The lawyer that my sister and I hired to help us through the maze of legal issues that arose in taking care of two people who couldn't take care of themselves kept urging me to put her in a nursing home, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it, not as long as she was relatively comfortable in the one place she recognized as home.  The little ladies I'd hired took very good care of her and although the calls for me to come help deal with her were coming faster and faster, we were still doing okay.  Nevertheless, I'd done my research on where to find the best facility for when the day came when we could no longer manage what we were doing.  I found a place that had a specialized Alzheimer's unit and a great track record for keeping their clientsm safe and comfortable.  And I bided my time, thinking we'd know when the time came.

That time came with a bang and not a whimper.

I got a call one morning from the "day lady," who was very distraught.  She told me that when she'd arrived that morning my mother had started to mumble about the "night lady," a lovely little woman who was gentle and kind and just about the best person you could hope for to have care for someone you love.  At first the day lady couldn't figure out what my mother was mumbling about, but as the day progressed she came to realize that my mother thought the night woman was plotting to steal (you guessed it) the van, and my mother was planning to kill her before she could do it.  My mother had spent the morning not just mumbling, but arranging her weapons to do the deed.  She'd piled her weapons on the kitchen counter: a cast iron skillet, a butcher knife, a paring knife and her purse, always her go-to weapon of choice.  This was not a threat that could be ignored.

So off I went to dismiss the poor night lady, giving her a month's pay and a glowing written recommendation to use in finding another position.  The facility I'd found was contacted and arrangements were made to take her there in two days.  I knew she would fight me, so I gathered all the people she still seemed to remember, her two older brothers, my dad and me, and we told her that the time had come for her to try living somewhere really nice and safe.  She was mad, of course, and I again got a good purse flogging, but in the end she went there without too much drama and settled in far better than I'd anticipated.

Now the lawyer advised us that we should sell the house and all its contents and put that in the trust we'd made for her care.  And of course the issue of the missing van keys was once again at the fore.  We went about the task of sorting through all of the belongings, cataloging which were to be sold and which would be kept as family keepsakes.  We scheduled a date and time for the sale.  And still no van keys appeared.  So I had a locksmith make me a set of keys.  It cost me about $80, and I took it out of my pocket so that it wouldn't come out of money meant for her and her husband.

Two days before the sale I found myself going through a large pile of old purses she'd had stored under her bed.  My mother had quite a pile of cheap purses, over 100 in all, and I was going through them to make sure there wasn't anything of importance in them, like money or jewelry or something.  They were all empty except one.

Inside a large purse I found another purse which held another smaller purse which held another smaller purse which held another smaller purse which held another smaller purse which held another smaller purse which held another smaller purse which held a change purse which held a smaller change purse.  Ten purses in all, stuffed one inside the other like a particularly large set of Russian nesting dolls.

And there, hidden in a hole she'd torn in the lining of that last change purse, were the keys to the van.

Originally posted to Got a Grip on Sat Jan 22, 2011 at 11:22 AM PST.

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