Adjusting to the Changes
Baby Boomers have been called the “sandwich generation.” With people living longer, more boomers are dealing with the challenges of caring for elderly parents.
My mother used to have a memory like a “steel trap,” but in the past few years, she’s started to experience memory problems … searching for words, not remembering names of friends or family members, losing skills she had for decades.
A Major Life Change
My father had Alzheimer’s, and my mother was his caregiver. She did not show any signs of memory problems when my father was alive. A few years after my father died, my mother started feeling unsafe in her home and we decided it would make sense for her to move to a retirement community.
Shortly after her move, one of the nurses on staff at her new residence mentioned to me that she thought my mother might be showing signs of dementia and recommended an evaluation by a neurologist.
I dismissed the nurse’s concerns at first because I thought my mother was adjusting to the move. After all, she had moved from her home of more than 50 years and was adjusting to living in a new place with new people.
Although she felt safe in her new home, my mom continued to have auditory hallucinations (like hearing knocking at the door at 2 a.m.). She had a CAT scan the year before her move, and at that time the doctor said her brain showed normal age-related memory loss.
I thought it would be a good idea to make sure that she was ok and made an appointment with the neurologist. He recommended that she have memory testing.
My mother was very resistant to having memory testing. She said, “Everyone here has memory problems!”
She was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. This condition can remain stable or progress to dementia.
Forgetting Longtime Skills
My mother is very artistic and still enjoys painting and drawing. But as time goes on, she is losing some of the skills she had.
For many years, she knitted handmade teddy bears. Eventually, these teddy bears became so popular that people would pay her to make them as baby gifts. Sometimes she would be working on five different teddy bears at one time.
After she moved to her retirement community, she said she couldn’t remember how to make these bears. She still knits but now has limited herself to scarves.
Losing Track of Time
It’s early on Sunday morning. The phone rings. I hear my answering machine and then my mom’s voice “Abby, I overslept and missed the party.” I wake up and grab the phone – “Mom, it’s 6 in the morning. You didn’t miss anything.” She says “Oh, I thought it was 6 at night.”
I’ve noticed that my mom has trouble remembering what day it is. She also seems to have difficulty with routine tasks such as using the TV remote and forgetting how to put her answering machine on. However, she still can cook, do the laundry and handle simple chores.
My sister and I were leaving after a visit and my mother called out to us, “Someone was in my apartment, my safe is open.”
Her apartment includes a small safe (for storing valuables) in a closet. She called me one day to tell me she forgot the digital pin code needed to open the safe. Luckily, she had told me the code, and I was able to help her.
My sister and I returned to her apartment and reassured her that no one had broken into the apartment. She was concerned because she had $100 cash, but I counted the money in the safe, and it was all there.
She apparently left the safe open and forgot that she did that. It must have been terrifying not to remember and become convinced that someone was trying to break in.
Trouble Handling Finances
My mother has always been good with money. Before I was born she worked as a bookkeeper, and she always handled the household finances.
I started to notice that she is having some trouble with balancing her checkbook and handling routine expenses. My sister and I decided to set up automatic payments for her monthly bills to make it easier. We also looked at investing a small amount of her money to get more of a return.
Planning for The Future
My mother should have enough money to allow her to maintain financial security for the rest of her life. I expect that I will need to be more involved with her finances and other aspects of her life as time goes on.
I can see my mother’s memory loss is progressing and I am glad that she has adjusted to life in her retirement community. That is the best place for her now in her life. If her condition progresses to the point that she can no longer live independently, she can remain in the same community and move to one of their assisted living apartments.
Have you taken care of an aging parent? What have your experiences been? What have you learned? I’d love to start a conversation.