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 92nd BirthdayMy dad had his 92 birthday Thursday.  Mom had invited some family friends. Wine and cake were involved.  And munchies.

It was work for her, but both she and they needed to celebrate.  She needed to be around people and have fun, and visit with people who make sense when they talk and who can carry on a conversation.  They needed to be there for this milestone in the life of a long-time friend.

The day of the party was not one of my Dad’s better days.  Periodically, he becomes restless; he becomes disoriented; he responds to internal stimuli (hallucinations, delusions); he can’t sleep.  He will suddenly decide he needs to get up and go to the bathroom, yet once he gets there, nothing happens.  He’ll do this maybe 10 times over a several hour period, but it quickly becomes obvious that he is not responding to a real need to urinate.  He’ll spontaneously begin talking about some real event that happened in the past.  What he’s saying will be factual and accurate, but apropos of nothing and unrelated to anything that’s going on around him. These will be interspersed with what are obviously responses to internal stimuli.

He had been having one such episode for the 48 hour period leading into and following his party — For example, during the party, he spontaneously announced that he couldn’t drink his beer because some guy had picked it up and was drinking it.  Nobody at the party was drinking beer, including him.  He complained about the man who was fixing the TV, wishing he would get it fixed and leave, but again, it was during the party, there was nothing wrong with the TV and there was no repairman, etc. I was interested to note how people responded when he did this.  They found it embarrassing and disturbing — and who wouldn’t be disturbed to note one’s friend of many years behaving in an irrational manner.  They didn’t quite know how to deal with it.  (Neither does my mom.)

Apart from the fact that these periods wear my mom out because his restlessness prevents her from sleeping, and she has to be ever alert that he doesn’t try to get up and fall, she finds them disturbing — which they are.  She doesn’t deal with his dementia well. She keeps trying to reason with him, and you can’t.  He doesn’t know that his responses are not appropriate to what’s happening around him.  He doesn’t know he’s not making sense. He’s had probably hundreds of tiny strokes, and a couple not so tiny ones, and his brain is short circuiting.  You just have to calmly respond in a topically appropriate way and let it go.  The one key thing — and it can be incredibly difficult, especially if you’re trying to do it on not enough sleep — is to stay calm and be patient.  If you become irritated, exasperated, impatient or start trying to reason with them, they don’t understand your response.  They can become upset, bewildered, agitated or fearful, or any or all of the above.   When he complained about the TV repairmen, an appropriate response would have been to remark, “They’re almost done. They’ll be leaving in a minute.”  He didn’t know he was responding to internal stimuli.  To be told you’re delusional or hallucinating, even when you are, can be confusing and upsetting.  The realization that you may be unable to tell the difference between what is really happening and what is a delusion or a hallucination is a profoundly disturbing and frightening idea, especially to a man who’s been through a war.  If you can’t tell what’s real, how can you keep yourself safe?  Everything I’ve read on the subject stresses over and over again the need for calmness, patience and reassurance in dealing with someone with dementia.

One of the ladies at the party had learned earlier in the day that she had won a victory in her 18+ month fight with breast cancer and was now cancer free, but she had been practically beside herself with fear and dread leading up to getting her results, and she told me she didn’t dare announce her news because she was so very, very relieved by it that she didn’t trust herself to talk about it without bursting into tears and crying hysterically — Mom asked her about it but I had to head her off with, “One joy at a time, mom.” I’ve been aware for some time that our friend has anxiety issues.  I’m used to dealing with those.  My BFF has suffered since a child with chronic anxiety.  (She tends to ruminate and “what if” herself into a sort of paralysis.)  Our family friend had been dreading her test results for days.  When you  “what if” and ruminate on it like that, you can really scare yourself into a state.  She has called me up on several occasions to read me her doctor’s reports and ask me to explain them to her.  Really what she wants is someone who will take the time to explain things to her in a way she can understand and give her reassurance.  (Health care practitioners rarely have the time and almost never have the training to do that.) But that’s what friends are for, no?  I walked our friend out to her car, told her to go home, have a good cry, then have some ice cream.   Crying really does help.  The tears help clear stress toxins from the body.  And ice cream always makes things better.  And cake.

When I got groceries Friday, I shopped at a grocery store that also has several stations where you can buy freshly prepared food to take home, including what I would call a “cafeteria line.” I treated myself to some of their roast brisket.  The fellow cut it for me, then passed it over to the register operator to weigh, ring up and put a price tag on, which she did left-handed.  This does not seem like a big deal until you consider that she wasn’t just left handed.  She did not have a right hand.  She had lost her right arm at the elbow.  Of course it makes sense to have a dedicated register person on the cafeteria line.  It  makes things run more smoothly and efficiently than they would if the servers each had to ring up their own things.  Not only does it save the server from having to do a lot of walking back and forth, it shortens the wait time for each customer, so more customers get served more quickly.   This young lady was personable and competent, and her job could easily be done one-handed.  I need to call the store and tell them how I appreciate them hiring her and that their willingness to do so favorably disposes me toward their store.

Unfortunately, I forgot my list when I went shopping so I didn’t get about half the things I needed, but next week, I start daddysitting on Wednesday evenings while my mom goes to choir practice, and Walmart is on my way home.

Friday, my mom asked me to fix the LED display on her cordless phone because she can’t read it.  I can’t fix it.  It’s not fixable. She’s had the durn things so long the display is burning out. The rechargeable batteries are going out on her, too.   Also, the only way she can hear the phone is to put it on speaker phone.  But I did some research on the internet and I’ve found her just what she needs.  Now if I can just convince her to get it.  Really, it would be worth the money to have a phone she can read the caller ID on and hear.  The fewer sources of aggravation she has in her life right now, the better.  She needs to get a third handset to put by her bed.  The phone she has by her bed now uses a four prong plug to plug into the wall like they used in the 1960’s. (I don’t even know why she still has it.  She can’t hear it.)  She also needs a new alarm clock because the one she’s using is part of this vintage phone thing she’s using (yeah, I know.), and the display is going wonky.  I’ve got a little digital alarm clock I’m going to bring over for her.  If I do convince her to get the new phone, I’ll set it up for her and transfer her phone book and everything.  She’s got a birthday coming up.  She needs to give herself a birthday present.