What is "Normal" in Old Age?

by Eloisa Ramos

Maria in the Alzheimers Stages of 5-6

Maria in the Alzheimers Stages of 5-6

Of all the Alzheimers stages, the first is the hardest to recognize. People forget things sometimes. It's "normal". My mother, Maria, would forget things. We, her children, figured it was just part of getting old. However, I have to admit that no red flags went up for any us, the time she microwaved her hearing aid! Looking back, I see that this was definitely a sign of Alzheimers.

After her husband Cruz died in late 1995, Maria, 75, lived by herself for 3-4 years. Four of her children lived in the same town, a few blocks away and visited frequently. She really did not like living alone, but she never told us.

What she did tell us was that she could not find her jewelry box and she believed someone had broken into her house and taken it. She is an honest woman and we believed her. We filed a police report. About six months later, she found the jewelry box stuffed in her closet.

Because she did not call us by our names, but often referred to us with the general terms of "hijo", son, or "hija", daughter, we didn't notice she was forgetting our names.

I remember something that did strike me as odd, though. She came to my house for dinner and needed to use the bathroom. She did not remember where it was! I remember thinking that was strange. But it wasn't until 2002 that we realized there was a real problem. We would visit and find the water running, or worse, the gas stove left turned on! She was given the diagnosis of Alzheimers at that time. But this was probably at the Alzheimers stages of 3 or 4.

The Alzheimers stages of 5-6 were very stressful. She liked to walk to the corner to get the mail. We noticed she was picking up other people's mail. She got herself lost once and wandered into the neighbor's house believing it was hers.

She lost the ability to tell time. One time my brother called her in the morning, to remind her it was Sunday, and that he would pick her up to take her to mass. She got herself ready, but then went outside to wait for him a hour before it was time. Fortunately, a neighbor recognized her, picked her up and took her to mass. But it scared my brother, of course, because he couldn't find her.

We then started taking turns living with her. She was afraid to go to bed alone and wondered when Cruz would come home. She would also ask for her mother and small children. I was able to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to clear the fear of going to bed alone for her. She was also worried about electrical cords or anything that had a little light on it. She thought it was cause for fire. I would come back from the grocery store and find the phone, remote control, and anything else left in the open, gone. She would also misplace her dentures. I don't know how many times we had to turn her room upside down to find them!

In stage 5, she forgot about flushing the toilet and did not know what to do with the dirty toilet paper. She also would try to go to the bathroom in the backyard. Understandably because when she was little, there was no indoor plumbing in the small village in Mexico she lived in. The backyard was the bathroom. This stage required a lot of supervision!

Even with supervision, you would never know what she would get into. Once I was cleaning my printer ink cartridge, with a little bit of rubbing alcohol. I was in the dinning room, while my mother was in her bedroom. I went to the kitchen sink to get water. Within seconds she had come into the dining room and took a drink of the rubbing alcohol bottle I had left. I heard her gagging, coughing and spitting out the alcohol just as I had reached the sink. It felt like I was watching an active two year old all over again. Her way of recognizing something in a bottles was to taste it!

We had to "secure" and block the kitchen area to keep her out. She wanted to wash dishes and cook. Of course, she couldn't tell the difference between a dirty dish and a clean one, and much less work with the stove.

I would get very frustrated with her. There was no way to reason with her. If it hadn't been for doing EFT on myself, I would have quit! I learned, though, that she would be much more cooperative, the calmer and gentler I was. She reacted to my energy. If I pushed, she pulled. If I invited and gently guided her, she followed.

The later stages have been easier for me. Fortunately she remains physically healthy and still moves, but, can no longer get herself outside. Her strength continues to amaze me, but it is winding down. Her sleep patterns are still irregular, but she will sleep during the day if she is up at night. We keep a baby monitor in the bathroom to hear her if she goes in there. She has always been afraid of the dark, so she stays in her room even if she is awake. She busies herself, moving her clothes around and doing and undoing her bed.

The most difficult problem for us in the Alzheimers stages 6-7 has been the loss of control of her bladder. Because she resists being undressed. She has always loved to eat, however, so that is still not a problem. We blend all her food now because she no longer uses dentures.

She is not on any Alzheimers medications. They put her on Aricept when she was first diagnosed, but it made her dizzy, even in small amounts. I have used EFT to help her ease her anxiety (and mine).

The one thing that I do appreciate about my mother having Alzheimer's, is that it has given me plenty of time to make my peace with her. I feel that I love her more than I have ever loved her before. She is no longer any of the "roles" she played and I can relate to her in a very pure form, person to person, spirit to spirit. Just recently, she has started to look me in the eyes and smile. I return her gaze and smile back. There, we connect for a minute or so in a deep peace of acceptance.

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