Note to Self


Some days things really don't work. Yesterday was one of those days.

I have been away. I spent a week down south, and it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve last seen Mum.

I missed her and as soon as I arrived I could tell that she’d missed me too.

I breezed in just after lunch, which is Mum’s best time. She looked great sitting in the sunroom reading the paper in a mauve blouse, matching scarf and lipstick too. She was so pleased to see me!

The less said about this visit the better.

To cut a long story short, first I tried to combine the drive home with a trip to the supermarket. This took three times longer than expected. Mum opted to wait in the car, which soon became unbearably hot. Unable to operate the electric windows or keep the door propped open, she spent 10 minutes walking up and down the street looking for me.

We both cooled off and drove to my house. We drank tea and then got talking about my father’s relatives. I decided what we really needed was a picture, so I hopped on the computer. I then attempted to explain a multilayered diagram representing a five-generational family tree. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think,” said Mum. Exactly.

At that point I realized I was running late for going out. I explained the problem to Mum, who promptly forgot. I then then rushed to and fro, organizing someone else to take her back to the rest home, hunting for a lost present, texting last minute arrangements and finding something to wear. Then I said goodbye to Mum and went downstairs.

As Mum was leaving, I was yelling instructions to various people up the stairs whilst also trying to zip up my dress.

“I haven’t said goodbye,” said Mum. So I explained again. We were both getting more and more stressed.

“The problem,” said Mum, who by this stage was wobbly and slightly teary, “is that I’m not completely au fait with what you're doing.”

In fact, the problem was me.

I’ve been thinking all day about what went wrong. Here is my list.

  1. I was multitasking. Doing other things while caring for Mum means I make a bad job of all these tasks. Plus it is stressful and frustrating.
  2. I went too fast and things got busy and complicated, all due to a lack of planning.
  3. There were distractions and there was far too much noise. For people with dementia, communication is hard enough without competing sights, sounds and activities.

So, what is there to learn?

  • Plan ahead to free yourself up.
  • Enjoy the moment.
  • Concentrate on the task at hand and notice what helps.
  • Slow down to a pace that works for both of you.
  • Keep things as simple as possible.

Next time, I’ll be sure to take my own advice.

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

Saturdays with Mum

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Sarah Jane, thank you for the blog, I know we all run through the day when there is too much going on. Even the best laid plans can go haywire.

I tend to get OCD when it comes to logistical type issues, such as taking my parents to a doctor's appointment. I want to be there on time with little stress as possible. I learned quickly to tell my parents I would be picking them up at such & such time adding an extra 15 minutes. My late Mom was always ready, completely dressed plus jacket, scarf, and her purse all ready to go....

Then there was Dad who was searching for his wallet.... then struggling to get his jacket on... then deciding what baseball cap to wear.... oops, he needed his glasses... and the hardest part looking for his cane [not easy in a 3 story house]... one day it was out in the garage.... then I noticed Dad didn't have his shoes on.

Then I could hear them trying to buckle their seatbelts, click, click, click, click, and not getting them to work.... [sigh].... so here I am a senior citizen myself trying to climb into the back seat to buckle the belts.

Even with that added 15 minutes, I was a mess... so stressed as I didn't want to be late plus there is always paperwork to fill out, and filling out for 2 parents can be mind-blogging especially when one can't hear very well. Mom insisted on answering every question, so there I am talking LOUD asking Mom who was 97 "are you pregnant?".

Nine times out of 10, that doctor appointment was unnecessary :P
Great advice for everyone. It is too easy to lapse into our own mode of doing, rather than focusing on the person who should be the focus of our attention. Sometimes, I feel my goal is to make the world less confusing for them and the dirty dishes are not really that important.
Simple advice for all efficient caregivers –we all forget sometimes that simple, calm, relaxed and focused is the best gift we can give those with dementia (and ourselves at the same time)!