Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Brain is a terrible thing to waste

The past couple years have given me an opportunity to watch how the brain works or, more accurately, how the brain ceases to work. You've all heard me talk about dealing with memory challenged parents. Nothing new there but I decided to take time and ponder how they are different and how the are the same.

Dad bought a computer about 10 years ago and attempted to learn how to get his financial records on it. He created a basic spreadsheet and then went on to play casino games on it - a lot.
If you couldn't find him chances were he was down on the computer playing. At the same time Mom would go down to the computer once a month and try to type up the Women's group minutes for church. Once a month I would get the panic phone call - she messed things up, there was a big black blob (highlighting) all over the computer and she lost everything. Toolbars would disappear. It was very tiring, but she wouldn't give up. I just had to come over once a month, retype everything and get the computer back to the way it used to be. She never learned but wouldn't admit she couldn't learn a new thing, she'd argue and get defensive. Dad on the other hand started to forget what he had learned and quietly gave up using the computer even for casino games.

About the same time his garden started looking shabby. Dad has always had the best yard and garden in the neighborhood. He grew Easter Lily trees, poinsettia bushes. Give him a dying rose and you'd end up with an award winning rose. That slowly went away. He knew it. He'd talk about it and he accepted it. A couple summers ago during a heat wave the A/C died. He got hot and tired and forgot to take his insulin for (the best I can figure) over a week. By the time I figured out what was going on his blood sugar was over 400. He had pretty much starved his brain because the brain needs glucose to function and the only way to get glucose is by having insulin carry it across from the blood stream to the tissues that need it. So - within a one week period my Dad, who was having some memory problems, lost the ability to care for himself without guidance.

The interesting thing about him was, he was still very articulate and would let you know he didn't remember things. "Sorry, that's gone. I can't remember anymore." If you ask him a math story problem - no problem- he'd give you the answer. If you ask him what season it was. No clue. Last fall I asked him the season and gave him clues - it's starting to get cold, the leaves are turning bright colors, kids are starting to go back to school. Nothing could get him to remember.

Almost 2 years later he lives in a much smaller world. He watches TV but can't remember what he saw. Can't decide what to eat at a restaurant even if I only give only give him 2 choices. If I give him one choice he knows if it sounds good or not but two - can't remember long enough to make a decision. He losing his past and can't remember the house he grew up in. We talked about the house last summer but now it's gone. But can still play Blackjack. He doesn't know how to stay at the table and finish supper if there's something else going on. But - all in all he seems happy most of the time. His small world seems to work for him as long as I don't take him out into the big world too often.

Mom on the other hand is a totally different memory loss. Hers is one of denial and being defensive. After Dad's move to memory care we moved Mom to the apartment they had picked out. It's right next door to Dad's place and seemed like a great solution. It's assisted living and has a restaurant on the main level. Mom's memory problem is a lack of ability to learn anything new. After all this time she still doesn't understand that Dad is not going to get better, she doesn't knot her apartment number. She doesn't understand the time that has taken place - "Oh has it been that long!?" Last week she didn't recognize her building and argued with my uncle about whether or not she lived there. She doesn't remember conversations and will argue with the person if they try to remind her of it. Her memory lose is one of fighting every step of the way but not having what she needs to be able to cope so she argues, she goes into denial, she makes things up. She spends a great deal of time worrying and not being happy. I didn't realize how bad her memory was until she list her coping mechanism - Dad. He's not there to cover for her anymore.

Mom is getting closer everyday to needing the full time memory care of Dad's place but I keep holding off. The people where she lives watch over her and give her as many reminders as they can. We have meals taken care of, a housekeeper once a week, a hairdresser on site. She's created a world she can live in but she will not allow herself to accept that world or accept her memory loss.

Two people- same problem but two totally different ways of coping and having the problem show itself. My goal - to keep both of them as happy, safe and comfortable as I can and maintain my memory and sanity & keep my own life. It's an interesting balancing act but, it really isn't that hard (most days). Good thing I have knitting!

My advice to all of you. Knit like there's no tomorrow because activities like knitting help prevent memory loss problems! (see this article)


Toni said...

I have several residential care facilities as clients, and the one I like best has an Alzheimer's wing, and I try to visit it whenever I am on-site. I am always impressed with the staff and their desire & ability to cope with their residents with memory problems. When I visit the residents, they always "know" me, but sometimes I'm a daughter, a movie star, a long ago girlfriend, as sister--whatever makes them happy. While it is devastating for the family, I truly believe that the memory patients do find happiness in their own way.

Hang in there!

Guinifer said...

That's so sad about your dad and his insulin. I worry about my mom living alone in the house I grew up in. Over Spring break she fell down the stairs and (luckily) only broke her toe.

Kat said...

You are a super star, I just want you to know that. I know many people that would have given up long long ago. I agree with you though thank goodness for knitting. Hope the kitties are still amusing you daily without destroying anything!

The Jillybean said...

I feel your pain Jill. I watched 3 of my grandparents go through different types of memory losses. One of my grandmothers would have my son crawl under the bed and shoo away the "children that were under there". She was constantly calling 911 to come and get the strange women out of her house. It was always something and devestating to watch.

Luke said...
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gary said...

I'm really sad to hear about your parent's condition. You must have been very strong to endure all these pain.

Perhaps, administering natural treatments can help alleviate the memory conditions of your folks. There are herbal supplements formulated for the brain that could deal with memory and concentration problems while helping enhance moods. Many of these supplements are formulated with cell salts that are easy to administer and may be used for all ages. Good luck!