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Pill Time at the Zoo

By the time Mom was living with us, when she moved into the studio apartment we had fashioned for her, Alzheimer's had fully taken control of her--physically and mentally. She had Alzheimer's because of her Congestive Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She had COPD because she smoked for fifty years. And, on a side note, my dad died at 69-years-old from Congestive Heart Failure because he smoked for fifty-some years. See a connection?


Anyway, Mom used a walker sometimes to get around. Other times, I helped her but she weighed ninety-five pounds soaking wet and was easy to maneuver here and there.


Mostly, when she wasn't asleep, she sat in a chair in front of her TV and watched endless westerns and lots of John Wayne movies.

"I've seen this one before. I love him," she'd say. "He's so handsome."

"He died," I'd say.

"What!?"

I'd nod like, Yep. Goners. Dead as a doornail. Six-feet under.

"That's terrible."

I'd think, Whatever.

We had the same conversation every time she watched a John Wayne movie which was almost daily. Goners. Dead as a doornail. Six-feet under.

Does that sound mean? I suppose. But we do what we must to survive and sarcasm back then, saved my life more than once.


Mom and my relationship was strained. She had violent tendencies exhibited by confusion and trying to punch me, screaming and calling me names.

In May 10, 2015, she tried to escape. That was the first morning after moving in. Of course, the COPD stopped her in her tracks. I found her crouched down in front of our front door gasping for air. She left without it and needed her oxygen. She had walked fifty feet and crumbled on the steps up to the deck.


Within two months, she was acting out with bouts of vitriol. This is a common occurrence with patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's. By October, Mom was showing positive signs of schizophrenia--hallucinations--aural and visual. She'd had one at her own house before moving in.

"The electricians were here and they stole my checks."

Huh?

The thing about someone else's hallucinations is that if you're not there to see there's nothing happening--that there are no electricians stealing checks--then you believe what the hallucinator tells you because, why would they lie? Right?


So, one evening in November of 2015 after months of enduring her hostilities, she told me some man broke into her studio. She said this:

"He thought I didn't see him. I acted like I was asleep. He got on the floor, scooted on his back up to the fireplace, and shoved newspapers into the flue."

Whoa. Dang.

She had thrown all the windows open. Temps were dropping into the low 40s by then.

"Nobody was here, Mom. And it's cold."

"I need to clear out the smoke."

"There's no smoke."

She sneered at me as if I were crazy. And I was but not the same crazy as Mom.

"Mom, it's cold in here. You need to shut the windows."

By three in the morning, all the lights in her studio were still on and she'd once again flung open all the windows.


I called the doc. He treated her with a combo-punch of resperidone and lorazepam. Within a couple days, she was less anxious and by two weeks, she wasn't exhibiting hallucinations any longer.


Bob's frontotemporal dementia is different. However, one day in the summer of 2019, he confessed to me that he fantasized about killing me.

I felt hurt and scared.

"Do you know how you want to do it?" I asked.

He nodded. "By making you fall on our walk and bashing your head against a rock."


I hid our gun and locked myself in a private suite. The next day, we went to the doctor. He put Bob on a lower-potency antipsychotic of which the name escapes. However, within twenty-four hours, he was subdued. We kept him on the drug for only a couple weeks. He apologized and was truly remorseful. That was a one-time event.


The differences are quite disparate between Mom's and Bob's psychotic breaks. Again, Mom had Alzheimer's disease and Bob has frontotemporal dementia. Both needed medication. Mom for the entire time she lived with us and until she died. And Bob, for only a short time.


I guess the point to this post is the faster you act to get your loved ones medicated, the faster you can live a somewhat normal life with them. If anything is normal about living with a patient who has a dementia-related illness.


Just try to remember, the patient suffers as much as the caregiver. They are confused and sad. They don't understand what is happening. You can't explain it to them because they forget that you told them anything at all and they also forget that they are sick. It's a vicious, ugly cycle until they get help.


Their help is your help too. They are struggling more than you so try to empathize with them and, trust me, I know how difficult empathizing can be when you're living these agonies alongside them.


All I can say is, God bless you all.




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2 Comments


Thanks for sharing. What a brave post. I hope we don't have to deal with this but better to know what to deal with.

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Jo szcz
Jo szcz
Feb 19

And may YAH bless you, also, Cuz ... with peace, comfort and strength during, and for, these trying times. Love you!

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